Bernardo M. Villegas
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Did Rizal Really Want Independence?

           The newest book about Jose Rizal entitled "Romance and Revolution,"  written by Luis Liza and Javier de Pedro (University of Asia and the Pacific, 2010) contributes new insights into the much-discussed question of whether or not Jose Rizal wanted the Philippine Islands to be independent of  Spain.  The authors devoted a whole Annex (IV) to a close scrutiny of Rizal's "Data for my Defense" written in Fort Santiago on December 12, 1896.   As we celebrated the 115th Anniversary of this document last December 12, 2011, let me summarize here what the authors of "Romance and Revolution" opine concerning Rizal's convictions on  independence.

          They maintained that a complete understanding of Rizal's political stand requires a thorough study of the "Data for my Defense" document.  It can be considered as the final product in the evolution of his thought which had gone through various stages from the time he was a student in Spain to the last days before his execution on December 30, 1896.  The first conclusion of the authors is that Rizal wanted independence for the Philippines only as a gradual process, not in one fell swoop.  As they wrote:  "He denounced those who chose to equate his desire to have freedoms with an intent to have independence, accusing them of either lying or misunderstanding him.  He explicitly affirmed:  'I have believed that autonomy was bound to come little by little, and independence after a lapse of years. 

          "Simply put, he felt that independence can be attained only after Spain grants the Filipinos, first, their basic political freedoms and second, autonomy.  Although Rizal's early ideas on nationhood remain open to speculation, he later withdrew and refused to give any consideration to the alternative of assimilation with Spain as favored by other Ilustrados.  One may agree or disagree with his views and approach, but there is no doubt that he wanted independence:  he never desired the Philippines to remain a province of Spain forever.  It is to be noted that for many years, he avoided uttering any remark that could be taken as pro-Spanish.  This was evident during his last stay in Europe, his short residence in Hong Kong, and his last four years in Dapitan. 

          "The first and last time that he broke his self-imposed silence was in his Defense, and only to affirm that he wanted independence after a lapse of years.  He saw self-rule at the end of an unalterable historical development, like the natural process of growth in living organisms.  Once this point is understood and accepted, it is easy to explain pro-Spanish sounding statements found in the document."

          It was also clear in "Data for my Defense" that Rizal never said that he loved Spain with patriotic zeal.  Lisa and de Pedro affirm:  "One seemingly pro-Spanish passage--'my education, eminently Spanish and as such patriotic'--if properly read, is not directed towards Spain but to the Philippines.  When he wrote it, he only wanted to acknowledge that the origin of his Filipino dreams was born and developed during "his early formation years under Spanish educators."  This affirmation is fully backed up by Rizal himself when he wrote: "From childhood, I was educated by Spaniards and was nurtured in the great examples of the History of Spain, Greece, and Rome.  In later years, all my professors in Spain were great thinkers and great patriots.  Everything--books, periodicals, examples, and reason itself--prompted me to love the good of my native land, as the Catolonian loves the good of Catalonia, and Basques, Galicians, Andalusians respectively love Biscay, Galicia, Andalusia etc." Rizal, therefore, admitted learning patriotism from the examples of Spain, Rome and Greece, but he never wished to become a Spanish, Roman, or Greek citizen.  On the contrary, he always and unmistakably kept his Filipino identity:  "All prompted me to love the good of my native land."

          Rizal was a pragmatist geo-politically.  He was fully aware that his dream for the Philippines could be wrecked by nations with imperialistic ambitions.  Lisa and de Pedro comment: "This thinking is especially important to understand why Rizal wanted to remain under Spain for awhile.  He lived during trying times when powerful nations were guided by imperialistic motives, making him afraid that the Philippines could not stand on her own without another country defending her.  He was worried that empires like England, Germany, and Japan could easily supplant the weakening power of Spain in the Philippines.  Some years earlier, he expressed his apprehension in his famous article ‘The Philippines a Century Hence,’ that the United States of America could also be one of these imperialistic nations.  Because of this alarming possibility he preferred to remain under the influence of Spain."

          Because of his emphasis on the gradualist approach, he recommended the intermediate stage of the Philippines first becoming a province of Spain:  "Thinking that the Philippines in 1896 was not yet ready for independence, he advocated a progressive granting of liberties at par with Spain's provinces as the path to self-determination and independence.  He thought that by advocating the standard liberal program of all progressive European nations, the Philippines would be on the right track toward economic and social progress.   Specifically, he wanted press freedom and Parliamentary representation, the exclusion of the friars from active political life, and the secularization of the educational system....He regretted, that even the initial step--freedom of expression of political ideas--was repressed in the Philippines, when the Spaniards had been enjoying it in their own country.  Acting as the spokesperson of Filipino aspirations, Rizal hoped that the Spanish government would make the Philippines another province of Spain, so as not be called anymore a colony."    

          The ideas expressed above reveal another aspect of the genius of "The First Filipino" and the "Great Malay."  He was no armchair theorist or quixotic ideologue.  He had his feet planted firmly on ground. He did his homework in what we now call "SWOT" analysis:  an inventory of the strengths and weaknesses of the Filipino nation as well as opportunities and threats she faced towards the end of the nineteenth century.  No wonder, he was a very accurate political forecaster.  As Josephine Bracken reported after his death, Rizal told her that in no less than ten years after his death, Spain would lose the Philippines as a colony.  As an economic forecaster myself, I sure would like to have him today to tell me about the political futures of many countries today where political turmoil is making their economic prospects very uncertain and unsettling the global economic environment.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.