Sunday, Dec. 30, is the 116th anniversary of the martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal. It is also the centennial of the transfer of the remains of the national hero from Binondo to his monument in Luneta, now called Rizal Park.
Rizal was executed in Bagumbayan at exactly 7:03 in the morning of Dec. 30, 1896. An hour later, a wagon from San Juan de Dios Hospital carried the corpse to the Paco Cemetery where it was secretly buried in an unmarked grave.
In the afternoon of the same day, Narcisa, a favorite sister and confidante of Rizal, found her brother’s grave after a long search. She asked the guards to allow a marble slab to mark the site. Inscribed on the marker were the letters “RPJ,” Rizal’s initials reversed to deflect attention.
On Aug. 17, 1898, four days after the Americans took control of Manila following a mock battle with the Spaniards, Rizal’s remains were exhumed and taken to Narcisa’s house. The remains were cleaned and placed in an urn, which stayed with the Rizal family in Binondo until 1912.
On Dec. 29, 1912, the urn containing Rizal’s remains was taken to the Ayuntamiento de Manila for a one-day expression of public respect. With fitting processional ceremonies, the remains were finally laid to rest, on Dec. 30, 1912, in the base of the rising monument to the national hero at the Luneta. That monument was completed and inaugurated exactly a year later.
These events have opened the floodgates of mystique and honors that, to this day, continue to explain Rizal’s contribution to Philippine history. Rizal has been called, among other expressions of admiration, la conciencia viva Filipina (the living conscience of the Filipino), un caballero sin tacha (a gentleman without blemish), the Quijote-Hamlet of the Philippines, Ama ng Bansang Pilipino (Father of the Filipino Nation), el hombre mas importante no solo de su pueblo, sin toda raza Malaya (the most important man not only of his country but of the entire Malay race), un Espartaco immortal (an immortal Spartacus), San Jose Rizal, and el Demoledor de Imperios (the destroyer of Empires).
The Tagalog Christ
None, however, compares in glory and raises more questions than the appellation the Christlike martyr or the “Tagalog Christ.”
It was Miguel de Unamuno, Spanish philosopher and writer, who characterized Rizal’s execution as Spain’s disgrace and who, in 1907, was the first to call Rizal the Tagalog Christ.
The comparison between the lives of Jesus the Christ and Rizal the Christlike hero has been well delineated by Austin Coates, a Rizal biographer. He said: “(T)he parallel between the two lives is inescapable in the impressions each conveys of a man sent into the world to fulfill a purpose for which he was aware that everything must be sacrificed, as also he was aware that it might be required of him that he be killed as part of that purpose.”
For both Jesus and Rizal, life on earth was a summon and submission to a call. From the beginning, both knew or had intimations of a mission they had to fulfill, the redemption of mankind from sin in the case of Jesus and the redemption of his people from oppression in the case of Rizal.
Both taught love as the moral foundation of the redemptive process. “Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus said. “Only love can work wonders; only virtue can redeem,” Rizal declared. And both, in life and in death, embodied love that was selfless and unconditional.
Nothing could deflect both from the pursuit and fulfillment of their mission. When Joseph and Mary lost the 12-year-old Jesus in Jerusalem after the Passover feast, they found Him in the temple conversing with the elders. Informed by His parents that they were greatly worried, Jesus calmly said that they should have known that He was about “(his) father’s business.”
Similarly the teenager Rizal, acting against his wishes because he loved the beautiful Segunda Katigbak of Lipa, pulled himself away from romantic passion in obedience to a voice heard from within to follow instead the path of sacrifice and mission.
Both Jesus and Rizal were aware that death would be the ultimate demand and final act of their redemptive purpose. One day as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, He said to his disciples: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and hand Him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and He will be raised on the third day.” During His agony in the garden of Gethsemane, He prayed that the sacrificial cup pass from Him “yet not as I will but as You will.”
On June 20, 1892, in Hong Kong, prior to his second return to the Philippines, Rizal wrote two letters, his Testamento Politico. In them, he confided that his decision to go back exposed him to certain death but, having given it much thought, he had to obey his conscience in order to free many from unjust oppression. And on Oct. 9, 1896, he was again returning to the Philippines after being placed under arrest while on his way to serve as volunteer doctor for the Spanish Army fighting Cuban rebels. Calmly Rizal wrote in his diary: “May God’s will always be done … Oh Lord. Thou art my hope, my consolation! Thy will be done and I am only too ready to obey it.” They were all virtual preparations for death whose bidding he had foreseen and now wished to fulfill.
There were also parallels between Jesus and Rizal shortly after their births. As was the custom of the Jews, the infant Jesus was brought to the temple to be consecrated to the Lord. The devout Simeon and, a little later, the widow Anna, upon seeing the child in the temple spoke about His redemptive mission. When Rizal was brought to the church for his baptism, the Filipino priest noticed the child’s unusual head and told his mother to be careful as the boy would someday be a great man.
Both Jesus and Rizal were innocent victims, their guilt unproved against them, and their deaths instigated by men of the cloth. It was the chief priests, led by Caiaphas, who conspired to get Jesus nailed to the cross. And it was the Spanish friars who conspired to get Rizal shot in Bagumbayan. The conspiracies to put Jesus and Rizal to death bore the insolence and predisposition of the conspirators who wanted to get the heads of their victims regardless of proof of guilt or innocence.
Other parallels between the two lives were evident in the immediate period before their deaths. On Nov. 3, 1896, Rizal, after his third return to the Philippines, was transferred to Fort Santiago. There he drew a scene of the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane with the following inscription: “This is but the first station.” He had prayed that he would preserve his tranquility before his death. And when he finally fell in Bagumbayan, that fateful morning of Dec. 30, 1896, his pulse was normal, his countenance serene, and his last cry, as was that of Jesus’, was “Consummatum est!”