In commemoration of the 158th birth anniversary of Dr. Jose P. Rizal, the country’s national hero, the University of the Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies (UP CIDS) Program on Alternative Development (AltDev) hosted a forum, “Rethinking Rizal for the 21st Century: Unexplored Themes and New Interpretations,” on June 19 at the UP CIDS Conference Hall, Ang Bahay ng Alumni, UP Diliman, Quezon City. Professors George Aseniero, PhD, Floro C. Quibuyen, PhD, and Lisandro E. Claudio, PhD, served as resource speakers.
According to Prof. Eduardo C. Tadem, PhD, convenor of the AltDev program, the forum is part of UP’s explorations for new themes, perspectives, and interpretations on Rizal’s thoughts. He said the event aimed to uncover “hidden treasures,” open new venues for researches, and promote discussions on the country’s national hero.
In his welcome remarks, UP Executive Vice President Teodoro J. Herbosa emphasized the importance of studying Rizal and Philippine history. He said that Rizal’s views “had and continue to have profound influence on the Philippines’ and other Asian people’s national liberation movements and development paradigms.” He added that he will keep on supporting these initiatives for “scholarly research, commentaries, and dissemination, for more Filipinos, especially our younger generations of students,” to benefit from.
“Rizal on Imperialism”
Aseniero, whose grandfather was among Rizal’s students, presented his lecture, “The Game of the Great Powers: Rizal on Imperialism.”
Aseniero talked of how Rizal probably analyzed the geopolitical situation during the upsurge of both reformist and revolutionary movements for Philippine independence. Referring to today’s “inter-imperialist rivalry”, he said Rizal saw several nations being “engaged in the ‘Game of the Great Powers’” and that Rizal also wrote of the possibility of“la gran Republica Americana” joining the rivalry of powers with intentions of colonizing the Philippines.He addedthat Rizal’s forecasts for the next one hundred years, as written by Rizal in Filipinas dentro de cienanos (The Philippines a century hence) and published in the La Solidaridad,came true within just a decade.
Using Kondratiev wave theory, or long waves to illustrate patterns of growth and decline of the world economy, Aseniero described the world economy to be growing fast as a basis for the emergence of the Philippine middle class when Rizal was born. As the world economy was going down in the 1880s, he said the economic crisis led to political developments, and tensions between world powers also became evident.
According to Aseniero, Rizal eventually concluded that the US had “geostrategic interests in the Pacific.”Aseniero related US policies with prevailing conditions, as of the 1890s, citing US government’s declaration of “overpopulation” and US interests in the Pacific as their motives for developing naval superiority in a very short period of time.
Aseniero explained how Rizal saw the world being divided among the rivals, based on Rizal’s comments on the British empire, France, Germany, Holland, China, Japan, and the US, in relation to the balance of power.Insights gleaned from one of Rizal’s unfinished drafts, “La politica intercontinental,” revealed that the US was seen as a rival ofEngland; and,he noted how the developments in the 1890s indicated the rise of the US as a new hegemonic power. By this time, Aseniero said, Rizal was concerned with an inter-imperialist war, and “this explains his negative position on the Katipunan’s plan to revolt and the subsequent statements he made at his trial. It also frames his conceptualization of La Liga Filipina as a national federation of mutualist associations for the construction of Civil Society irrespective of the State,”Aseniero explained.
“Revisiting Rizal’s Forgotten Borrador”
Quibuyen’s presentation, “The Future has an Ancient Heart: Revisiting Rizal’s Forgotten Borrador – Melanesia, Malasia, Polinesia,”focused on explaining the origins of Rizal’s vision of Filipinos discovering their “good old qualities…free, lovers of peace, jovial, cheerful, smiling, hospitable, and fearless.”
Quibuyen said that “Rizal’s forgotten notes, ‘Melanesia, Malasia, Polinesia,’” points to Filipinos’ pre-Sanskrit roots as a basis for this vision. According to Quibuyen, “Some 3,500 years ago, our seafaring ancestors sailed over 2,000 kilometers of the Pacific Ocean and settled a group of islands that Spanish colonizers later named Las Islas Marianas and its inhabitants, Chamorros. Through our ancestors, the Chamorros, we can imagine what we were like thousands of years before the arrival on our shores of Sanskrit and Chinese and Muslim traders—indeed long before the Spanish conquistadores and missionaries.”
In his presentation, Quibuyen also mentioned that “seafarers from the Philippines were the first in the history of mankind,” and that “this (today’s Philippines) is not the nation Rizal envisioned.”
“Rizal as Postcolonial Liberal”
Claudio presented Rizal as being both a liberal and a radical. In his lecture, “The School of Suffering and the God of Liberty: Jose Rizal as Postcolonial Liberal,”he outlined the roots of Rizal’s liberalism and described the liberals as being the revolutionaries at the time, with Rizal articulating the goals of liberalism in his works and letters.
Claudio discussed Rizal’s notions of liberty and suffering. He said Rizal thought “one has to suffer pain to attain or deserve liberty,”and reiterated that “Filipino liberals learn through suffering.”
Claudio said that for Rizal, liberalism was a “plant that never dies.” He clarified that“19th century liberalism was not counter-revolutionary.” “Only in the 20th century did it become bureaucratic and tied to institutions of power,” he explained,“when liberalism became no longer insurgent.”
Comments on present issues
During the open forum, the resource speakers were asked if Rizal could have observed present-day geopolitics, would he have been critical of Chinese activities in the West Philippine Sea and of China’s rise as a world power.
Aseniero said,“Rizal would be very wary of China,” and added that China was not seen as a power during his time. Claudio said Rizal would probably be in solidarity with the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong now. Quibuyen said Rizal would denounce China for it.
Writer, public servant, and beauty queen (Miss International 1964) Gemma Cruz-Araneta served as forum moderator. She and Herbosa are both related to Rizal as his great-grandniece and great-grandnephew, respectively.
Tanghalang Pilipino members performed “Dalagang Bukid” and “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa” in between the forum presentation and open forum.