Jose Rizal was born 156 years ago, on June 19, 1861, in Calamba, Laguna. He went on to live a life that embodied the ideals of the Filipino nation, writing two novels – Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo – that became the intellectual expression of the strengthening nationhood of the Filipinos stirring to life after centuries of Spanish colonial rule.
His execution on the field of Bagumbayan in Manila on December 30, 1896, was a spark that further spread the fire of revolution which Andres Bonifacio and the Katipuneros had launched in August of that year. In 1898, President Emilio Aguinaldo of the First Philippine Republic instituted Rizal Day on December 30 as a day of mourning not only for Rizal but also for all other victims of Spanish colonial rule.
That republic was short-lived. For the Americans, victorious against the Spaniards in the Spanish-American War, proceeded to take control of the Philippines. But even the Americans recognized Rizal’s heroism. In 1901, Governor General William Howard Taft declared Rizal a national hero and a year later, the Philippine Commission declared December 30 a public holiday.
Over the years, there have been efforts to honor Rizal on his birthday, rather than on the day he was executed in Bagumbayan. The National Historical Commission then headed by Ambeth Ocampo pushed for moving Rizal Day to June 19, noting that this would enable the nation’s students to participate more actively in the celebration of his life, as it would be during the schoolyear. The House of Representatives enacted a bill to this effect in 2008 but Congress ended its session before the Senate could enact a counterpart bill.
Today, the day will be celebrated as a special holiday in Rizal’s home province of Laguna and his birthplace, Calamba. President Duterte issued Proclamation 222 covering Laguna and Proclamation 223 for the city of Calamba.
Once again, there will be those who would rather celebrate Rizal Day on June 19, as his life, more than his death, best embodied the ideals of the nation that continue to inspire us today. In any case, we join in remembering him today, this man of such great intellect and utter love of country who voiced the ideals and the passions of his people and whose vision for the nation remains true to this day.