Reinterpreting Rizal’s ideas in 2008

I missed watching today’s Senate hearings on the testimony of Jun Lozada, the man of the hour. Friends who did watch the hearings told me they felt that some senators were trying to wear down Jun Lozada with their questions, but that he weathered it with aplomb.

I spent the morning with Girlie at Sulo Hotel discussing with Nic Tiongson his current project – writing a play for PETA. “It’s supposed to be a retelling of the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, in contemporary terms,” he explained.

My spontaneous reaction was, “So it’s not just Jun Lozada who is into Rizal these days!” Some friends had sent me a couple of Jun Lozada’s writings, including one about a new La Liga Filipina. His writings give the impression of an avid Jose Rizal fan, who quotes our national hero to explain his decisions and sense of life mission.

Nic said that he had written most of the first half of the play. He wanted to talk to us and other people to get some fresh ideas about the second half, especially how the play would end. He wanted to deliver a message of hope, but what is a realistic hope for our times? And of course, one that is in keeping with the ideas of Rizal.

I asked Nic if he had read Benedict Anderson’s Under Three Flags, which is a masterful study of El Filibusterismo, and explains why Rizal chose the persona of Simoun. His thesis is that in writing the Fili, Rizal was influenced by the ideas he encountered in the anarchist circles in Europe. That included Barcelona where another Filipino hero, Isabelo de los Reyes, also learned about anarcho-syndicalism, from fellow prisoners.

When Isabelo de los Reyes got back to the Philippines, he applied the ideas he learned from the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists by organizing the first labor union, the Union Obrero Democratico. Later, he also pushed for the setting up of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, but that’s another story.

Anderson’s characterization of anarchism, as symbolized by Simoun, is someone who wants to tear down, in fact blow up, the whole elite power structure. What would replace the old system? Anarchists would leave that to the succeeding generation. They focus their responsibility on putting a drastic end to an unacceptable situation.

We can detect a tinge of these sentiments among many Filipinos, especially middle class intellectuals, who are so disgusted with what’s happening that they would welcome even a military rebellion that would overthrow a corrupt and repressive elite. They even downplay their fears of a possible junta, or the uncertainty about an alternative order.

Nic, Girlie, and I reviewed the different ideas that circulate among activists who continue to look for ways to achieve meaningful changes in our country. He asked: “Is there still a place for the armed struggle of the guerrillas?” We reprised for a while the dialogue in Rizal’s novels about the futility of violence and the need for inner transformation.

I pointed out that many Filipinos who despair about change at the top or the center, find hope in some local governments, including a couple of towns whose mayors are former rebels. Nic asked for examples. I said that Jessie Robredo of Naga City was on top of my list, but he could also look into the story of Eddie Dorotan, who was mayor of Irosin and is now Galing Pook Foundation director. His brother was an NPA and he is a doctor who set up LIKAS, a health NGO. “Check all the winners of the Galing Pook awards,” I suggested.

Another angle we explored is the potential contribution of overseas Filipinos to bring about the changes that we desire. Girlie and I share a keen interest in migration and development. Nic thought that this OF angle adds an interesting and contemporary element to the retelling of the Noli and Fili.

Later, in the afternoon. Girlie and I moved to another room in Sulo Hotel. I was asked to speak at a round table discussion on “crossover” experiences, i.e. people from NGOs and civil society who have been elected or appointed to government positions.

The afternoon’s rich and frank discussions felt like a continuation of our conversation with Nic Tiongson about Rizal’s ideas on change and reforms. What possibilities are there really for achieving reforms in the existing system, especially when reformers are in the minority? Can we combine reform energies outside the institutions of power and inside these institutions?

These were the questions we sought to answer in 2000 when Boy Morales and other colleagues in government convened the New La Liga to bring about a synergy between reformers inside government and outside government, among the citizenry.

Explore posts in the same categories: Leadership, Renewing our spirit

2 Comments on “Reinterpreting Rizal’s ideas in 2008”

  1. butalidnl Says:

    The way you use the terms “development” and “reforms” it comes out as if reforms are needed to have development. I think many Filipinos also think that way. From this logic, many today conclude that since there is still corruption etc. (and thus no reforms) the development what we have is not real (or genuine).
    I disagree with this. First, economic development can proceed even without political reforms. The case of the Asian tiger economies developing while having dictatorships proves this point. There is still corruption in Japan and Korea. At a certain point, though, economic development makes it easier to pursue political reform (although this does not mean automatic changes).
    I believe that the regional economic boom and the vitality of our labor force will push the Philippines to develop even despite government incompetence, corruption ,etc. I believe that within 30 years, the country’s GDP will overtake that of many OECD countries; and that this trend is practically unstoppable. Given this, the task that we face as social activists is one of determining what kind of developed country the Phils will become – will it be like the US: without universal health care, an elitist education system, and little in terms of social safety nets? we need to work to avoid this. Thus, for me, the most important reforms needed are the reforms that people like you are pursuing e.g. education for all, affordable/universal health care etc. These things are not going to come automatically, they need to be fought for.


  2. Dear Kuya Pare Ed again,

    I see Carlo Butalid’s message above. We briefly met in Roterdam in 2002, I think during one of the seafarer meetings organized by Peter Payoyo.
    Still doing a lot about OFW economics, I see. Warm regards! Keep warm, Carlo!

    NONOY Amante in Korea


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