The Grey Chronicles


120 Years Thereafter

Jose Rizal was born on this day. In high school, Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo were required reading in Filipino I and II. In college, the life of Rizal was a required subject. I was even one of the “fortunate” students who took the required two three-unit Spanish subjects. In college, we debated the application to the present century of Rizal’s essay, entitled: The Philippines: A Century Hence (1912).

The article, Filipinas dentro de Cien Años, was originally published serially in the Filipino fortnightly review of La Solidaridad, running through the issues from September, 1889, to January, 1890. Many Rizalists state that this essay supplements Rizal’s great novel Noli Me Tangere and its sequel El Filibusterismo, both books were translated into English by Charles Derbyshire as The Social Cancer and The Reign of Greed.

Although in high school I read both novels in Filipino, I was lucky that my aunt, a provincial librarian, let me borrow Derbyshire’s English translation when I took a Rizal course in college. One of the Saturdays, which I usually spent researching in the Provincial Library, she even walked me through one of her precious library collection of printed reproduction in book form of Rizal’s manuscripts. I even wanted to decipher those blackened pages of some chapters deleted by Rizal because of financial constraints, forgetting that these were merely reproductions!

My college professor in Rizal course told us that the essay was loosely based on F. Jagor’s prophetic Reisen in den Philippinen (Berlin 1873), but she never gave us an clear explanation as to the contents of Jagor’s article. Now with the advent of the Internet, where books have been scanned and republished digitally, I had the opportunity to know what the latter contained:

“For the first time in the world’s history, the gigantic nations on both sides of a gigantic ocean are beginning to come into direct intercourse: Russia . . . China . . America . . . Russia’s future role in the Pacific Ocean at present baffles all calculations. The intercourse of the two other powers will probably have all the more important consequences when the adjustment between the immeasurable necessity for human labor-power on the one hand, and a correspondingly great surplus of that power on the other, shall fall on it as a problem. . . In the long run, the Spanish system cannot prevail over the American. While the former exhausts the colonies through direct appropriation of them to the privileged classes, and the metropolis through the drain of its best forces (with, besides, a feeble population), America draws to itself the most energetic element from all lands; and these on her soil, free from all trammels, and restlessly pushing forward, are continually extending further her power and influence. The Philippines will so much the less escape the influence of the two great neighboring empires, since neither the islands nor their metropolis are in a condition of stable equilibrium, it seems desirable for the natives that the opinions here expressed shall not too soon be realized as facts, for their training thus far has not sufficiently prepared them for success in the contest with those restless, active, most inconsiderate peoples; they have dreamed away their youth.”

Jagor’s prophetic words were echoed by Rizal, after weighing the possibilities and constraints of other foreign powers such as “England, nor Germany, nor France, and still less Holland,” in the concluding paragraphs of his essay:

“Perhaps the great American Republic, whose interests lie in the Pacific and who has no hand in the spoliation of Africa, may some day dream of foreign possession. This is not impossible, for the example is contagious, covetousness and ambition are among the strongest vices, and [President Benjamin] Harrison manifested something of this sort in the Samoan question. But the Panama Canal is not opened nor the territory of the States congested with inhabitants, and in case she should openly attempt it the European powers would not allow her to proceed, for they know very well that the appetite is sharpened by the first bites. North America would be quite a troublesome rival, if she should once get into the business. Furthermore, this is contrary to her traditions.”

Then it came to pass that the Philippines was ceded to America after the defeat of Spain in 1898 following the Spanish-American War! Rewritten history books suggest that the Filipinos sought America for their freedom but the latter subjugated the former.

In Rizal’s essay, he extolled the Filipino character and disposition, which I believe are still true today as they were a hundred or so years ago:

“Even now, in spite of contact with the occidental nations, who have ideals different from his, we see the Malayan Filipino sacrifice everything—liberty, ease, welfare, name, for the sake of an aspiration or a conceit, sometimes scientific, or of some other nature, but at the least word which wounds his self-love he forgets all his sacrifices, the labor expended, to treasure in his memory and never forget the slight he thinks he has received.” [Emphasis added].

“The Philippine races, like all the Malays, do not succumb before the foreigner . . . The Filipino embraces civilization and lives and thrives in every clime, in contact with every people.” [Emphasis added]

“The Filipino loves his country no less, and although he is quieter, more peaceful, and with difficulty stirred up, when he is once aroused he does not hesitate and for him the struggle means death to one or the other combatant. He has all the meekness and all the tenacity and ferocity of his carabao. Climate affects bipeds in the same way that it does quadrupeds.” [Emphasis added]

If history is a guide, then perhaps, Rizal’s essay should also be a required reading of all foreign investors, too. The key words here are highlighted above. Lest we forget, Filipinos sacrifice everything and all, yet he remains true to his character. Filipinos may seek better wages and better living in another civilization, in another clime, but sometime thereafter, they return home: out of their love for the country, their familial duty, even guilt or sometimes, just to gloat.

In terms of learning, enlightenment and the “imperfect culture of the majority of the inhabitants” Rizal state:

“Brutalization of the Malayan Filipino has been demonstrated to be impossible. . . . there exist writers, freethinkers, historians, philosophers, chemists, physicians, artists and jurists. Enlightenment is spreading and the persecution it suffers quickens it. No, the divine flame of thought is inextinguishable in the Filipino people and somehow or other it will shine forth and compel recognition.” [Emphasis added]

No one ceases to be a man, no one forfeits his rights to civilization merely by being more or less uncultured, and since the Filipino is regarded as a fit citizen when he is asked to pay taxes or shed his blood to defend the fatherland, why must this fitness be denied him when the question arises of granting him some right? Moreover, how is he to be held responsible for his ignorance, when it is acknowledged by all, friends and enemies, that his zeal for learning is so great . . . If the Filipino, then, is sufficiently intelligent to pay taxes, he must also be able to choose and retain the one who looks after him and his interests, with the product whereof he serves the government of his nation. To reason otherwise is to reason stupidly.” [Emphasis added]

Maybe I should have quoted these same words whenever someone questions the Filipinos’ brand of civilization and pointed out the inherent difference of the latter to culture.

Another point that sticks like a sore thumb, although aimed then to the Spanish rulers at the time of “petty insurrections”, Rizal foretells the fate of contemporary rulers of the Philippines, cautioning, ”But even though all the advantage should be on the government’s side and therefore the probability of success, it would be a Pyrrhic victory, and no government ought to desire such”, wherein:

“If those who guide the destinies of the Philippines remain obstinate, and instead of introducing reforms try to make the condition of the country retrograde, to push their severity and repression to extremes against the classes that suffer and think, they are going to force the latter to venture and put into play the wretchedness of an unquiet life, filled with privation and bitterness, against the hope of securing something indefinite. What would be lost in the struggle? Almost nothing: the life of the numerous discontented classes has no such great attraction that it should be preferred to a glorious death. . . No insurrection had a popular character or was based on a need of the whole race or fought for human rights or justice, so it left no ineffaceable impressions, but rather when they saw that they had been duped the people bound up their wounds and applauded the overthrow of the disturbers of their peace! But what if the movement springs from the people themselves and bases its cause upon their woes?” [Emphasis added]

We, Filipinos, proved this to be completely true: during the People Power in 1986 and its numerous encores. Yet, the question still remains: Are we all completely blameless for what our government does or did not do? Shouldn’t we start electing qualified leaders, who could introduce not only progressive reforms but sustained development to guide our own destinies to the next century, instead of voting based on personalities and rhetoric?

Or maybe, we haven’t learned anything at all from the past?


Rizal, Jose (1912). The Philippines: A Century Hence, Noli Me Tangere Quarter-Centennial Series . Austin Craig [ed.], Escolta, Manila: Philippine Education Company , 1912. pp. 31-112. back to text

Jagor, Feodor. (1873). Reisen in den Philippinen [Travels in the Philippines], Berlin, 1873. pp. 287-289. back to text

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