Rizal in Dapitan:

Prelude to Martyrdom

By Atty. Pablo S. Trillana III

Kamalaysayan Writers and Speakers

Atty. Pablo S. Trillana III, ex-Delegate to the 1991 Constitutional Convention and Undersecretary of the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources, was also a broadcaster on historical and cultural themes. He joined KMS before being elected President of the Philippine Historical Association, and later on becoming the Chairman and Executive Director of the National Historical Institute (NHI).

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NE HUNDRED YEARS AGO, Jose Rizal ended his exile in Dapitan by departing its shores witnessed by the townspeople who had come to love their "doctor". As part of the country's centennial celebrations, that departure will be re-enacted today in the same shores from whence he sailed, witnessed by the town's present-day residents who had learned to love his memory.

            It will be recalled that Governor-General Despujol decreed the exile of Rizal without trial, on the unproved charge of smuggling into Manila subversive anti-friar leaflets when he returned on 26 June 1892. The decree of exile was published on 7 July 1892. Shipped to Dapitan eight days later, Rizal arrived in his lonely outpost on 17 July 1892 and stayed until 31 July 1896. It was a long exile marked by useful undertakings and serendiptious turn of events as well as pain, solitude, and the hard grip of fate.

            Before his exile, Rizal was in the vortex of political activities that sought to reform the unjust colonial administration. Almost single-handedly, he had awakened the people to the idea of a Filipino nation and its liberation from the injustice of the past. The colonial masters did not approved and sought to silence the "filibusterismo". But Rizal was in Europe, so they turned their wrath on his family and relatives. Impelled by destiny to redeem his country and the desire to relieve his family of their vengeance, Rizal returned to face the oppressors.

            His homecoming caused a sensation in Manila. The people looked up to him as their "redeemer" and, whenever he went, he was met with unsettling admiration. In coming back, he was prepared to face death itself. Instead, he was spirited away, according to Leon Ma. Guerrero," in the dead of night to the edge of nowhere".

            The place of exile was chosen by Governor-General Despujol upon the councel of Fr. Pablo Pastells, then Superior of the Jesuits in the Philippines. The former dreamed of sapping the spirits of Rizal towards a fatal resignation to putting down roots in faraway Dapitan and forgetting the world of politics. Fr. Pastells, on the other hand, hoped that in Dapitan, one of the rare parishes under Jesuit care, they could work to bring back their talented Ateneo alumnus to Christian obedience.

            The banishment doomed the Liga Filipina, the peaceful enterprise which Rizal had launce on 3 July 1892. From its ashes would rise the more militant Katipunan of Andres Bonifacio that would stoke the fires of revolution during Rizal's long absence. But Rizal would not know this until much later. For now, he was faced with the prospects of political isolation and the demands of daily life. Rizal was forced, therefore, to pick the threads of life in Dapitan like pebbles that had been "kicked aside", consoled only by the fact that Despujol had pardoned his parents.

Useful Activities

            Serendipity smiled early when a lottery ticket, shared by Rizal, a Dipolog resident and Captain Carnicero, won second prize. Carnicero was Rizal's commandant-warden who ultimately came to appreciate his ward. With his part of the earnings, Rizal bought a sizeable farm in Talisay, not far from Dapitan, which he gradually turned into a productive plantation.

            At the urging of Blumentritt, his Austrian friend, Rizal worked on a Tagalog grammar guide and studied Bisayan. He began to get in touch with leading ethnologists, botanists and zoologists in Europe. He collected specimens of unusual herbs, plants, insects, animals, flowers and shells, sending some to friends in Europe and, in return, receiving books and surgical instruments.

            Rizal also engaged in the copra and hemp business and formed a cooperative to help break the Chinese monopoly of trade in Dapitan. He likewise helped improve the fishing methods of Dapitan fishermen. He further helped in community projects, beautifying the town plaza, constructing Dapitan's first water system, lightning its dark street and draining marshes.

            At the same time, he established a hospital that drew a continuing stream of patients, earning good fees from the wealthy and demanding nothing from the poor. He continued to write poetry, to sketch and sculpt. But it was the school he organized which became the experimental hub of his ideal of teaching men "to behave like men". Growing to have a regular pool of sixteen select students, the school was well ahead of its time as it integrated formal instructions with athletics and agricultural activities.

            As Rizal slowly established himself in Dapitan, he was drawn, from September 1892 to late June 1893, to remarkable and lengthy correspondence with Fr. Pastells who sought to save Rizal from his "shipwreck of faith". Explaining his religious views to his former spiritual director, the unrepentant Rizal ended the exchange through his fifth and final letter: "Lest I make you waste your time, I'd rather tell you now: let us leave to God the things that are God's and to men the things that are men's. As your Reverence says, the return to the faith is God's work".

            Rizal's otherwise peaceful life in exile did not escape, however, the more sinister plans of those who sought for Rizal a sentence more fatal than banishment. Towards the end of 1893, for instance, a certain Pablo Mercado introduced himself to Rizal as a relative and tried to worm his way into the latter's confidence. Suspicious, Rizal reported the matter to Juan Sitges who had replaced Carnicero as Rizal's commandant-warden. On investigation, it was discovered that the impostor was really Florencio Namanan who had been paid by the friars to obtain incriminating evidence against Rizal. Florencio was forthwith kicked out of Dapitan.

Solitude of Soul

            Rizal worked hard to find contentment in beautiful Talisay. But enough pain and sadness underpinned his useful life in captivity that grew into the "solitude of soul" which he bemoaned. The company of some family members including his mother who had joined him in Talisay and contacts with his dear friends Blumentritt and Rost alleviated the loneliness and intellectual isolation of the exile. But the ordeal was bearing down on his spirits, almost as Despujol had wanted.

            Several times, he begged to be set free. "Do not wreak on me punishment which kills all initiative and activity", he told Despujol. When the latter was replaced by Governor-General Blanco, Rizal requested the new Governor in February 1894 to set him free if there were no further reasons for the exile and, if there were, to bring him to trial and face judgement. Meeting Blanco on board the cruiser Castilla when the latter visited Dapitan during the last quarter 1894, Rizal again pleaded for liberty only to be told that it may be possible to transfer him to the Ilocos or La Union or perhaps to Spain. In May 1895, Rizal sent another letter to Blanco following up on the latter's suggestion for a transfer to Spain. His pleas fell on deaf ears.

            As 1895 slowly progressed, therefore, Rizal came close to believing that he would never leave Dapitan. Life in the lonely outpost was productive and peaceful but, for the "emancipator", unexciting and without glory. His soul was weary, burdened even more with news of the passing away of friends like Rheinhold Rost. His restless spirit longed for fulfillment and Talisay was not the balm.

Josephine Bracken

            Into this world of enclosing darkness, 18-year old Josephine Bracken, in February 1895, unexpectedly stepped in. She had brought to Dapitan her adoptive father, George Taufer, seeking a cure for his blindness from the renowned opthalmologist. Instead, it was she, whose past had not been one of joy and legitimacy, who found new light in the desolate outpost of nowhere. Rizal and Josephine. To defuse the threat, Josephine was forced to sail back to Manila with her adoptive father on March 1895. Josephine, however, left him to continue his journey to Hongkong and, by April 1895, had returned to Dapitan.

            Unable to get married in Church unless he retracted, Rizal chose to live with Josephine as his wife believing that there was no known impediment to the union before the eyes of God. Soon Josephine conceived and joy reigned in the Rizal household. Towards the end of 1895, however, she miscarried for reasons unprecise and gave birth to a baby boy who did not live. The hand of fate, that inevitable shaper destinies, brought back the pain. And Rizal, with his streak of oriental fatalism, might have glimpsed in the death of his child a symbol of his exiled life: his world, like that of the dead child, had stood still.

End of Exile

            But the hand of fate was not still. It was simply biding the correct time before the closing the curtain on Rizal's exile in Dapitan. It had stirred earlier in December 1895 when, upon the advice of Blumentritt, Rizal applied for permission to serve as military doctor with the Spanish forces fighting the rebels of Cuba where yellow fever also raged. For a long time, Blanco did not reply.

            When finally Blanco's approval arrived in Dapitan on 30 July 1896, Rizal had already been visited, on 21 June 1896, by Katipunan emissary Pio Valenzuela . Informed about the Katipunan and the imminence of revolution, Rizal refused to condone Bonifacio's revolutionary plans because they appeared fatally inadequate. Nevertheless, at the urging of Valenzuela, Rizal gave some advice about revolutionary arrangements to communicate to Bonifacio.

            The hand of fate now moved to close the chapter of Rizal's life in Dapitan. Although he no longer relished going to Cuba, he was afraid that, if he refused and the revolution broke out, he would be accused of complicity. Informed of Blanco's approval, his sister Narcisa and Josephine wept for joy. Seeing their reaction, Rizal decided to leave immediately the next day on the same boat that brought Blanco's letter.

            When the steamer bearing Rizal and his family finally sailed from Dapitan on 31 July 1896, it was enveloped by the dark night just as night welcomed his arrival four years and thirteen days before. It mirrored the solitude of soul that had brought him to a low and uncetain point in life, the glory of his destiny shadowed by prospects of dying obscure and far from the land he loved.

            But if fate did not ordain his death on native soil, he was leaving Dapitan with the thought that he would least have served humanity even if he were to die in Cuba would be interdicted in Barcelona from where he would be shipped right back to Manila and plunged headlong into the maelstrom of the political conflagration that would flare up on 29-30 August 1896, just a few days before he was to set sail for Cuba. In the eye of that whipping storm, Rizal would be accused of organizing the revolution he did not condone and condemned to face the supreme and final test of his destiny -- to show his countrymen and the world how a man should die.

            Rizal's life in the "edge of nowhere", therefore, was a prelude to his martyrdom as well as an interlude not unlike some diversionary pantomime preceding the final drama of life. The peaceful, useful but increasingly forlorn movements of the "filibustero" on the stage of Dapitan contributed to draw the attention of the government and the friars away from the revolutionary preparations simultaneously going on backstage.

            For the Katipunan's growth coincided exactly with Rizal's exile. When, therefore, five months after leaving Dapitan, Rizal would be shot and his executioners would hastily bury his body without a coffin and without the last respects from family and friends, Dapitan would be remembered for the honors with which it bade its hero goodbye.

            For its people stood and watched in farewell as Rizal was rowed to the streamer Espana and their brass band played for their beloved doctor the Funeral March of Chopin. The music was forgivably inappropriate but honest and loving. And in its prophetic clarity, the crying hearts of Dapitan intoned, while Rizal lived, the dirge of honor that, in death, would be denied him in Bagumbayan.

(Kamalaysayan Media Service)



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