Towards a Rizal model of governance

Dr. José Rizal (1861-1896) was a “Filipino nationalist, novelist, poet, ophthalmologist, journalist, and revolutionary…, widely considered as one of the greatest heroes of the Philippines” (from Wikipedia). This post, non-verbatim, formed part of the requirements for Philippine Institutions 100 (Life and Works of Rizal) under Dr. Ma. Crisanta Flores, First Semester AY 2014-15.

This post is intended to be in a perpetual work in progress, to be revised as new details and interpretations of Rizal emerge.

This post initially appeared on the 118th anniversary of Rizal’s martyrdom (1896), 30 December 2014.

From his life and writings, and the subsequent interpretations of these by various scholars and writers, three models of governance can be attributed to Dr. Rizal. For the sake of discussion, “governance” here is defined as the relationship between the state, the private sector, and civil society.

In his essay “Elias: The Ethics of a Revolution”,  Adrian Cristobal wrote, “There is only one acceptable society: founded on the dialogue between man and the state, between authority and freedom.” This implies a harmonious relationship between the ruler and the ruled,. Cristobal added that the absence of this dialogue justified a revolution, “…it must be made to exist. Ergo: Revolution.”

Renato Constantino paints Rizal as a limited Filipino, limited primarily by his social class, in his seminal essay “Veneration Without Understanding.” He argued that the reformists including Rizal “wanted accommodation within the existing system,” quoting a portion of Rizal’s letter to Blumentritt:

….under the present circumstances, we do not want separation from Spain. All that we ask is greater attention, better education, better government employees, one or two representatives and greater security for our persons and property. Spain could always win the appreciation of the Filipinos if she were only reasonable!

This reading of Rizal implies that his model of governance is state-centered, with reforms coming from above. The ruled in turn are passive or at most active only in seeking for reforms. Constantino wrote, “…[Rizal] instinctively underestimated the power and the talents of the people [in condemning the Revolution],” rooting this to his ilustrado background.

Floro Quibuyen goes against Constantino’s view of Rizal in his book Rizal: A Nation Aborted (While not from the book exactly, Quibuyen’s arguments on Rizal can be read here). He states that the premises used by Constantino and the prevailing Rizal orthodoxy stems from faulty interpretations of the national hero (as being “merely a reformist”) that can be traced to Wenceslao Retana and Trinidad Pardo de Tavera and perpetuated by the Americans to justify their rule over the Philippines in the early 1900s. Quibuyen asserts that the documentary evidence and statements of Rizal’s contemporaries show that Rizal was a revolutionary. Quibuyen rebuked Constantino for omitting the portion before the letter to Blumentritt quoted above, which reads:

A peaceful struggle shall always be a dream, for Spain will never learn the lesson of her South American colonies. Spain cannot learn what England and the United States have learned. But, under the present circumstances, we do not want separation from Spain. All that we ask is greater attention, better education, better government employees, one or two representatives and greater security for our persons and property. Spain could always win the appreciation of the Filipinos if she were only reasonable!

For Quibuyen, this meant Rizal was no longer interested in petitioning Spain for reforms in the Philippines, foremost of which included freedom of the press and representation in the Spanish parliament. Rather, Rizal believed that revolution was not a question of if but that of when.

With regard to Rizal’s model of governance, Quibuyen explicitly states in chapter 6 of Rizal: A Nation Aborted that Rizal favored a nation-as-civil society against the nation-state. The nation Rizal envisioned, according to Quibuyen, was not rooted on the principle of sovereignty (which eradicated the political obligation of the ruler to the ruled, resulting in vox imperium, vox populi) but instead on the principle of vox populi, vox Dei (where the state is obliged to ensure that the people reach their self-fulfillment, and that the people have the duty to keep the state in check). This nation is rooted on the basis of a shared language and culture (rather than descent) and on principles of justice and equality. Quibuyen traces this to the works of German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder, to the Judeo-Christian tradition from which Rizal was not able to distance himself, and in practice to the aims of his failed Sandakan project and the Liga Filipina, and Rizal’s community in Dapitan.

Quibuyen’s interpretation of Rizal may also be linked to Father John Schumacher’s reading of the Noli me tangere. In his essay “The Noli Me Tangere as Catalyst of Revolution”, Schumacher said, “[Rizal’s] revolutionary goal was to create a nation of Filipinos conscious of their human and national dignity and ready to sacrifice themselves to defend it.” Thus, the people are active participants in this model of governance, winning freedom by deserving it, by “sacrificing and working” (in the words of Padre Florentino in the Fili).

In summary, the models of governance that can be linked to Rizal involves: 1) harmony between all players; 2) opposition, with the state above civil society and the private sector; and 3) opposition, with the civil society and the private sector above the state.

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