Thursday, January 01, 2004

The Undiscovered Country

Dean Jorge Bocobo observed that the Philippine national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, was except for his physical appearance, not Filipino at all, but "basically a highly educated Spaniard of the late 19th Century" who "was freed by his mastery of the Spanish language, and several other modern languages, from the purposive obscurantism of the colonial friars and their dogmatic theocracy. He escaped the intentional benighting of the Philippines and her people by absorbing the best of Western culture and civilization to finally see Spain and the Philippines in the total context of the past and present, and also, of future possibilities." Bocobo's declaration is the single most original evaluation of Rizal since his death 105 years ago. It explains why Rizal has been so difficult to for Filipinos emulate, a circumstance often explained by raising him to the status of a demigod, a nonpareil. It is why no one can imagine Rizal as a contemporary Filipino figure: movie star, greasy politician, fat general or kidnap-for-ransom kingpin. For to be like Rizal one must first stop being like a Filipino at all.

Rizal's dilemma is shared by every man, but most especially those born in the Third World: whether to quest for truth wherever it might be found or to swear unquestioning allegiance to the fires of home. It is a painful choice because the price of becoming a man is often childhood's end. Yet when Robert Graves dedicated his memoir of the Great War, Goodbye to All That, "with affection, to the man I used to be" he was announcing a birth no less than a death. Millions have followed in Rizal's path to become distinguished professionals, Medal of Honor heroes, dollar multibillionaires, Corps commanders in the US Army and the main economic prop for all who chose to remain Filipinos. Always as citizens of any another country that would judge them by their worth instead of their factional membership. Rizal discovered what the Evangelists always knew: that true heroes have no nationality; that every authentic declaration of independence is sounded everywhere. And as we recall how Rizal chose death to dishonor more than a century ago, may it help us remember why we oppose Osama Bin Laden's terrors and cruelties. Not because we are not his co-religionists, though some of us may be, but simply because like Rizal, we prefer to be men.