I’m proud to tell the world I had the best New Year in my whole life. No, I did not binge, get drunk, or shoot fireworks. We simply had fried chicken, cheese, rice, and fruits. No wine. No alcoholic drinks, just a liter of Coke Light. But I had the best time of my life. Why?
As the bursts of fireworks rose to a crescendo, I entered my son’s room wondering what sort of things we Filipinos have missed as we were scrambling for the New Year. “It’s the December 30 death anniversary of our national hero, Jose Rizal,” said Ovid. “We glossed over the relevance of his death, the message he wanted to share to future generations.”
“And what do you think was the message our national hero was trying to deliver?,” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe the message is coded in Padre Florentino’s words as he dumped Simoun The Jeweler’s treasures into the void of the ocean after the original terrorist-revolutionary in Philippine history breathed his last.”
In Rizal’s second novel El Filibusterismo (The Subversion), Simoun was the sinister manipulator, a Darth Vader of sort, who returned to the Philippines after accumulating so much wealth abroad. He used his money to foment more oppressive measures, more strong-handed policies, more greed and corruption among the ruling elite—the friars, the Spanish bureaucracy, and the civil guards—hoping that the Indios, the masses, would rise up in arms against the Spaniards. That way, he would also get his revenge for a loved one lost. The masses remained servile so he planted bombs under a building where the ruling elites were scheduled to meet. For some human foibles, the plot did not succeed. Wounded in a skirmish with the Guardia Civil and expecting capture, he drank poison and went to Padre Florentino for his last confession.
After he died, the priest threw all the treasures into the bottom of the sea saying: “May Nature guard you in her deep abysses among the corals and pearls of her eternal seas. When for a holy and sublime end men should need you, God will draw you from the breast of the waves… Meanwhile there you will do no evil, you will not distort right, you will not foment avarice.”
What’s the meaning of this passage? What’s that “holy and sublime end” that we need to have for us to recover that great wealth thrown into of the bowels of the ocean? What do those treasures signify? Is it progress? Economic development? Power? Missed opportunities?
The clue—the Kid said—is in the priest’s rebuke of the dying Simoun on his prescription for violence. For the priest, sacrifice, hard work, suffering, and enlightenment are the real paths.
Said Padre Florentino in El Filibusterismo: “The school of suffering tempers; the arena of combat strengthens the soul. I do not mean to say that our freedom is to be won by the blade of the sword; the sword enters very little now in modern destinies, yes, but we must win it, deserving it, raising the intelligence and the dignity of the individual, loving the just, the good, the great, even dying for it, and when as a people reach that height, God provides the weapon, and the idols will fall, the tyrants fall like a house of cards and liberty shines with the first dawn.”
My son was insistent that for Rizal the search for “intelligence and the dignity of the individual” also meant the pursuit of science. It has nothing to do with deliverance through messianic figures or political leaders with “political will.” He pointed Basilio’s rebuttal of Simoun near the grave of her mother who was driven to madness and death by the Friars/Spaniards: “Science is more eternal, more humane, more universal. Within a few centuries, when humanity shall have been redeemed and enlightened; when there shall no longer be races; when all peoples shall have become free; when there are no longer tyrants nor slaves, colonies nor empires; when justice reigns and man becomes a citizen of the world, only the cult of Science will remain; the world patriotism will sound as fanaticism, and whosoever will take pride in patriotic virtues will surely be locked up as a dangerous maniac, as a disturber of the social harmony.”
We spent hours interpreting the meaning of Rizal’s words, debating their relevance in modern times. We did so for hours until we were so tired we needed to sleep. By eight in the morning, I woke up refreshed ready for the new day.