The Rizal Letters

Reading Rizal Yesterday & Today

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Morga & The Noli

Apt image by Utah Biloba who captions it 'More prophets and amateur historians' ( I call it ‘Ghosts of ancient past’ which at one time Rizal was trying to exorcise into life. On 17 September 1888, Rizal wrote from London a short letter to his friend Blumentritt:

Day after tomorrow I shall finish copying the Morga and immediately I shall begin annotating it. I have already read Pigafetta and Chirino, but I lack Navarrete which I cannot find in the British catalogue. I do not know the subject matter of Rada’s book; neither is it in the catalogues. I need also the Viaje De Van Noort. Naturally, I shall also consult your works.

The Morga is of course the one book that once annotated by him, Rizal hoped would restore the proper status of the Philippines as a civilized country in the eyes of the world, even before the advent of the Spaniards. Rizal did a superhuman job, but the Morga failed because the Filipino colony failed to show themselves as civilized people, preferring instead wine, women and song.

Morga is an excellent book. It could be said that Morga is a learned explorer. He has nothing of the superficiality and exaggeration so peculiar to the Spaniards of today. He writes very simply, but in reading him one must know how to read between the lines, because he had been Governor General of the Philippines and later justice of the Inquisition.

You’re not a good historian if you can’t read between the lines.

I find Chirino too pro-friar and at times too childish. He tells fairy stories, believing that religion would be better and stronger with these stories which are entirely out of place over there (Philippines).

I haven’t seen Chirino myself, but I guess what Rizal calls the ‘fairy stories’ that Chirino writes about are miracles claimed by believers. Unlike Rizal, I believe in miracles myself.

Noli Me Tangere is officially banned in the Philippines! But the prisoners have been acquitted.

I’m not surprised that the Noli is banned in the Philippines when it comes out: It not only denigrates the Spanish friars; worse, it mocks them. In the Noli, the author seems to be saying, ‘Come and get me, you fools!’

I say: Writing the Noli was brave and foolish. Was Rizal thinking that 'The truth will set you free?' Yes, but only if the truth is told with love. Noli is truth told without love. - 17 September 2006

Friday, August 25, 2006

1882 & 2006:
Writing & Publishing
Then & Now

From the 12 September 1882 letter of Basilio Teodoro Moran in Manila to Jose Rizal in Barcelona, Spain; Moran is publisher of Diariong Tagalog which has just published Rizal’s article, El Amor Patrio, The Love Of Country (with my editing):

When we published your article El Amor Patrio, the terrible cholera morbus had begun to claim thousands of victims in this capital city. In these last days it has slackened its fatal effects, due undoubtedly to the energetic measures that our most worthy Governor General, the Marquis of Estella (Fernando Primo de Rivera), has taken to combat it and to the atmospheric change observed lately on account of the continuous squalls and rains that we are having.

Your article was published whole in one single issue (of 20 August last) so that the reading can be continuous and the reader will not lose interest in it. The censor of this periodical has boldly added the distinctive mark of el Bueno to the name Guzman, which the Editor strongly disapproved, telling him rightly that he ought never to add to or remove from an article even one letter, inasmuch as the one who does so becomes ridiculous in desiring to share the glory of its author; and if the editorial staff consider an article bad, they should not publish it; if they do, they should not mutilate it. After this reprimand of the aforesaid censor, we have excused his fault which was the result of misunderstood zeal rather than of a blameable desire, and I hope you will do the same.

The members of this editorial staff including the editor, and enlightened groups of this capital have lavished praises on your work and said that neither here nor in Spain, except Castelar, can produce an equal literary work so full of opportune concepts and poetic images. I therefore felicitate you warmly for it, wishing that you continue the work you have begun, for all of us predict for you unfading honors for your own glory and that of the Spanish territory that saw you born.

I don’t know yet if the Diariong Tagalog can support itself. I doubt it because our fellow countrymen are indifferent to it.

By this mail we send you a set of this periodical from its first appearance to date and in the future you will receive the issues as they come out.

We should like to request you to favor us with a fortnightly review of the topmost news of that city and of others in Europe, six or eight articles every fortnight, and see if there are publications there that would to exchange with us, and if you do not find any, you can subscribe for a year to a newspaper. If by chance there is some one there who wants to subscribe to ours, it would be desirable for you to accept it. We give you ample powers and you can consider yourself, as we already consider you, collaborator and staff writer of Diariong Tagalog. xxx

If your work will allow you, I beg you not to fail to send at least your literary articles every fortnightly, because I’m planning to reduce the personnel so that the periodical can support itself. Now the expenses amount to one thousand four hundred pesos monthly. You already know that I don’t count on a large fund.

For the last 2 hours, I have been surfing the Internet for an English translation of El Amor Patrio but I can’t even find the Spanish version. I don’t understand - a seminal writing like that and it has been ignored by historians and knowledge keepers? It may of course only mean that they have not discovered the value of historical documents being published for easy access in the Internet. I hope the National Historical Institute can do something about this, and soon.

It’s interesting that Rizal’s patriotic article was printed whole in one issue and not in series, for the reader’s convenience and the author’s assurance that once someone fancies reading it, he can and will read through to the end. If I were the editor of the publication, I would have done the same thing. In fact, whenever I lay out a newsletter of which I am Editor, for one-flow reading I always see to it that each article finishes on the same page or continues to the very next page.

‘If the editorial staff consider an article bad, they should not publish it; if they do, they should not mutilate it.’ That’s what I do when I edit manuscripts: unless the grammar is poor, the meaning is unclear or the logic is bad, I leave the sentences alone. Not being the author, I do not rewrite the paper according to my style. An editor is not a licensed rewriter.

‘I don’t know yet if the Diariong Tagalog can support itself. I doubt it because our fellow countrymen are indifferent to it.’ Well, it works both ways. Did the publisher think of coming out with a publication that suited the taste and/or met the needs of its target readers? Why would I buy a copy of your paper if I don’t see the need to read it, or if I don’t like it? I am indifferent to the Philippine Daily Inquirer because I do not espouse what the paper espouses. And it’s too judgmental for my taste. In contrast, I like the Philippine Star and am happy reading it. I’ll buy a copy anytime.

Moran is requesting Rizal to write either a fortnightly review of the news in Europe or his own literary works as often as he can. In fact, he’s actually asking Rizal to write much of the content of the paper!

The problem with Diariong Tagalog is not lack of news but too much political news, which is the same problem with most of our newspapers today (including the tabloids). Diariong Tagalog did not and today’s papers do not consider important any positive developments whether in the big cities or in the small villages in remote hills. Today, all the mass media considers itself the guardian of the people’s interests without trying to understand what those interests are. If they ask me, I will tell them they can start with man’s hierarchical needs as according to Abraham Maslow.

Moran wrote of planning to reduce the personnel of his publishing house. That means to me he started big – 1,400 pesos a month was big money at that time. This was 1882; to give you an idea of that amount, in 1887, the cost of printing 2,000 copies of Rizal’s book Noli Me Tangere was 800 pesos. Moran was over-spending! He had too much zeal and not enough sense of proportion. I understand Diariong Tagalog printed 2 issues and then was seen no more. 100% patriotism does not translate into a 50-50 proposition.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

2 Different Languages
2 Different Crusaders
2 Different Aims

From the 28 August 1882 letter of Jose M Cecilio to Jose Rizal:

In the Diariong Tagalog of the 20 of this month is published your article El Amor Patrio. On this I give you my most enthusiastic congratulation. I’m only sorry that it has many typographical errors.

I’m very glad that you will go to Madrid where you can do many things in favor of this country jointly with the other Filipinos. So long as we have the pen tied to (illegible word) or better said, so long as they do not give us freedom of the press, abuses, arbitrariness, and injustices will prevail more than in other parts of the world. It is difficult if not impossible to attain this in (illegible) from the Europeans with vested interests, as in Cuba (illegible) and to this is due its progress to a modern and more liberal and scientific administration.

As you know there are some guys with excessive influence in this country and these are the friars who are the limit of despotism. It would be advisable for you to do something about them.

The crusaders were Marcelo H Del Pilar from Kupang, Bulacan and Jose P Rizal from Calamba, Laguna. Two very different personalities, almost as contrasting as black and white.

Plaridel (a pen name, jumbled from ‘Del Pilar’), a fighting journalist not unlike those of today, founded Diariong Tagalog in 1882; he was ‘the most intelligent and indefatigable of the Filipino separatists in the 1880s’ (Dahli Aspillera, Malaya, 01 March 2006, Now then, if Aspillera’s label of Plaridel is correct, that explains all his actions in the matter of La Solidaridad, the mouthpiece of the Filipino campaigners in Europe. That explains the demise of that organ right from the start: La Solidaridad was for reforms while Plaridel, the editor who sought control of the paper from Rizal, was for revolution – and no one knew? Certainly not Rizal; in none of his letters I have read does he intimate it. You can’t have a paper going into two diverging, if not opposite, directions!

Rizal was the light of La Solidaridad. What he stood for, that paper stood for. Among other things, he stood for legislated change, not violent change. Graciano Lopez Jaena, Antonio Luna, Juan Luna, Galicano Apacible and many others were one with him. When Plaridel took control over La Solidaridad from Rizal, it was in fact revolution that took over reforms.

On hindsight, this is not all surprising. Look at them in Manila in 1882, on the pages of Diariong Tagalog. The editor of the paper is Plaridel, and it is bilingual: Tagalog and Spanish. This paper is not very clear about its target readers: the proletariat who speak only Tagalog, or the bourgeoisie who speak Spanish? I don’t think you can shoot two birds with one stone using paper!

What about Rizal? His article ‘El Amor Patrio’ (Love Of Country) is in Spanish and, therefore, he is clearly targeting the bourgeosie or, at least, the educated. It was only right. The proletariat clearly had no ambition beyond today.

Even today, newspapers for the proletariat are for entertainment and diversion. So, where are those journalists and non-journalists who target the masses through newspapers in their campaign for revolution or reform? In error. And theirs is more than typographical error.

Image from Mari-Goto, 'Newspaper in the rain -3' (

Friday, July 28, 2006

Kissing hands
Letter of Jose M Cecilio (Chengoy) from Manila dated 28 August 1882: T..., your intimate friend, how she remembers the things that you used to do when she was single. She requests me to give you a pinch of her F..., born after your departure from this capital city. They asked me how long were you going to stay there and I answered them that at least ten years and when you returned you could make love to F... Then Orang, Candeng, Chengoy, and Titay, who were present, answered that you would kiss their hands. I rejoined that there was no other remedy, but Mariano, brother of Mentang split the subject in the middle saying that it could not be so for the reason that you ought not to have two objects. Here Troy burned. All of them, including Capitana Sanday, send you their most affectionate regards and Orang wishes you to find there a good-looking girl.
'The things you used to do' tells me Rizal was naughty & nice when he was young. If Rizal returned after 17 years, F would then be sweet 16, old enough to kiss in love. 'You would kiss their hands' means they would have grown much older by then and they know that Rizal would kiss their hands out of love and respect. Actually, it means that they would kiss his hand out of love and respect (image of a card from Taana of Finland, courtesy of Mary Hawkins, 'You ought not to have two objects' means he should not have one O and another O (Orang is Leonor Rivera and Orang is Leonor Valenzuela; she is the Orang in the letter), two good-looking girls. O, O! Objects of desire. I know the feeling. Years and years ago, I too had two girl friends at the same time in the same place - that was naughty, but I have always been a nice boy, even if I say it myself.

Added 03 August:
Part of the same letter mentions Leonor Rivera in these words:

There is a person who has felt deeply your absence and says that had she been here when you left you would not have succeeded in getting away. She deserves pity. You must have already received a letter from her by now as I write this. That she loves you there is no doubt now.

She worshipped him' would not be quite off the mark. The women worshipped Rizal and found him (almost) irresistible. That is precisely the reason why Rizal took care not to tell Leonor that he was leaving. Love is important, but a greater love has no man than to die for his country.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Absence of a son
30 June 1882, letter from Vicente Gella, Santa Cruz, Manila; image from MarcoBillo titled 'Absence' ( : If the absence of a son from the bosom of his esteemed family is sad, no less will be that of a friend who, being very dear to all of us who have the honor of being called his friends and comrades, now is away from us seeking the welfare we all desire. Had it not been for that, the separation would have been more painful for the distance that separates us. May God help you for the good that you do to your fellow countrymen.

What happened before this was that Rizal left the Philippines almost 2 months before, on 3 May 1882, with only a few souls knowing and those few excluding his father, mother and sisters but including Paciano, his brother. They shared the secret of why Rizal was going to Europe: To liberate himself and to liberate his countrymen. How? That is the Rizal story that we will try to unravel using the Rizal letters.

Then & now
Captured' is JustElene's title to this image (; I like the image because the girl looks like Josephine Bracken and she is reading one of her sweetheart's letters. And it declares what I want to do in this blogsite: Read the past using the point of view of the present - and sharing with you what I find and what I don't. The hundreds of letters of Jose Rizal to his family, friends and compatriots, and their replies to him, are too valuable a resource to ignore by piling them on the bookshelf or in forgetfulness. They speak to us of vision, mission, missionary, clarification, obfuscation, patriotism, betrayal, steadfastness. I have read all of them, the ones I have, 564 letters in English translations by Encarnacion Alzona. In them, I read the humanity of the letter writers and others mentioned in them - and I can more appreciate my own.