Roa: About Jose P. Rizal

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By A. Paulita Roa

Past Speaks

Monday, December 30, 2013

GENERATIONS of Filipinos know about our national hero, Jose P. Rizal, from his books and other works that they studied while in school.

We all know those countless books written about him and the prolific life that he led.

And of course, every 30th of December we commemorate his death anniversary and this is the day that the hero's soul stirring poem titled “Mi Ultimo Adios” or “My Last Farewell” is recited in most town plazas around the country.

However, there are still many things about his life and the profound impact that his death had on many Filipinos at that time that are mostly unknown to us in this present generation.

When Rizal was exiled in Dapitan, his daily activities were monitored and reported to the Spanish military governor who held office and resided at Casa Real in Cagayan de Misamis (Cagayan de Oro).

At that time, Dapitan was part of the Misamis Province and the capital town was Cagayan.

I know of two persons in my family that had had a personal encounter with Rizal—the cousins Juanita and Concepcion Roa.

Both as young girls were brought to Dapitan by their respective parents with the hope that they would be cured from blindness.

Rizal performed surgery on their eyes but with little success.

Concepcion was able to see only shadows and it was only temporary.

She was the frail one and died a few years after her eye surgery.

Juanita never obtained her sight.

She was then taught how to read in Braille and was the first person in Cagayan to own a Braille bible.

Juanita and her sister Rosario were pioneer members of the United Church of Christ under the renowned Dr. Frank Laubach.

When I asked her about Rizal, she told me that he was a gentle person who spoke Bisayan fluently. She died in her late 70s.

There is this anecdote as told by Mr. Fortunato Yacapin about Rizal who secretly slipped away from Dapitan in a friend's boat to visit his friend, Don Urbano Alvarez in Tagoloan.

Both were classmates in Ateneo Municipal in Manila.

He stayed in his friend's house overnight and left very early in the morning.

Aside from Tia Juanita, I came a bit close to Rizal in my young life twice.

The first one was when I met Marcial Borromeo, who was the uncle of my stepmother.

He was among the few boys who were selected to study in a small school that Rizal had while on exile in Dapitan.

I was thrilled to meet this stocky white haired man who came to our house on his way to Camiguin.

I learned that he kept a treasured photo of himself and his teacher in his house in Cebu.

I wonder if it is still there today.

His daughter, Josefa or Tia Pining was the wife of the late City Fiscal Graciano Neri Sr.

The ardent Rizalista and foremost Philippine art collector, Alfonso ‘Tio Poncho’ Ongpin was the husband of my grandaunt, Esperanza.

His house in Manila was a veritable museum of Rizaliana.

I saw ensconced in glass cases the personal things of our national hero—his ‘tsinelas,’ toothbrush, his coat and others.

I learned that this priceless collection was then donated to the Philippine government upon the death of my granduncle.

I still have with me his unique Christmas card–aside from the Spanish holiday greetings to his sister-in-law, my Lola Conchita, there was nothing Christmassy about his card.

Rather, it was a rare photo of an expensive silver casket that contained the bones of Rizal and an article on how he spent his last hours on earth.

He emphatically denied that Rizal renounced his association with Freemasonry as claimed by the Spanish Jesuits.

Decades later, when this card was shown to the late Jesuit historian, Fr. Miguel Bernad in his office in Xavier University, he refuted what Tio Poncho wrote by saying that Rizal did go back to the Catholic faith before he was led to his execution.

Lastly, how did the Kagay-anons react to Rizal's execution?

Many were angry and as a protest, they turned away from their Catholic faith.

They were especially against the Spanish priests who became abusive.

In fact, when Rev. Frank Laubach came to Cagayan as the first American Protestant missionary in 1916, he noted that majority of the townspeople became Aglipayans.

One of the main reasons for their conversion was because of the death of Dr. Jose P. Rizal in the hands of the Spaniards.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 30, 2013.


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