Today is Rizal Day in the Philippines, a national holiday that commemorates the execution of patriot José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, popularly known as José Rizal, on this date in 1896 by Spanish colonial authorities. He was a key member of the Filipino Propaganda Movement which advocated political reforms for the colony under Spain. His sole “crime” was that of writing in opposition to Spanish rule. I am a great admirer of rebels like Rizal; they show how powerful writing can be, and how much writers are to be feared by the corrupt and inhumane. Guns, tanks, bombs, police brutality etc. etc. are certainly things to be mortally afraid of, but it is the words of the poet that endure.
Rizal was born in 1861 in the town of Calamba in Laguna province. He had nine sisters and one brother. His parents were leaseholders of a hacienda and an accompanying rice farm owned by the Dominicans. Both their families had adopted the additional surnames of Rizal and Realonda in 1849, after Governor General Narciso Clavería y Zaldúa decreed the adoption of Spanish surnames among the Filipinos for census purposes (though they already had Spanish names).
Like many families in the Philippines, the Rizals were of mixed origin. José’s patrilineal lineage could be traced back to Fujian in China through his father’s ancestor Lam-Co, a Chinese merchant who immigrated to the Philippines in the late 17th century. Lam-Co traveled to Manila from Amoy in China, possibly to avoid the famine or plague in his home district, and more probably to escape the Manchu invasion. He finally decided to stay in the islands as a farmer. In 1697, to escape the bitter anti-Chinese prejudice that existed in the Philippines, he converted to Catholicism, changed his name to Domingo Mercado and married the daughter of an indigenous Philippines resident. On his mother’s side, Rizal’s ancestry included Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Tagalog blood. His mother’s lineage can be traced to the affluent Florentina family of Chinese mestizo families originating in Baliuag, Bulacan.
From an early age, Rizal showed a precocious intellect. He learned the alphabet from his mother at 3, and could read and write at age 5. Upon enrolling at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, he dropped the last three names that made up his full name, on the advice of his brother, Paciano and the Mercado family, thus rendering his name as “José Protasio Rizal”. Of this, he later wrote: “My family never paid much attention [to our second surname Rizal], but now I had to use it, thus giving me the appearance of an illegitimate child!” This was to enable him to travel freely and disassociate him from his brother, who had gained notoriety with his earlier links to Filipino priests Mariano Gomez, José Burgos and Jacinto Zamora (popularly known as Gomburza) who had been accused and executed for treason.
Despite the name change, José, as “Rizal” soon distinguished himself in poetry writing contests, impressing his professors with his facility with Castilian and other foreign languages, and later, in writing essays that were critical of the Spanish historical accounts of the pre-colonial Philippine societies. In 1891, the year he finished El Filibusterismo, this second surname had become so well known that, as he writes to another friend, “All my family now carry the name Rizal instead of Mercado because the name Rizal means persecution! Good! I too want to join them and be worthy of this family name…”
Rizal first studied under Justiniano Aquino Cruz in Biñan, Laguna, before he was sent to Manila. He took the entrance examination in Colegio de San Juan de Letran but he then enrolled at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila and graduated as one of the nine students in his class declared sobresaliente or outstanding. He continued his education at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila to obtain a land surveyor and assessor’s degree, and at the same time at the University of Santo Tomas where he did take up a preparatory course in law. Upon learning that his mother was going blind, he decided to switch to medicine at the medical school of Santo Tomas specializing later in ophthalmology.
Without his parents’ knowledge and consent, but secretly supported by his brother Paciano, he traveled alone to Madrid in May 1882 and studied medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid where he earned the degree, Licentiate in Medicine. He also attended medical lectures at the University of Paris and the University of Heidelberg. In Berlin, he was inducted as a member of the Berlin Ethnological Society and the Berlin Anthropological Society under the patronage of the famous pathologist Rudolf Virchow. Following custom, he delivered an address in German in April 1887 before the Anthropological Society on the orthography and structure of the Tagalog language. He left Heidelberg a poem, “A las flores del Heidelberg”, which was both an evocation and a prayer for the welfare of his native land and the unification of common values between East and West.
At Heidelberg, the 25-year-old Rizal, completed in 1887 his eye specialization under the renowned professor, Otto Becker. There he used the newly invented ophthalmoscope (invented by Hermann von Helmholtz) to later operate on his own mother’s eye. From Heidelberg, Rizal wrote his parents: “I spend half of the day in the study of German and the other half, in the diseases of the eye. Twice a week, I go to the bierbrauerie, or beerhall, to speak German with my student friends.” He lived in a Karlstraße boarding house then moved to Ludwigsplatz. There, he met Reverend Karl Ullmer and stayed with him in Wilhelmsfeld, where he wrote the last few chapters of Noli Me Tángere.
Rizal’s amazing multifacetedness was well known. He was an ophthalmologist, sculptor, painter, educator, farmer, historian, playwright and journalist. Besides poetry and creative writing, he dabbled, with varying degrees of expertise, in architecture, cartography, economics, ethnology, anthropology, sociology, dramatics, martial arts, fencing and pistol shooting. Rizal’s life is one of the most documented of 19th century Filipinos due to the vast and extensive records written by and about him. He wrote in several languages and translated many for publication. Overall he was fully conversant in 22 languages. He was also well traveled. He lived and worked in various parts of Asia and Europe, and also visited the United States.
Rizal’s two most famous novels were originally published in Europe: Noli Me Tángere, published in Berlin in 1887, and El Filibusterismo, published in Ghent in 1891. These works angered both the Spanish colonial elite and many rich, educated Filipinos. Among other things,They are critical of Spanish friars and the power of the Church. Rizal’s friend Ferdinand Blumentritt, an Austria-Hungary-born professor and historian, wrote that the novel’s characters were drawn from real life and that every episode could be repeated on any day in the Philippines.
Blumentritt was the grandson of the Imperial Treasurer at Vienna in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and a staunch defender of the Catholic faith. This did not dissuade him from writing the preface of El Filibusterismo after he had translated Noli Me Tángere into German. As Blumentritt had warned, these books (and many other published essays on conditions under Spanish rule) resulted in Rizal’s being prosecuted as the inciter of revolution. He was eventually tried by the military, convicted, and executed. This act triggered an enormously adverse reaction in the Philippines and helped fuel the Philippine Revolution of 1896 which ended Spanish rule.
Moments before his execution on December 30, 1896, by a squad of Filipino soldiers of the Spanish Army, a backup force of regular Spanish Army troops stood ready to shoot the executioners should they fail to obey orders. His last words were those of Jesus Christ: “consummatum est”, – it is finished. He was certainly a deliberate martyr. Rizal was arrested in Spain en route to Cuba and transported back to Manila for trial. During the return journey he was given ample opportunity to escape but refused to take it. He was 35 years old when he was executed.
He was secretly buried in Pacò Cemetery in Manila with no identification on his grave. His sister Narcisa toured all possible gravesites and found freshly turned earth at the cemetery with guards posted at the gate. Assuming this could be the most likely spot she made a gift to the caretaker to mark the site “RPJ”, Rizal’s initials in reverse.
His undated poem, “Mi último adiós” believed to be written a few days before his execution, was hidden in an alcohol stove, which was later handed to his family with his few remaining possessions, including the final letters and his last bequests. During their visit, Rizal reminded his sisters in English, “There is something inside it”, referring to the alcohol stove given by the Pardo de Taveras which was to be returned after his execution, thereby emphasizing the importance of the poem. This instruction was followed by another, “Look in my shoes”, in which another item was secreted. Exhumation of his remains in August 1898, under US rule, revealed he had not been buried in a coffin, and whatever was in his shoes had disintegrated. Now he is buried in Rizal Monument in Manila.
In his letter to his family he wrote: “Treat our aged parents as you would wish to be treated…Love them greatly in memory of me…December 30, 1896.” He gave his family instructions for his burial: “Bury me in the ground. Place a stone and a cross over it. My name, the date of my birth and of my death. Nothing more. If later you wish to surround my grave with a fence, you can do it. No anniversaries.”
This last request was not honored. Rizal Day was first instituted with a decree from President Emilio Aguinaldo issued December 20, 1898 and celebrated December 30, 1898 as a national day of mourning for Rizal in Malolos, Bulacan and all victims of the Spanish colonial rule of the Philippines. Daet, Camarines Norte was the first town to follow the decree, building a monument designed by Lt. Col. Antonio Sanz, led by Sanz and Lt. Col. Ildefonso Alegre, and financed by the townspeople of Camarines Norte and the rest of the Bicol Region.
With the victory of the US over Spain in the Spanish–American War, the US took control of the Philippines. In an effort to demonstrate that they were more pro-Filipino than the Spaniards, the US Governor-General William Howard Taft in 1901 named Rizal a Philippine national hero. A year later, on February 1, 1902, the Philippine Commission enacted Act No. 345, which made December 30 a public holiday. To underscore the solemnity of the event, President Elpidio Quirino signed Republic Act No. 229 into law on June 9, 1948 that prohibits cockfighting, horse racing, and jai-alai every December 30. The law also requires that flags across the country remain at half staff throughout the day.
Adobo is an obvious dish to celebrate the life and work of Rizal. I gave a recipe for chicken adobo here https://www.bookofdaystales.com/araw-ng-kasarinlan-independence-day-philippines/ Now it’s time for pork adobo. This is not just a change in meats, but in cooking style in general. Although the name adobo is taken from Spanish, the cooking method has evolved from techniques indigenous to the Philippines. Cooking meat in vinegar and salt dates back to before the Spanish conquest and was used for both pork and chicken. When the Spanish colonized the Philippines in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, they encountered this cooking process. It was first recorded in the dictionary Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala (1613) compiled by the Spanish Franciscan missionary Pedro de San Buenaventura. He referred to it as adobo de los naturales (“adobo of the native peoples”). Dishes prepared in this manner eventually came to be known by this name, with the original term for the dish is now lost. Chinese traders introduced soy sauce which has replaced salt in the dish. However, there are adobo purists who continue to use salt in their adobo.
There are, of course, numerous variants of the adobo recipe in the Philippines. The most basic ingredient of adobo is vinegar, which is usually coconut vinegar, rice vinegar, or cane vinegar (although sometimes white wine or cider vinegar can also be used). Almost every ingredient can be changed according to personal preference. Even people in the same household can cook adobo in significantly different ways. Adobo without soy sauce is known as adobong puti (“white adobo” or “blond adobo”), which uses salt instead, to contrast it with adobong itim (“black adobo”), the more prevalent versions with soy sauce.
The following is just a suggestion from the hundreds of possibilities. The kind of vinegar you choose makes all the difference. I use rice wine vinegar which is not very traditional, but I prefer the flavor to harsher vinegars.
2 lbs (1 kg) pork belly, cubed
1 cup white vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp kosher salt
5 (or more) black peppercorns, cracked
cooking oil (for deep frying)
1 tsp sugar
Combine the pork, vinegar, garlic, bay leaf, salt, peppercorns, and 1 cup of cold water in a large stock pot. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the pork is tender (at least 1 hour).
Use a slotted spoon to remove the pork from the broth and leave it to dry on the surface. You can pat it with paper towels if need be.
Heat the oil to 350°F/175°C and deep fry the pork in small batches until it is golden on all sides.
Return the pork to the broth and simmer until the liquid has been reduced by a half. Add the sugar and adjust the seasonings to taste. I often add a little extra minced garlic and some freshly ground black pepper at the end. Simmer a few minutes longer.
Serve hot in deep bowls with rice and a tomato salad.