Rizal by any other name

A Jose Rizal biopic shown in class wasn’t worth my hard-earned tuition. It’s overkill. We’ve heard about Rizal since time immemorial. We’ve learned about him from history books. “Noli” and “Fili” readings were mandatory.

It is like a historian’s account about Rizal having bad breath. What do I frigging care about how he scrubbed his teeth with today’s equivalent of steel wool and that he suffered from malocclusion? Or that he had bevy upon bevy of “chicks”? Or that Rizal was an unano—or a bakla? If Rizal were alive today, he’d make for a good seedy tabloid material.

Rizal, when he’s about to be shot in the movie, whispered to himself “It’s done” a la messiah, as if losing his life meant the redemption of the lives of many.

It’s absolutely OK to emulate his deeds, but Filipinos, in general, needn’t worship him like god. We look up to Rizal not because of debt of gratitude. Rizal is a “national hero.” But it also could have been me.

Almost every heroism we learned in class happened in a time when the country was in “distress” and there was a cause to die for. That is to say I can do something heroic for my country now, but my heroism can only be put in textbooks provided that I lived before V-J Day. I would have been a national hero had I lived at least during Martial Law. One simply cannot be a national hero in “peacetime.”

What best one can do today to be a hero is to be an OFW. Or push a kariton classroom and teach poor children outside NSTP for free. Or exchange tweets and swagger for an elusive multibillion-dollar prizefight. Or report from the eye of Haiyan.

If dying is the ultimate showcase of heroism, many have fallen to achieve peace in Mindanao. Or have been massacred in upholding press freedom. Or have disappeared extra-judicially by exposing government corruption. But it’s a kick in the balls their deaths did not earn them a perpetual name recall, let alone a book called Rizal Without Overcoat.

For how can you be a national hero—a hero that is venerated, a hero that is “Rizal”—when you’re free?

They say we’re lucky to have been born “free.” They say heroism is timeless and to be hero is to preserve the generations after us.

It’s a little shameful that, for all the ordinary citizens, nationalism nowadays is as baduy as only paying homage to the Philippine flag, that I’m living because “somebody died for me,” that I should forever be indebted to Rizal and hounded by an obligation to kowtow to his monuments because we owe him our freedom.

I owe no one of my liberty. By being born too late, I’m robbed of the chance to die for it.

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