Soldiers stand guard at the Rizal Day celebration in Dapitan on Dec. 30.
EVERY YEAR, at seven o’clock in the morning, people in the sleepy little town of Dapitan in Mindanao gather to witness the “execution” of Dr. Jose Rizal, the country’s national hero.
Unfortunately, only a handful of government workers and students, who were required to attend the activity, and a sprinkling of curious townspeople, were present this year.
Yes, unfortunate because more people, especially the young should be there, not only to mark the death of Rizal but to learn about the life of the exemplary young man who once lived in Dapitan.
Unfortunate because the absence of people in activities like the reenactment of Rizal’s execution, which changed forever the country’s history, only shows the way Filipinos, including Dapitanons, appreciate their past.
(Well, many Filipinos still think Dapitan is a street in the district of Sampaloc in Manila at the back of the University of Santo Tomas, and foreigners think the Philippines is a haven of terrorists and karaoke-loving people.)
Dapitan of course is not a town anymore, although it still looks like one and earns less than several municipalities in the country. Thanks to Rizal’s four-year stay here. Dapitan is now a sixth class city in the province of Zamboanga del Norte with a population of 77,441 people.
Rizal was exiled in Dapitan by the Spaniards in 1892 after he was accused of publishing anti-Catholic and anti-friar books and articles; for having in possession a bundle of handbills, the Pobres Frailes, in which advocacies were in violation of the Spanish orders; for dedicating his novel, El Filibusterismo to the three martyred priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, and for emphasizing on the novel’s title page that “the only salvation for the Philippines was separation from the mother country (referring to Spain)”; and for simply criticizing the religion and aiming for its exclusion from the Filipino culture.
He arrived in Dapitan aboard the steamer Cebu at seven o’clock in the evening of June 17, 1892. From that day until July 31, 1896, the sleepy little town witnessed the most fruitful years in the national hero’s life.
He focused on serving the residents through his civic works, medical practices, land development and the promotion of education. He wrote most of his best literary pieces, mostly poems and letters, in Dapitan.