Whether you are talking about your neighbor, your enemy, a politician
someone who live 200 years ago, sex never fails to catch people's
interest and imagination. Despite columns I have written about
Apolinario Mabini's polio and that he died of cholera after drinking
infected gatas ng kalabaw, people still insist on the tsismis that
syphilis caused Mabini's paralysis. So many readers have asked me to
elaborate on the sex lives of former Philippine presidents or our
heroes. I am always asked if Andres Bonifacio's widow, Gregoria de
Jesus, was really raped by Colonel Agapito Bonzon when they were in
captivity, or whether it is true that General Antonio Luna's girlfriend
really was a presidential ancestor named Isidra Cojuangco. Whenever I
volunteer information, it is always seen as tsismis regardless of my
documentation. Maybe this is a way of coping, because our heroes have
been so glorified that people cannot imagine them eating, drinking,
womanizing, or having plain human emotions like you and me. It is for
this reason that we go into the national hero, Jose Rizal.
Doctor Maximo Viola, as every schoolchild knows, was the man who paid
for the printing of Rizal's Noli me tangere. What the schoolchild
doesn't know, however, is that Rizal and Viola travelled together around
Europe and that Viola had written an account of this trip.
Rizal stayed with Viola in Barcelona around June or July 1886 at a time
when Viola was preparing for his medical examinations, so Rizal was
forced to roam the city alone. Viola writes:
"It can be said that the life of the illustrious traveller in this city
had nothing notable about it. He visited without pomp and
ceremony...During the day I couldn't accompany him in his excursions as
much as I wished, for I was preparing for my final examinations. At
night, I sometimes accompanied him to the Cafe Pelayo -- gathering place
of the Filipino expatriates -- and sometimes to other amusement centers,
including casas de palomas de bajo vuelo (in Pilipino, kasa ng mga
kalapating mababa ang lipad); in English brothels whose ways, luxury or
poverty, and other customs of refinement of vice were unknown to him in
Madrid. In as much as he was eager to know everything, because the day
when, as a writer, he would have to combat such a vice in its diverse
manifestations for being unnatural an antiphysiological, according to
him, he would be informed of its cause the better to correct it. It
must be noted that in these excursions, rather of a character more
inquisitorial than voluptuous, he always hinted to me that he had never
been in favor of obeying blindly the whims of nature when their call was
not duly justified by a natural and spontaneous impulse."
The originial Spanish is florid and corny, so much the better to veil
Rizal's "educational-observation" trips to the brothels. I use a
translation by the Jose Rizal Centennial Commission because if I
translate these notes to their bare essentials, it will appear as if I
were trying to denigrate Rizal. What one should keep in mind while
reading Viola is that these recollections were not written in 1886 but
in 1913, so many years after the actual events. Rizal was already the
national hero and so, Viola had to paint a dignified picture of his
friend. It is because of writings like these that Rizal has become a
figure of myth to today's Filipinos.
Viola says that the brothels "were unkown to him (Rizal) at Madrid."
But if you take the time to read the volumes of Rizal's correspondence,
you will find a letter of Rizal to his brother, Paciano, from Madrid
dated 13 February 1883 (three years before he visited Viola in
Barcelona). Rizal says: "Women abound even more (here in Madrid) and
it is, indeed, shocking that in many places they intercept men and they
are not the ugly ones either."
I have seen these dark esquinitas in Madrid, like Calle de la Montera,
where my sisters were always warned never to go after six. Here you
find pretty young things (but it's hard to seen in the semidarkness) who
lie in wait; the ugly ones are aggressive out of despair, so they pull
men off the street into their sleazy little rooms. I wonder where these
kalapati were in Rizal's time. From Rizal's letter it is obvious he
knows what he's talking about:
"With respect to morality there also some who models of virtue and
innocence and others who have nothing womanly about them, except their
dress or at most their sex. Rightly it has been said that the women in
the South of Europe have fire in their veins. However, here
prostitution is a little more concealed than at Barcelona, though no
Now, tell me, how can Viola say with a straight face that these
"amusements" were unknown to Rizal?
In May 1887 Rizal and Viola travelled together around Europe.
It was in
Vienna where Rizal "encountered the figure of a temptress in the form of
a Viennese woman, of the family of the Camellias or hetairas of
extraordinary beauty and irresistable attraction, who seemingly had been
expressly invited to offer for a moment a cup mundane pleasure to the
apostle of Philippine freedom who until then had enjoyed among his
intimates the fame worthy of glorious namesake, St. Joseph.
"With these exception of this case, I knew of no other slip of Rizal
during more than six months that we were travelling together..."
Is this column tsismis? The documentation exists. The point
there is no need to hide the humanity of our heroes because it is
precisely their being human that makes them admirable. Whether Rizal
was a saint or a sex fiend does not detract from his greatness. The
problem today is rewriting all the distorted hagiography teachers force
students to read. What of today's sex scandals?
I'll leave that for the historical columnist of 2089 A.D.
Source: Ambeth Ocampo, "Rizal Without the Overcoat," Anvil Pub., 1990.