RECTO'S RIZAL BILL
Three years ago, the Claro M. Recto Foundation launched The Recto Valedictory,
a compilation of the last ten speeches Recto was set to deliver in Spain had he not
died unexpectedly in Rome on 2 October 1960. I bought the book primarily for
Nick Joaquin's superb translation of these speeches published in parallel text with
the original Spanish, thinking it would come in handy one day when I decide to brush
up on my Spanish.
Today I checked my historical calendar and found out that if Recto were
he would be 100 years old. A Recto Centennial Commission has been formed, and I
hear that three of the projected eight volumes of Recto's complete writings will
be launched this week.
Few students today know that the compulsory Rizal course they detest
so much is
due in large part of Recto. In the University of the Philippines, the Rizal course is coded
as PI 100, and I often hear it said that PI 100 actually means "Putang Ina 100."
I don't blame them, because the main reason I agreed to teach this course way back in
1986 at the De La Salle University was because I didn't like the way it was taught to me
and I promised myself my students will have an "alternative" way of dealing with Rizal
and our past.
You cannot blame but notice the resistance to the Rizal course on the
first day of the class.
Like the once-compulsory Spanish course, students feel the Rizal course is useless to
their lives. Then add to this the prevailing that Rizal was made the national hero by the
Americans over Bonifacio. This is why I open the class with a lecture on how Recto
fought tooth and nail to get the Rizal Bill passed into law in 1956. Since Recto is very
much a nationalist icon, students stop grumbling and begin to listen.
I usually try to recreate the excitement that accompanied the debates
and hearings on
the Rizal Bill: the verbal jousts, the hecklers in the gallery (pro-Rizal, of course),
the rising blood pressures and the fist fight in Congress between two hotheaded
representatives. When U.P. students see Recto in history of the Rizal course, they
shut up and feel sorry they even thought of playing with the acronym PI 100.
We do not remember how some members of the Catholic hierarchy found
passages in Noli and 50 in Fili offensive to the Catholic faith. They reaffirmed that
Catholics should read selected passages from Rizal's work, but to compel Catholics to
read the unexpurgated version was forcing heresy on them and constituted a violation
of freedom of conscience.
Students who read Rizal's novels today cannot understand what all the
fuss was about.
Funny that in 1956, the very same obscurantism that banned Rizal's book in 1887 was
Catholic schools threatened to close shop if the Rizal Bill was passed.
Recto calmly told
them to go ahead because then, the State could nationalize them. Some church bigwigs
even "punished" erring legislators in future elections, but Recto simply wenton undaunted.
Here was one man who was willing to risk losing votes because of his principles; this is
what I admire so much in Recto.
There was a proposal to use "expurgated" novels as textbooks, with the
copies under lock and key in the school libraries only to be used at the discretion and/or
approval of higher school officials. Recto threw this out. He did not want an adulterated
"The people who would eliminate the books of Rizal from the schools...would
from our minds the memory of the national hero...This is not a fight against Recto but a
fight against Rizal...now that Rizal is dead and they can no longer attempt at his life, they
are attempting to blot out his memory." (Italics mine)
I think our problem is our short memories and our resistance to history
Thus I wonder if my generation will be as emotional about Rizal and his works in case
there is a move to abolish the Rizal course again. Maybe not.
The bill passed with a clause that would give exemptions to those who
feel that reading
Rizal's novels would damage his or her faith. You can go to the Education Department
with an affidavit attesting to your brittle faith and get an exemption -- not from
the Rizal course which you still have to take -- but from reading the novels of Rizal.
I usually tell my students that to my knowledge, no one has availed of this exemption
and if they are too lazy to read, they can always avail of this loophole in the Rizal Bill.
None of my students has even tried.
Just to give you an idea about the type of people Recto was up against,
here are excerpts
from an archbishop's letter banning Rafael Palma's Biografia de Rizal. The good archbishop
said Palma's biogaphy was
"depreciatory of institutions of Catholic church and pernicious to the
spiritual health of the
faithful especially the youth of both sexes for whom the book has been approved and
introduced in public schools as home reading...we hereby prohibit under pain of sin an
canonical sanctions the reading, keeping or retention of the same whether in the original
or in translation in the Archdiocese of Manila and Cebu."
Need I say more?
Ocampo, Ambeth R, "Rizal Without The Overcoat," Anvil Pub., 1990.