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Dr. Dumol's Paper



by Paul A. Dumol



The invitation I received to be one of the speakers at your Midyear Conference suggested the theme Philosophy and Political Responsibility with the hope that this paper I am reading to you now might be of help in preparing for the coming general elections. Resort to philosophy is characteristically a sign that things are deteriorating woefully or getting out of hand. There is in truth a general feeling of hopelessness about our social, political, and economic situation. People look at the coming general elections with a sense of impending doom. What ought we to do? This is a question about our responsibility to put an end to this situation, our political responsibility we may say, if we consider that we are concerned about the nation. To answer this question I wish to turn to the philosophy of someonenot precisely because we know him for philosophy, but because he is who he is. I refer to José Rizal.


            Rizal, of course, was no philosopher, but he was a great admirer of philosophy. For most of his life (roughly from 1877 to 1890) he believed that philosophy, and the nineteenth-century belief in Progress in particular, provided the key to history. This belief informs the Noli me tángere. In 1891 he suffered a crisis, and philosophy was replaced by theology as the keeper of the key of history. This crisis and its resolution is the subject matter of the Filibusterismo. If Rizal was not a philosopher by training, however, even less was he a theologian: the theology of the Fili, in my opinion, is actually philosophy in disguise. It is a raw philosophy in the Tagalog sense of hilaw. One senses its antecedentsthe Scholastics, Aristotle, the Gospels, but it approximates originality in the way that any new development of an old tradition is original. One is tempted to classify it as political philosophy, and yet it is not quite that. Social philosophy then? The barest sketch of social philosophy perhaps, the outline of which, however, is as clear as a line drawing by Picasso. It is this philosophy of the Fili that I am interested in for the purposes of this lecture.


the last chapter of rizals Fili


Rizal considered the Fili far superior to the Noli, not because of its literary qualities, but precisely because of the thinking it contains. The last chapter in particular contains Rizals deepest thoughts on the situation in the Philippines. I have in mind the discussion that takes place between Simoun and P. Florentino at the end of the novel. Simoun has just ingested poison, and as life ebbs away from him, he begins a question which the priest finishes. It is a question many of us ask today. Is it the will of God that these islands: Simoun leaves the question in suspense. P. Florentino completes it: Continue in this state which they much bewail? He answers truthfully that he does not know, but then makes an act of faith: God never abandons those who suffer injustice and trust in him. The cause of freedom is Gods cause, P. Florentino affirms. Simoun asks why God did not favor his attempts to destroy the Spanish government with success. P. Florentino replies that God did not approve of his immoral means: Simoun had tried to subvert the government by spreading hatred, but only love can accomplish marvelous works, only virtue can save. Simoun persists: Why did not God make his plans succeed for the sake of the many innocent people who suffer? P. Florentino answers that there is something providential in the persecution of tyrants. Simoun replies that that is precisely why he fostered it. P. Florentino then enunciates a principle: While the vices of a government are fatal to it, they also kill the society in which they are practiced. Simoun inquires, What is to be done then? This is the question we asked earlier, the question about political responsibility. P. Florentino replies, Suffer and work. Simoun explodes, accusing God of cruelty for allowing the innocent to suffer. What sort of God is that? he asks.


P. Florentino makes a long reply in which he establishes five points. The first is that the suffering society goes through is the punishment for our lack of faith, our vices, the slight value we give to dignity, to the civic virtues. That punishment, however, and this is the second point, is also societys redemption: it is the way God teaches society to be what it should. The third point is that freedom is not won by the sword, but by deserving it. This happens when reason and the dignity of the individual are elevated and the just, the good, and the great are loved to the point of death. When a people reaches these heights, (this is the fourth point) God grants it freedom. Finally, a corollary to the point just made, God does not give freedom to those unprepared for it. Rizal through P. Florentino tells us that Filipinos were not ready for independence, at least in 1891.


We won our independence in 1898, lost it the following year, and regained it in 1946. Did God then feel that we Filipinos were finally ready for independence? Or was Rizals foray into the theology of history simply mistaken from the very start? And yet in 1986, in the immediate aftermath of the People Power Revolution, this very part of the Fili took on new life. The portion in which P. Florentino admits that the sword no longer counts for much in winning freedom in the modern age, that it is far more important to elevate reason and love the just, the good, and the great to the point of death, and that when a people reaches these heights, God supplies the arms, and the idols, the tyrants, fall like a house of cards, and freedom shines with the first light of dawn, this portion looked as though it had been written with the prescience of the Old Testament prophets. In fact, the whole period in our history from 1898 to 1986, which at first had seemed to make light of Rizals judgments, took on a new meaning. In another passage from the same speech, P. Florentino describes at some length three types of Filipinos who do not fight for their rights: the indifferent, the cowardly, and the opportunistic Filipino. At the end of the description, he asks, Why give them freedom? With or without Spain they would always be the same, and perhaps, perhaps worse! What is the use of independence if the slaves of today become the tyrants of tomorrow? And they will be without a doubt, because he loves tyranny who submits to it! In light of these words, 1898 and 1946 looked less like a refutation of Rizals opinion than their ironic confirmation: we were not ready for independence, not even in 1946. In 1986, however, we felt we were.


That was in 1986. Today people look back to that year with some cynicism, commenting, Parang walang nangyari. Rizals words took on new life once again three years ago, but today the expectations they awoke look as illusory as in 1986. Was the new sheen on Rizals words then merely a delusion? Our disillusionment with Rizals words may come from a theological reading of them, which makes us focus on God and look up to him like students waiting for their diploma. I suggest a philosophical reading, which would make us focus on ourselves instead and leave the moment of Gods intervention up to him. Such a reading also makes it clear that Rizal was talking about a process, one we are still going through, another word for process being transition. The transition P. Florentino refers to, however, is not toward nationhood. It is rather toward something more basic: citizenship. For Rizal, his countrymen lacked a civic sense.


rizals understanding of freedom


A philosophical reading of the last chapter of the Fili steers us toward two points: (a) what readiness for freedom consists in, and (b) how to get there. What does Rizal  mean by freedom or libertad? In his notes to his counsel written on December 12, 1896 in his prison cell, he says:


Many have taken my phrase to have freedoms to mean to have independence, two different things. A people can be free without being independent, and a people can be independent without being free.

            I have always wanted freedoms for the Philippines, and I have always expressed myself in this way. Those who claim that I have said independence either mistake the radish for its leaves or lie. Now, that I have also believed that autonomy would come little by little and afterwards independence with the passage of time is true I have also believed that, if Spain were to systematically deny the Philippines liberties, there would be insurrections and this is what I have written, lamenting the fact that this should happen and not looking forward to it. This is what I meant when I said that it is necessary to be upright, to be united, so that when events occur, we do not fall into the hands of Japan or England or Germany. [Datos 333]


This is nothing less than a gloss on P. Florentinos long speech. It provides us with the distinction, worthy of a philosopher, between tener libertades and tener independencia, captured in that apothegm: A people can be free without being independent, and a people can be independent without being free. This is the more elegant version of Quezons distinction between a Philippines run like heaven by the Americans and a Philippines run like hell by Filipinos.


            Rizals claim notwithstanding, he never uses the term tener libertades in the dialogue between Simoun and P. Florentino; libertad is always in the singular in the seven times it appears, and each time it could mean independence. (The word independencia itself appears only once.) It is possible, of course, that Rizal in his notes to his counsel was attempting a sleight of hand to get off the Spanish hook, but reflection on the difference between libertad and independencia following Rizals lead shows us this is unlikely. Independence without freedom, we realize, is indeed paltry. Freedom with or without independence is a far richer concept.


            Libertad in the plural will recall the English civil liberties, the freedom of a citizen to exercise customary rights, as of speech or assembly, without unwarranted or arbitrary interference by the government, Random House tells us. This is certainly part of Rizals meaning, but not all of it: when P. Florentino refers to freedom as Gods cause, he seems to refer to something more than customary rights. Indeed, in that paragraph, P. Florentino refers to inalienable rights. Libertad refers to the fruition of what we call today human rights, rights considered to derive from the very fact of being human. It is life with civil liberties. This is compatible with not having independence or self-government, as witness the cases of Puerto Rico or Hawaii. And yet Rizal calls it the fruit of freedom, the necessary fruit of freedom, we almost hear him say. Clearly, for Rizal independence that is the fruit of freedom is qualitatively different from independence without freedom. Independence without freedom is, for Rizal, no different from tyranny, a worse situation than freedom without independence. He would have denounced as a deception Quezons Philippines run like hell by Filipinos, but he would not have been complacent either with a Philippines run like heaven by Americans.


meriting freedom


What is needed to bring about a civil society in the Philippines? The elevation of reason and the dignity of the individual, says P. Florentino, and the love of the just, the good, and the great to the extent of being ready to die for it.


            There are two parts to P. Florentinos reply. Let us take the first part, itself consisting as well of two parts. First of all, the Filipino should elevate reason. P. Florentino does not expand on this, and in the absence of anything more specific, we may take the statement to mean the elevation of reason to hegemonic status in a persons actions. Hegemony over what, we may ask. In the context of the Scholastic philosophy a P. Florentino would have been familiar with, we should reply Over feelings, passions, or emotions. In the context of the modern philosophies Rizal was acquainted with, we may reply, Over purely pragmatic considerations.


The Filipino should likewise elevate the dignity of the individual. Once again we are given no explanation of this, but I do not think we would err to understand the dignity of the individual to mean every persons right to be respected. Let me quote from Rizals notes to his counsel to explain this particular concern of his:


I wanted the Filipino people to appear to others as upright, noble, honest, since a people that makes itself despicable because of its cowardice or vices exposes itself to abuse and maltreatment. Man in general oppresses whatever he despises: and this is what I used to say to those who would complain to me, If we were more upright, they wouldnt treat us this way. [337]


The right to be respected for Rizal becomes patent with the persons uprightness. Upright is my translation of digno. Dignidad has that double meaning for Rizal: dignity and uprightness.


            These two parts of P. Florentinos advice go together. One is a condition for the other, or the one may be seen as a consequence of the other. With the elevation of reason, one becomes more conscious of the innate dignity of the human being, not just ones own. This leads to respect for others, not just to demand respect from them, and it leads the person to the further insight that, when he does not respect others, he does not diminish the other persons dignity as much as his own. Similarly, when he respects others, he increases his own dignity, which leads us to the second advice of P. Florentino.


The second advice is to love the just, the good, and the great to the extent of being ready to die for it. Let us focus on the third element of P. Florentinos triad: the great. I believe we should understand the advice to love what is great as a call to magnanimitas, the generosity to undertake grand projects for the common good. I base this reading on the conversation between Simoun and Basilio in chapter 7. Basilio turns down Simouns request to join him in subverting the Spanish regime. He wishes to concentrate on studying to be a good physician. Simoun counters by saying that, while Basilio may some day become a great physician, he will be even greater who infuses new life in this anemic people! [italics mine] Simoun then asks Basilio, What are you doing for the country that gave you existence, that gives you life and provides you with knowledge? Do you not know that a life not consecrated to a great idea is useless? (50) Greatness in Rizal is linked to the idea of service to the common good. Later in the same conversation Simoun says, The greatness [grandeza] of man does not reside in anticipating his timebut rather in divining its desires, responding to its needs and guiding it forward (51). This is Rizals version of Aristotles megalopsyche.


It is possible to read the triad of the just, the good, and the great as all referring to ones fellow citizens. This is obvious in the case of lo justo. If lo grande is what would benefit society as a whole, lo bueno may be read as what benefits individual fellow citizens. The elements of P. Florentinos triad may be seen as an increase first in intensity (from justice, which gives others their due, to goodness, which gives others what is beyond their due) and subsequently in scope (from goodness, which benefits specific individuals, to greatness, which benefits all of society). P. Florentinos qualification of this lovehasta morir por eltransforms the triad into an expression of total commitment to others, total self-commitment.


I do not think we should understand this pair of requirements in isolation from one another. They go together. The one engenders the other. It is not possible to love the just, the good, and the great without elevating reason and the dignity of the individual, just as it is not possible to elevate reason and the dignity of the individual without loving the just, the good, and the greatto the point of dying for it, let us not forget. The first part of P. Florentinos advice refers to the individual, his reason and his dignity; the second refers to interpersonal relations. The first is a condition of the other. We have to see both as a block.


 When a people reaches these heights, says P. Florentino, God supplies the arms: he refers to the point at which a new culture precipitates. This new culture is a condition for freedom, because otherwise freedom becomes merely the setting for vice. Earlier, I said that Rizals libertad refers to the fruition of what we call today human rights. We can add that he saw it as the fruition of virtue. A peoples virtue is for Rizal, not simply a condition of freedom, but a condition of its possibility. P. Florentino uses two images to express this. The first is God as gunrunner, so to speak: When a people reaches these heights, God supplies the arms for nothing less than a revolution. The second is the mother giving birth: Spain is compared to a woman in labor; the Filipino people to the child in her womb. When the fruit of conception reaches maturity, woe to the mother that would abort it (284). The precipitation of the new culture is nothing less than the appearance of a civil society.


The last section of P. Florentinos long speech describes three types of Filipinos who do not deserve civil liberties:


In the meantime, while the Filipino people does not have sufficient energy to proclaim, head raised and chest bared, their right to social life and to guarantee it with sacrifice, with their own blood; while we see our countrymen privately feeling ashamed hearing the voice of conscience roaring in rebellion and protest, but publicly joining the abuser in mocking the abused; while we see them enclose themselves in their egoism and praise with a forced smile the most wicked acts, begging with their eyes for a part of the booty, why give them freedom? [284]


We have met these Filipinos, and we understand P. Florentinos question: why give them freedom? These are people who would not appreciate civil liberties. Indeed, they would not demand them, and it is possible they would use them to harm others. With or without Spain they would always be the same, and perhaps, perhaps worse! P. Florentino exclaims. Let us examine each of these Filipinos one by one. The first does not have sufficient energy to defend his rights. This is a picture of acedia, of sloth. The second Filipino is described in two scenes: one from private, the other from public life. He has a well-formed conscience, but does not follow it. He yields we suspect to the pressure to conform or to fear. This is a picture of weakness. The third is described as locked up in his egoism. He looks at all situations as opportunities for profit, for which he willingly betrays his conscience. This is a picture of malice. The gradation of culpability is utterly deliberate: this is Rizals version of Dantes descent into hell.


            With these three examples we see the reason for P. Florentinos qualifications for civil life. Reason in each of the cases described has revealed right action. The disregard shown reason in each case is a form of voluntary debasement: there is no value given to human dignity. In each case, the just, the good, or the great is either not loved or not loved enoughto the point of death, we understand. There is nothing otiose about P. Florentinos three qualifications. He then points up the systemic relationship between tyranny and slavery: tyrant and slave share the same mentality. P. Florentinos (and Rizals) main fear was that the Spanish oppressors would be merely replaced by Filipino oppressors.


When Rizal says that a people should merit freedom, he is not defending enlightened despotism. There is no question here of denying anyone his rights. He merely recognizes that when someone who cannot appreciate civil liberties is granted civil liberties, that person may abuse them. Rizals concept of merited freedom raises the question: who will judge whether or not the Filipino people is ready for freedom? The answer is God and the persons the Filibusterismo is intended for by Rizal: would-be reformers of Philippine society. P. Florentinos speech, in effect, is about the appropriate goal for reformers towards the end of the nineteenth century. Rizal tells them that their prime concern should be the development of civil society.


Of what relevance is all this to us today? A good case may be made that we do not yet have a civil society. Listen to two excerpts from a book written by an alumnus of this university:


            Out in the streets, every driver behaves as though he had a duty to run over pedestrians. He does not read or observe traffic signs. In unlit and unmanned intersections, he picks the best place to create a logjam. Since his way is blocked, he does his best to block others. On the highway, slow-moving cars, which should be using the outer lane, use the inner lane, while fast-moving cars, which should be using the inner lane, use the outer lane. They ignore all road signs, and the highway patrol seems not to mind at all.

            In intellectual discourse, whether in the universities or in the media, few friends can disagree on any issue and still remain friends. Rare, if not unheard of, is the so-called pundit who can argue a point without damning the person who takes a contrary position.

            In politics, we vote for candidates we do not know, on the basis of opinion allegedly expressed in popularity surveys by unknown individuals who do not know the candidates either. We have become so vulnerable to the psychological conditioning by the pollsters and the media, none of which are politically neutral, that we swallow everything they tell us, hook, line and sinker. [Tatad 8788]


This is harsh but here is more:


A poor country may look poor, but it should not look dirty at all. A country that cannot collect its garbage; that allows its highways, avenues, and thoroughfares to be polluted with vulgar, obscene and just plain ugly billboards; and leaves condemned buildings as eyesores; that allows the greedy rich to build on every open space, while the poor build basketball courts in the middle of busy side streets; that allows roads, bridges, buildings, ports, airports, light-rail transport systems, and other public infrastructure to be inaugurated before they are finished, only to go to seed soon thereafter without ever being finished; that allows huge malls to rise in the busiest parts of the metropolis without being required to build their own access roads and other amenitiessuch a country cannot claim to be serious; and its government cannot claim to be in charge.



I could read a third passage on media, but perhaps we do not need to. The point is that today, 112 years after the publication of the Fili, it looks as though we must give Rizal a second hearing.


P. Florentinos long speech ends with a quick diagnosis of why revolutions fail: the people are unprepared for freedom, the people joining the revolution are either deceived or forced to fight, or it is not clear to them why they are fighting. Of course, a revolution fails not only when it fails to unseat the government; it fails as well when, in spite of unseating the government, the peoples lot does not improve. In our case, our independence is not due to a revolution, but we must ask whether our lot has improved.




How are the qualifications for that life with civil liberties achieved? P. Florentinos answer comprises three words: Sufrir y trabajar. León Ma. Guerrero translates sufrir as endure, and I have always wondered whether he did because it is not easy to make sense of P. Florentinos reply if we were to translate it simply as suffer. P. Florentino, however, does not refer to brute suffering, which is what Simoun has in mind when he objects to sufrir. Something intervenes, so to speak, between the citizens suffering and his subsequent reaction of trabajar. This something is important, as it points up the fact that suffering is in itself as shifting sands. For it to carry the weight of transforming society in the right way something else is needed. For the citizens suffering to be redemptive he must reflect on why he is suffering and realize that it is precisely because of his lack of faith, his vices, and his slight regard for dignity and civic virtues. The key to understand the advice is in the first part of P. Florentinos long speech. After Simoun scornfully says, What sort of God is this? P. Florentino replies:


A most just Goda God who punishes us for our lack of faith, for our vices, for the slight value we give to dignity, to civic virtuesWe tolerate and become accomplices of vice, sometimes we applaud it, it is only fair, very fair that we suffer its consequences and that our children suffer them, too. [283]


There you have the meaning of P. Florentinos sufrir. It means to suffer the consequences of our toleration or even praise of vice. It has the sense of a penitential act.


            Rizal turns around the commonplace view of colonialism. The colonized are not victims of the colonizers; they are their own victims. But Rizal is not just talking about the colonial situation. He mentions our vices, the slight value we give to dignity, to civic virtues. It is difficult to insist that all Rizal has in mind is the oppression Spanish rule subjected Filipinos to. What he is saying is that within Filipino communities, represented by the fictional town of San Diego, there is no civil society because of their Filipino inhabitants.


            P. Florentino describes God as the God of freedom:


Who obliges us to love freedom by making the yoke weigh upon us; a God of mercy, of fairness, who improves us at the same time that he punishes us, and only grants well-being to those who merit it through their efforts: the school of suffering tempers, the combat arena strengthens souls. [Ibidem]


The process by which a people that does not love a life with civil liberties ends up loving them begins with the suffering they undergo precisely because of the lack of civil liberties.


            Sufrir is the road to ethical transformation. It is not an easy road, though. How do you explain to a Cabesang Tales, a Placido Penitente, a Basilio, or an Ibarra that they are to blame for their sufferings? P. Florentino accuses Simoun of fostering rottenness in society without sowing a single idea. I wish focus on the phrase without sowing a single idea. The paragraph in which this accusation appears paints a bleak picture of Philippine society. The situation in the Philippines is described as a huis clos, a situation that looks extremely difficult, if not impossible, to breach. It is only that phrase of P. Florentinos that seems to hint at the possibility of release, and this is entrusted to an idea. It is worthwhile to pause to understand this deeply. P. Florentino says the situation of the Philippines will not change by exacerbating it, because the reaction to exacerbation would be an extreme reaction to an extreme situation that could consequently be satisfied by the return to the earlier but less-than-extreme version of the same situation. No change follows from a Sobra na! Tama na! strategy. What P. Florentino wants is complete release from the morally repulsive situation, zero tolerance. This is initiated only through ideas. Why? Because the idea is severed from space and time, and it is only from such a perspective that someone may analyze and judge the situation of space and time he is caught in. We understand, then, the importance for Rizal of the elevation of reason, of study, of thought, of philosophy. It is here that philosophy intersects with political responsibility. Only from the atemporal can the temporal be changed.


The idea that serves as the key out of the prison is redemption presupposes virtue. How might one reach that insight? Through the realization that ones society does not progress because everyone is immersed to varying degrees in vice: Like government, like people, says P. Florentino. To an immoral government corresponds a people without morals, to an administration without conscience, greedy and servile citizens in the town, bandits and thieves in the mountains! he specifies. Simoun proposes the slaughter of the rulers of society and of all the citizens who do not want to join his revolution. Simouns solution, however, poses the question whether the resulting society would be virtuous. The problem is, in P. Florentinos view, that Simouns frustrated bloodbath is motivated by vice, by hatred to be precise, and Hatred creates nothing more than monsters, exclaims P. Florentino, only love accomplishes works of marvel. The very means of redemption would become the beginning of a new hell.


This is, of course, nothing less than a rejection of the Noli, that fount of hatred for the friars. The difference between the Fili and the Noli from a philosophical point of view is the difference between P. Florentino and Filosofo Tasio. Rizals choice of a Filipino secular priest to enunciate the principles of his political philosophy is no accident. We are witnessing a volte-face in the last chapter of the Fili. Rizal comes back from Madrids La Central to Manilas UST. If we were to rewrite Basilios story following P. Florentinos reply to Simoun, Basilio would not seek out Simoun after being released from prison; rather, he would go back to his books. Such a story, of course, would never make it to Hollywood, and Basilio comes out like a wimp, and yet this is Rizals own story, his story in Dapitan. What did Rizal do in Dapitan? Basically, he worked and never once plotted against the government. The Noli and the Fili together make up Rizals autobiography. Of course, while our version of Basilio may never make it to the silver screen, it would be the perfect material for a Dostoyevsky (which unfortunately Rizal was not). We would not be mistaken to use the vocabulary of Christian asceticism to describe the process of the suffering citizens metanoia: suffering leading to self-examination, self-examination to contrition, contrition to a purpose of amendment, and the purpose of amendment to P. Florentinos qualifications for freedom which we saw earlier.


The anthropological and theological ground that underlies P. Florentinos advice is given in quick strokes in chapter 33, the chapter in which Simoun informs Basilio of his plan to blow up Philippine societys high and mighty at Paulita Gomezs wedding reception. The narrator, who could be none other than Rizal, then comments:


Instead of replying that the most evil or most pusillanimous man is always something more than a plant, because he has a soul and an intelligence that, no matter how vitiated or brutalized, can be redeemed; instead of answering that man has no right to dispose of anyones life for the benefit of someone else, and that the right to life resides in each individual like the right to freedom and light; instead of replying that, if it is abuse in governments to punish the guilty for faults or crimes which they have committed out of negligence or ineptitude, so much more would it be for a man, whether powerful or miserable, to punish an unfortunate people for the faults of its governments and ancestors; instead of saying that only God can use such means, that God can destroy because he can create, God who has in his hands the capacity to reward, eternity and the future to justify his acts while man does not; instead of these arguments, Basilio opposed only a vulgar observation: What will the world say on seeing such carnage? [25051]


Rizal recognizes the existence of a moral order, sees it as inscribed in the very nature of the human being, and grounds it in the human beings Creator. Of the four statements that make up this critique of Simouns nihilism, the first is of particular interest. It refers to the redeemability of all human beings. This is at the root of Rizals rejection of hatred on the one hand and his doctrine of love on the other as a motor of change. The love that redeems, according to Rizal, is not simply love of ones people (no one can accuse Simoun of not having loved his country), but love of justice, goodness, and total disinterested service; it is in short (insofar as it refuses to degrade human beings) the love of persons as persons, including, it would seem, the friars.


Rizal returns to the Scholastics and Aristotle, but in the idiom of the present day, we would say that, in his view, vice (of which hatred is representative) deforms the human person, while virtue (of which love is his supreme example) transforms him. This is the principle that rules Rizals political philosophy. What is the link between love and virtue? Love leads to sacrifice: sacrifice of oneself for others. Sacrifice in turn transforms the citizens constant choice of others over self into a stable disposition, in short, into virtue.




P. Florentino does not furnish us any explanation of what he means by work, doubtless because we do not need one. Trabajar means what it ordinarily does, the work any citizen engages in as a means of livelihood. As such it is the ordinary means of the citizen and society to generate wealth. This may seem out of place in the noble heights of P. Florentinos discourse, but material prosperity does play an important part in Rizals political thought. In his notes to his counsel, he says, I believed and believe that a people cannot have civil liberties without first having material prosperity; to have civil liberties without anything to eat is the same as listening to speeches on an empty stomach. (333)


Work then has a civic dimension as well, which Basilio specifically refers to in chapter 7 when Simoun accuses him of doing nothing for the country:


I do not watch from the side. I work as everyone does to raise from the ruins of the past a people whose individuals will practice solidarity with one another and feel each in himself an awareness and the life of the totality. Butin the great factory of society the division of labor should exist; I have picked my task and dedicate myself to science. [50]


Work for Rizal weaves the separate threads the individual citizens are into the single fabric society should be. This is an important point. We tend to think of national unity as having to be based on an idea accepted by all, but Rizal was much more down-to-earth: national unity would be achieved through the experience of working together in commerce and industry. His notes to his counsel constantly link unity and economic development when he talks of the aims of the Liga Filipina. If we represent civil society with any positive number, the process to it starts not from zero, but from a negative numberthe situation of vice. Sufrir takes the individual citizen to point zero; trabajar takes the citizens at point zero to the positive number that is civil society. Trabajar comes after sufrir. The citizen worker must embody those qualifications for civil liberties we saw earlier; otherwise, wealth may cause division instead of unity.


P. Florentino alludes twice to the power of action to reveal the idea that motivated it. This power, of course, does not reside solely in dramatic actions, such as the suffering of the just and the upright that he specifically mentions, but in any and all actions, even the humblest. This brings us to the action that occupies most of the citizens timework. The virtuous citizens work would embody love, self-sacrifice, and virtue. In fact, it would not only be the citizens work, but the citizen himself and the very product of his work that would embody all of these values, putting them in currency in society. It is their having witnessed that work that brings his fellow citizens to imitate the virtuous citizen. As suffering brings about the redemption of the individual, so, too, work brings about the redemption of the people. When the majority of the citizens of a society are persons of virtue, then we have the redemption of that people. We have a civil society.


What are the sources of Rizals political philosophy in the Fili? I believe it was real life. The point about Filipinos not being ready for a life with civil liberties was something he learned observing Filipinos in Madrid, with their gambling and womanizing and playing hooky. The point about Filipinos having the mentality of both tyrant and slave was something he learned from personal observation and from news from his family about Calamba. The transforming power of suffering accounted for the change he saw in the members of his family as they were persecuted in relation to the Calamba land case. The importance of work in the development of society was something he saw in Europe. And the effectiveness of personal example was something he experienced the first time he returned to the Philippines in 1887: he felt he had accomplished much more in those seven months in Calamba than in his five years in Europe. Doubtless their roots in his personal life is the reason for the conviction with which these points of his political philosophy are given to us in the Fili, in his notes to his counsel, and in his manifesto condemning the 1896 revolution. It is a political philosophy that matured during his crisis with Marcelo del Pilar in 1891 and remained substantially intact till his death five years later. But Rizal had no professional training in philosophy and so there are gaps around these points. Perhaps it is more exact to say we have the raw material for a political philosophy in Rizals later writings. They await someone to work on them.


Rizal a Century Later


If we were to ask Rizal about the coming general elections, he might reply that one must interrogate candidates as to (a) their plan to beat poverty and (b) their plan to solve corruption and vote on the basis of these. But he might answer as well as many do today, The general elections do not matter. This would not be the expression of cynicism. Rather, it would be the logical consequence of his position that what matters above all is the existence of a civil society. Who rules is not important.


Can we say we have a civil society today at the national level? If the criteria for determining whether a national civil society exists are Rizals conditions for deserving freedom, then the answer is simply no. Do we as a people elevate reason? I do not know whether our handling of public issues as reported in the newspapers would support that. Do we elevate the dignity of the individual? Our position on the corruption index says no. Do we as a people love the just, the good, and the great to the point of sacrificing ourselves for them? Our behavior during the worst days of the Asian crisis compared with that of South Koreans, Thais and Malaysians says no.


            Can we say we have a civil society at the local level? This is, of course, the level at which civil society ceases to be mere theory, the level at which we come face to face with roads, garbage, car drivers and pedestrians, shop owners and street vendors, and that ubiquitous admonition against indiscriminate male urination. The failure of the two People Power revolutions to transform Philippine society provides an answer to our question. There is something ingenuous about People Power demonstrations directed at presidents, while city mayors who get a cut of the budget of every construction project in their city or provincial governors who assassinate rivals are tolerated. Can we in fact imagine a People Power demonstration against a mayor of Metro Manila. Would the masses be there? Would there not be a real danger of violence from goons? I do not mean that any of the mayors of Metro Manila deserves to be denounced in a popular demonstration. I mean to ask, in the hypothetical case that someone called for the indictment of a Metro Manila mayor in a People Power demonstration, whether there would be mass support.


Self-government, claims Rizal, is the natural fruit of civil society, and self-government means at its most literal government by the people. Civil society eventually ends up a democracy. Our situation in the Philippines, however, has not followed this pattern. We have imposed the shell of a democratic national government over hundreds of local communities (counting barangays among these, of course) that are accurately described as traditionally political or trapo. Traditional political communities are, however, far from being the civil societies Rizal describes; they are rather survivals of our pre-Hispanic past. Sociologists tell us they are organized along patron-client lines; student activists of my college days referred to them as feudal; older historians remarked on their paternalism; I like to call them maginoo/alipin societies after Rizals tyrant/slave distinction. We take it for granted that communities at the pre-national level need not be civil societies, while we demand the formation of a genuine civil society at the national level. Today as during the last general elections, there is much talk about voter education, but one never hears of this in relation to local elections.


Is it possible to erect a democracy on the foundations of feudalistic communities? This is to write on water, the Tagalogs would say. The failure of the People Power Revolutions to provoke a change in political culture forcibly reminds us that far more urgent than building a national civil society is building local civil societies.


Allow me to make a summary of Rizals thought with regard to freedom and civil society. Freedom is a life with civil liberties. This life is genuinely lived only when citizens have learned to elevate reason and human dignity and to love the just, the good, and the great to the point of death. When this is not so in a particular society, then the members of that society eventually suffer. It is then that the citizen must realize that his own vices or toleration of vices have brought about this situation. The citizen must undergo an interior change. He must subsequently work and work well to bring about material prosperity, national unity, and the ethical transformation of his fellow citizens.


Rizal discusses none of these as though they were responsibilities of citizens. He refers to them rather as his dreams. Today, however, when much gloom over the countrys future envelops peoples hearts, Rizals Sufrir y trabajar and his vision of a civil society has every appearance of a political responsibilitythe responsibility of every enlightened citizen in our republic. It is a strange responsibility because it is not a responsibility to an existing polis, but to one in the process of becoming. This fits our historical situation which is precisely thata nation in progress, a people in the process of becoming. Philosophical arguments could be easily mustered, for which unfortunately we do not have time, to characterize this responsibility as human rather than political. At the heart of the concept of responsibility is that of accountability, answering to someone for something. In a nation in fieri we answer to the persons we live with insofar as they are persons for their well-being which becomes our concern because they are persons and so are we.


Prior to the polis there is simply society. In Rizals view, society is a network of relationships in which there is no one who can claim isolation from any other; everyone is implicated; everyone affects everyone else. There is evidence Rizal had grasped this early in life, long before what we might call his nationalistic phase which began in 1888 with his annotations to Morga. Simoun mouths nationalism before Basilio, but we sense by the end of the Fili that Rizal has had him do this so that he can be rejected. Simouns nationalism is exclusivist, and exclusivism, P. Florentino would have said, is a telltale sign of its roots in hatred, not love. There is no responsibility to hate, but there is one to love.


 Dónde está la juventud que ha de consagrar sus rosadas horas, sus ilusiones y entusiasmo al bien de su patria?


Where is the youth that should consecrate their rosy hours, their dreams and enthusiasm to the good of the fatherland? Where are they who should pour their blood generously to wash away so much shame, so many crimes, such abomination? Pure and spotless must the victim be for the holocaust to be acceptable! [28485]


This is Fr. Florentinos famous apostrophe after his long speech. Rizal thought that a civil society would take years to bring about.


Where are you, o young men and women, who have to incarnate the vigor of life that has fled our veins, the purity of ideas that have been stained in our brains and the fire of enthusiasm that has died out in our hearts? [285]


Rizal discounts his own generation, the generation we are accustomed to venerate as heroes, so bleak was his vision in 1891. The apostrophe ends plaintively: Come because we await you. There is no avoiding the long haul, and that is the reason why, included among the defects Filipinos must atone for, is lack of faith. In the context of the closing scene of the Fili, lack of faith can only refer to God. Lack of faith is behind our recourse to quick solutions, but in the long run the quick solutions of anger, hatred, violence, slander, and crime will not work; it is only the slower solutions we have examined at length that will.


Despite the lugubrious lighting and the cello music that would depict the end of the Fili were this ever to be made into a film, Rizals philosophy is essentially optimistic: all men are redeemable and the redemption of an entire society can be initiated by anyone in the simplest of wayssufrir y trabajar. The redeemer Rizal presents us with is the man of virtue whom he characterizes as master of his own destiny in opposition to the man of vice who is a creature of circumstances. Jesus Christ, whose divinity Rizal denied at this time, seems to be his paradigm. Earlier I expressed skepticism about the theological character of the end of the Fili, but we would do less than justice to banish God completely from Rizals picture. God is there as Providence, replacing the Nolis Progress, and he is also there as the ground of the moral principles behind Rizals rejection of Simouns anarchism. And he collaborates with human beings to bring about civil society.



sources consulted


Rizal, José.  Datos para mi defensa. In Escritos políticos e históricos, 33139. Manila: Comisión del Centenario de José Rizal, 1961.


_______. El Filibusterismo. 1891. Reprint, Manila: Instituto Histórico Nacional, 1996.


Tatad, Francisco S. Power without Authority: Crisis and Conflict in the Presidency. Manila: Icon Press, Inc., 2003.

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