The Life of Jose Rizal: Philippine Patriot HTML version

America's Forerunner
The lineage of a hero who made the history of his country during its most critical period,
and whose labors constitute its hope for the future, must be more than a simple list of an
ascending line. The blood which flowed in his veins must be traced generation by
generation, the better to understand the man, but at the same time the causes leading to
the conditions of his times must be noted, step by step, in order to give a better
understanding of the environment in which he lived and labored.
The study of the growth of free ideas is now in the days of our democracy the most
important feature of Philippine history; hitherto this history has consisted of little more
than lists of governors, their term of office, and of the recital of such incidents as were
considered to redound to the glory of Spain, or could be so twisted and misrepresented as
to make them appear to do so. It rarely occurred to former historians that the lamp of
experience might prove a light for the feet of future generations, and the mistakes of the
past were usually ignored or passed over, thus leaving the way open for repeating the old
errors. But profit, not pride, should be the object of the study of the past, and our
historians of today very largely concern themselves with mistakes in policy and defects
of system; fortunately for them such critical investigation under our changed conditions
does not involve the discomfort and danger that attended it in the days of Doctor Rizal.
In the opinion of the martyred Doctor, criticism of the right sort-even the very best things
may be abused till they become intolerable evils-serves much the same useful warning
purpose for governments that the symptoms of sickness do for persons. Thus government
and individual alike, when advised in time of something wrong with the system, can seek
out and correct the cause before serious consequences ensue. But the nation that represses
honest criticism with severity, like the individual who deadens his symptoms with
dangerous drugs, is likely to be lulled into a false security that may prove fatal. Patriot
toward Spain and the Philippines alike, Rizal tried to impress this view upon the
government of his day, with fatal results to himself, and the disastrous effects of not
heeding him have since justified his position.
The very defenses of Old Manila illustrate how the Philippines have suffered from lack of
such devoted, honest and courageous critics as Jose Rizal. The city wall was built some
years later than the first Spanish occupation to keep out Chinese pirates after Li Ma-hong
destroyed the city. The Spaniards sheltered themselves in the old Tagalog fort till
reenforcements could come from the country. No one had ever dared to quote the proverb
about locking the door after the horse was stolen. The need for the moat, so recently filled
in, was not seen until after the bitter experience of the easy occupation of Manila by the
English, but if public opinion had been allowed free expression this experience might
have been avoided. And the free space about the walls was cleared of buildings only after
these same buildings had helped to make the same occupation of the city easier, yet there
were many in Manila who foresaw the danger but feared to foretell it.