On Jose Rizal’s death anniversary on Dec. 30, it’s worth returning to his essay, The Indolence of the Filipino (1890). It continues to illuminate more than 130 years since its publication.
In Indolence, Rizal showed keen economic sense, particularly in examining economics and geography, and economics and institutions.
In this essay, Rizal studied the Filipinos’ predisposition to indolence “thoroughly, without superciliousness or sensitiveness.” Instead of dismissing Filipino indolence outright, Rizal wrote, “we believe that indolence does exist there. The Filipinos, who can measure up with the most active peoples in the world, will doubtless not repudiate this admission, for it is true that there one works and struggles against the climate, against nature and against men.”
To be sure, the hot climate in a tropical land does not favor working long hours. Typhoons and earthquakes, year in and year out, disrupt productivity.
Said Rizal: “The fact is that in tropical countries violent work is not a good thing as it is in cold countries, there it is death, destruction, annihilation.”
In the same vein, to compensate for this burden, he said: “Nature… has therefore made the earth more fertile, more productive.” Nonetheless, the fertile and productive land didn’t (and doesn’t) benefit the ordinary people, for they had (have) to struggle against the rules created by a few men.
Rizal criticized those who exaggerated the role of indolence. “The evil is not that indolence exists more or less latently but that it is fostered and magnified.” Moreover, he emphasized that indolence was a manifestation, not a cause, of Philippine backwardness.
He discussed the causes of such indolence:
• The wars, piracy and internal disorders, resulting in the “frightful diminution of inhabitants” and the abandonment of agriculture, industry and commerce.
• The tributaries or abusive taxes and forced labor.
• The maldistribution of the gains from the galleon trade and the iniquity of the encomienda system.
• The failure to provide essential public goods like justice and peace and order.
• The bureaucratic corruption and inefficiency.
• The toleration, even encouragement, of vice (e.g., gambling), profligacy, and obscurantism.
• The discrimination of the indios and the denial of individual liberty.
Rizal said that these causes can be reduced to two classes, namely “defects of training and lack of national sentiment.”
Rizal asked: “How is it that the Filipino people, so fond of its customs as to border on routine, has given up its ancient habits of work, of trade, of navigation, etc., even to the extent of completely forgetting its past?”
The same question resonates today. How come many Pinoys have become discouraged and pin their deliverance on a duplicitous candidate who promises gold and windmills? How come Pinoys let this duplicitous candidate erase the terrible memories associated with his father’s plunder and dictatorship?
But Rizal was likewise empathic that the Filipinos, not being masters of their liberty, were not responsible either for their misfortunes. The actions of rulers and the institutions they put up account for our tragedies.
We have been battered by the pandemic and typhoons like the killer Odette. We have to brace for a new COVID-19 surge with the ascendancy of a new mutation that is Omicron. In truth, these calamities, though causing much hardship, are surmountable. What we need are good institutions and good government, which can harness our collective action to prevail.
Sadly, we as a society are weak. Rizal used a sick patient as a metaphor to describe Philippine society. The doctor (in this case, the government) only sees the symptoms and thus confines his interventions to bloodletting, putting a plaster on the patient’s body, or giving the patient a sedative. But “a trifling reform,” in a situation where the patient (or society) is terribly sick, won’t work.
What Rizal prescribed then is blood transfusion “Yes, transfusion of blood, transfusion of blood! New life, new vitality!”
Further, he implored: “While the patient breathes, we must not lose hope, and however late we be, a judicious examination is never superfluous.”
Today, we heed Rizal. We must not lose hope. Rizal shows us the way. The key is to inform and educate our fellow Filipinos in the midst of lies that despots propagate. We need to energize the national sentiment or consciousness that will defeat ignorance, duplicity, and greed.
Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.