‘Mi Último Adiós’
(My Last Farewell)
by José Rizal
(English translation by Nick Joaquin)
Land that l love — farewell! O Land the Sun loves!
Pearl in the sea of the Orient: Eden lost to your brood!
Gaily go I to present you this hapless hopeless life;
were it more brilliant, had it more freshness, more bloom:
still for you would l give it — would give it for your good.
ln barricades embattled, fighting with delirium,
others offer you their lives without doubts, without gloom,
The site doesn’t matter: cypress, laurel or lily;
gibbet or open field, combat or cruel martyrdom,
are equal if demanded by country and home.
l am to die when I see the heavens go vivid,
announcing the day at last behind the dead night.
If you need color, color to stain that dawn with,
let spill my blood, scatter it in good hour,
and drench in its gold one beam of the newborn light.
Dr. José Rizal was executed by firing squad by the Spanish colonial government for the crime of rebellion, on Dec. 30, 1896, at Bagumbayan Field in Manila. His 14-stanza poem in Spanish, hitherto only known by its opening verse, “Adios Patria Adorada” (“Farewell Beloved Country”) later titled “Mi último adiós” (“Last Farewell”) was hidden in his gas lamp in his prison cell, and transferred among his personal belongings to his family after his death. He wrote to his best friend and confidant, professor Ferdinand Blumentritt, “Tomorrow at seven, I shall be shot; but I am innocent of the crime of rebellion. I am going to die with a tranquil conscience” (from Teodoro Kalaw, Epistolario Rizalino).
Not for active rebellion, for Rizal was not actually aligned with the Katipunan of Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo in those days of the Revolution. He was one of the leaders of the reform movement of Filipino students in Spain, where he was a prolific contributor to the Spanish newspaper La Solidaridad in Barcelona (under changing pen names of “Dimasalang,” “Laong Laan,” and “May Pagasa”). His writings focused on liberal and progressive ideas of individual rights and freedom, specifically, rights for the Filipino people. His two best known novels were Noli Me Tangere (Touch me not, 1887) that criticized the Spanish political governance and the clergy, and El Filibusterismo (The Reign of Greed, 1891) that described the “social cancer” that colonization wrought.
The local Spanish authorities thought his writings incendiary, and Rizal was banished to Dapitan in Zamboanga on house arrest upon his return to the country in 1892. When outright rebellion broke out in 1896 (not with his complicity), Rizal was incarcerated in Fort Santiago in October, and executed on Dec. 30, 1896. His remains were dumped in an unmarked grave at the Paco Cemetery until he was transferred to the iconic Rizal monument in Luneta Park (former Bagumbayan Field) in 1898, under American rule.
Some historians say that the martyred José Rizal was picked by the Americans as an example of how bad the Spanish were at handling the nascent patriotism in the Filipino literati who did not really press for independence, but for fair representation and participation in the governance of the colony.
But Rizal is much more than an accidental hero. “There can be no tyrants where there are no slaves,” he bravely said. José Rizal was the first writer who died for the country fighting for the basic human rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, claiming freedom of thought and expression.
His birthday, June 19 (also commemorated like his death anniversary on Dec. 30), was marked last week, as it is remembered at every anniversary, in his hometown, Calamba, Laguna and at the Luneta Park. And in this dismal, numbingly fearful time of the now-more than three months’ quarantine under the heartless tyranny of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Filipinos might have been hardly moved by remembrance of the martyrdom of José Rizal.
Yet it might be so forcefully ironic that our country, Rizal’s “Patria Adorada,” seems confronted with an inner struggle now, like it was in Rizal’s heart, about threats, imagined or real, to the basic human rights and freedoms won in hard-earned political independence. Since July 4, 1946 when the US officially recognized and released the Philippines as an independent sovereign state, the threats to human rights and freedoms have pathetically come not from foreign colonizers but from within the democratic ecosystem — as so graphically demonstrated in the 14-year Marcos dictatorship in the Martial Law of 1972-1986.
For example, would Rizal be branded a “terrorist” under today’s definition in the controversial “Anti-Terrorism Act” (ATA), passed by Congress (and now awaiting President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature or automatically passing into law) as the country was celebrating Rizal month? By the Spanish authorities who sentenced Rizal to execution at Bagumbayan, he was a terrorist who incited the Katipunan radicals to rebellion. According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), under the ATA “an individual, as well as a group, commits terrorism when he or she ‘engages in acts intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person, or endangers a person’s life,’ or ‘causes extensive damage to public property,’ in order to ‘create an atmosphere or spread a message of fear’…the law also makes it a criminal offense to ‘incite others’ to commit terrorism ‘by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations tending to the same end’” (HRW, June 5).
The law, which does not define “incitement,” poses a danger to freedom of the media and freedom of expression by providing an open-ended basis for prosecuting speech, the HRW wrote. And then there is the closure of the country’s biggest network, ABS-CBN in May, with actual and virtual House Committee hearings on the renewal of franchise diverging into issues of banned foreign ownership of media and unpaid taxes and payments. “President Rodrigo Duterte is not to blame for the shutdown of ABS-CBN Corp, his legal counsel Salvador Panelo said on May 6 (as quoted by ABS-CBN News), adding that the closure is not the same as the network’s shutdown when the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972.”
And then the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 46 convicted Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa and former Rappler researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos, Jr. over cyber-libel charges in a high-profile verdict handed down last week, Monday (Rappler, June 15). The court sentenced Ressa and Santos to a minimum of six months and one day to a maximum of six years in jail over charges filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng in a case that tested the eight-year-old Philippine cybercrime law, Rappler said.
Hundreds of Filipinos have taken to the streets against a widely opposed anti-terrorism bill, TV news reported. “Mass gatherings remain prohibited, even though the government has eased lockdown restrictions, but protest leaders said they were forced to come out to stop the country from crossing a dangerous red line threatening freedom of expression,” cbsnews.com reported. Students of UP-Cebu were arrested in the peaceful rally in the Visayas.
José Rizal was there, protesting.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.