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A Filipino Hero Honoured Around The World – Jose Rizal


Jose Rizal is one the greatest national heroes of the Philippines. Rizal Day is celebrated each year on the 30th of December to commemorate his death in 1896. Rizal was executed by a firing squad by the Spanish army. Although he is a pacifist who believes that a revolution is not the solution in bringing Philippine independence from Spain, he was sentenced to death for accusations of being a dangerous enemy of the church and state. He is the writer of two novels that is known to trigger the Philippine Revolution against Spain. Today, Rizal’s legacy of nationalism, courage and excellence is honoured as well in other countries like Hong Kong, Germany and even in Spain! In the Philippines and in other countries, Rizal’s name is marked in every town with streets and parks bearing his name. So who is Rizal and is he still relevant today?



Jose Rizal’s timeless legacy makes him an iconic figure in pop culture in the Philippines. Who is Jose Rizal and why is he honoured in other countries as well?  (Art work: From a blog by Lara Sophia Cruz)


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Dr. Jose Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonzo Realonda    (Right) A painting showing Rizal as an ophthalmologist who is removing the cataract from his mother’s eye, Teodora Alonso Rizal


Dr. Jose Rizal was an ophthalmologist, writer, poet, novelist, linguist, educator, sociologist, engineer, painter, sculptor, painter, playwright, journalist, historian and sportsman. He was fluent in 22 languages – including English, French, German, Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Swedish and Russian.


Rizal was among the young illustrados or well-to-do middle class. He was born in Calamba, Laguna into the wealthy and prestigious Mercado-Rizal family. He had nine sisters and one brother, and his parents were leaseholders of a hacienda to the Dominican Order of the Catholic Church.


He studied in Colegio de San Juan de Letran before transferring to Ateneo de Manila at age 11 where he graduated as one of the sobresaliente or most outstanding students in his batch. He continued in Ateneo de Manila for a college course in land surveyor and assessor’s degree but he later shifted to Pre-Law in University of Santo Tomas (UST). When he found out that his mother was going blind, he transferred to UST’s medical school and specialised in ophthalmology.




Rizal’s ophthalmology tools



Rizal’s fencing equipment


He pursued further studies in medicine in Madrid, Spain at Universidad Central de Madrid. He also attended medical lectures in University of Paris, France and University of Heidelberg, Germany, and in Europe.



Rizal honoured in Germany: The German text says, “Dr. Jose Rizal, Philippine National Hero. Here, Bergheimer Street 20, Rizal practiced Ophthalmology from February until August 1886 under Prof. Dr. Otto Becker, Director of the university eye clinic.”


Rizal advocated reforms of Spanish governance of the Philippines by peaceful means, and was part of La Liga Filipina formed for this purpose in Madrid.


He wrote two influential books which educated Filipinos about the atrocities and injustices of the Spanish government and church: Noli Me Tangere (“Touch Me Not”) that refers to the topic of Spanish oppression and part II was El Filibusterismo (“The Enemy of the State”) which tells a story of Filipinos plotting a revolution. They are required studies in schools and universities here.


Rizal denounced armed struggle and violence in attaining reforms, perhaps due to pacifism and perhaps as he was wealthy and didn’t want a revolution that might threaten his family’s position.


Nevertheless, his eloquence and charisma sparked unrest in the country and inspired the more militant rebel group led by Andres Bonifacio called Kataastasang Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng Mga Anak ng Bayan or KKK (in English, Supreme and Most Honorable Society of the Children of the Nation).



The exact place where Rizal was imprisoned in Fort Santiago, Intramuros, with his final footprints of his execution marked.



Rizal Park (or Luneta) in central Manila is the place where Rizal was executed. Through the years, this place evolved into a tourist spot or a weekend spot where families hang out. It is a park that holds many stories and reminders about the restless journey of this nation towards true freedom and independence.


To the Spanish government, Rizal was a filibustero, while the Catholic Church excommunicated him. He was incarcerated in Fort Santiago, where you can still see his final steps, marked in bronze footprints, to death at the hands of his countrymen on the orders of Spanish colonialists, who had less than two years left to rule the country before being overthrown by an alliance of Filipinos and Americans.



Hong Kong honours Jose Rizal with this plaque beside his residence in Hong Kong where he lived from 1891-1892.



Jose Rizal Street at Heidelberg-Wilhelmsfeld, Germany with a plaque. (Photo by Ms. Penelope V. Flores)


Rizal is the obvious Filipino parallel to peaceful, articulate and charismatic leaders like Gandhi, Luther King and Mandela, and remains the central figure in the national identity.


Rizal’s life, death and achievements make him a unique figure in inspiring Filipino national unity.



Author: Expatch Editorial Team 

Photo source:
Top photo – Jose Rizal from a blog by Lara Sophia Cruz –
Rizal honoured in Germany – Kong –
Germany – by Ms. Penelop V. Flores –
Heidelberg-Wilhelmsfeld, Germany
Ophthalmological tools and fencing gear – by C.S. Gaerlan for Expatch







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