30th December is a public holiday is the Philippines, in commemoration of the national hero Jose Rizal (1861-1896). Rizal was a true ‘renaissance man’, adept in a wide range of intellectual disciplines: a doctor of medicine, poet and novelist, conversant in at least ten different languages. During his short life he travelled extensively – there is even a plaque on the wall of a house in London’s Primrose Hill commemorating his residence while carrying out research at the British Museum.
Best known for his two novels Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo which were devastating social commentaries on the condition of the Spanish-ruled Philippines, Rizal was a reformer rather than revolutionary and while imprisoned by the Spanish authorities disowned the revolutionary movement led by Andres Bonifacio and represented by the underground Katipunan movement. To signal his dissociation from the revolutionaries, Rizal was given leave to travel to Cuba to minister with victims of yellow fever. However, the Spanish authorities changed their mind; en route to Cuba, Rizal was arrested and brought back to Manila for trial on the grounds of rebellion, sedition and conspiracy. He was found guilty and executed by firing squad on 30th December 1896 – the date now commemorated as Rizal Day. The site of his execution in Rizal Park (also known by its older name Luneta Park) is marked by a memorial where wreath laying and various activities take place on the day named after him.
For scholars and historians Rizal remains a controversial figure, particularly his relationship with the revolutionary movement. Ironically, the execution of this advocate for non-violent change fed the determination of the nascent revolution, which by the end of 1896 had begun in earnest. His status as a hero of the Philippine people, however, cannot be diminished.
For everything you wanted to know about Rizal, visit his website.