The Universality of Rizal’s Ideas and Its Relevance to Filipinos Today*

Dr. Jose P. Rizal | Monument in Chicago

(Rizal’s monument in Chicago, Illinois. Photo source:

The political, social, economic, religious, and ethical ideas of the foremost national hero of the Philippines, Dr. Jose P. Rizal are part of his writings. I have selected some of those ideas for this brief treatise. Rizal’s ideas are timeless in application, that is, they were relevant during his time as they are relevant now to Filipinos living in the Philippines or elsewhere. His ideas are relevant today to many people, regardless of color and geographical location.

With the hope of minimizing misunderstanding, I will follow the advice of an ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, who said: “If you want to speak with me, define your terms.” So let us define our terms and, at the same time, delimit the topic.

By “universality” of ideas, I mean the extent of applicability and acceptability of the ideas, regardless of geographical boundaries or territorial considerations. By “relevance” of ideas, I mean its timelessness and applicability at the time the ideas were expressed up to and including present day conditions. I will use the term “Filipino” as a cultural concept, as distinguished from the legal concept, to mean all persons born in the Philippines or elsewhere whose parents or other ascendants, regardless of degree, came from the Philippines.

If in the course of this treatise, I tend to moralize or sermonize, please understand. I believe there is no other way to show the universality of Rizal’s ideas and its relevance to present day Filipinos. Remember that Rizal was ridiculed as “Papa” or Pope after he criticized his contemporary Filipinos in Spain who were more interested in gambling, drinking, and flirting with women, rather than working for the welfare of the Philippines.

Rizal’s ideas can be gleaned from his writings and his speeches. He never claimed originality for his ideas. The fact is, I dare say, no one can really claim to have spawned a truly original idea, especially social ideas. But the same idea may be expressed in different ways. Rizal’s ideas were reflective of the ideas existing before and during his time. Remember that Rizal was a voracious reader, eager to learn something every day of his life. His ideas were the result of his education, his training, his readings, and his dealings with people of different cultures, the conditions then prevailing in the Philippines and other countries he visited.

Now, let us deal with Rizal’s ideas or Rizalisms:

ON GOVERNMENTS: Rizal’s ideas on governments mirror those of the political thinkers who influenced the French and American revolutions. Many of those ideas are enshrined in many constitutions or fundamental laws of democratic countries in the world today.

Rizal believed that the primary function of governments is the promotion of the welfare of the people. In his second novel, El Filibusterismo, he wrote that governments are established for the welfare of the people. In order to accomplish this purpose, governments have to listen to the voice of the people. Rizal believed that social progress was possible if there was cooperation between the government and people. A stupid government is an anomaly among righteous people, just as a corrupt people cannot exist under rules and wise laws. Like people, like government. A government that needs the support of the people must continue to have an open and free dialogue with the people.

Being a true reformer, he did not believe in the use of force to change governments.

ON EDUCATION: The degree of importance that Rizal attributed to education is perhaps illustrated by his clear and simple advice to his younger sister, Trinidad, in a letter in 1886. He was then in Germany. Rizal wrote to her, and I quote: “Now that you are still young, you should strive to read, read, and learn. You must not allow yourself to be conquered by indolence because it costs so little to cast it off.”

Rizal already recognized the importance of education in the progress and welfare of the nation when he was only a teenager. Eighteen years old, to be more precise. Thus, in his poem, Through Education Our Motherland Receives Light, he said that education “lifts the motherland to the highest station.” It is only through education that the country will prosper. In his essay, The Indolence of the Filipinos, he wrote that the system of education must promote economic progress and activity. He recognized the importance of vocational education.

Rizal’s ideas on education were echoed and restated by the freedom fighters of the turn of the (20th) century, and the leaders of independence movements after the Second World War when many colonies of the western powers clamored and fought for independence and freedom for their people. Today, we hear parents, teachers, government officials, our leaders, telling us, advising us, cajoling us, or ordering us, again and again, to “read, read, and learn”. It is only through education that we as individuals will achieve new heights and prosperity. It is through education that countries will prosper and governments will be cleansed of corruption and demagoguery. Listen to speeches of our government officials, of education advocates, and you will hear the echoes of Rizal’s advice to his younger sister and of the idea on the importance of education.

Rizal’s ideas on education was relevant to the Philippines then and now, as it is relevant in any other country where people desire to improve the quality of their lives. It will be to their benefit if Filipinos and everyone else, particularly those who are still young, to listen and heed Rizal’s advice on education: “:read, read, and learn”. Education will elevate them to new heights and become not only active, but also recognized partners, in the art of government and every community activity.

ON INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM: “All men are born equal, naked and without shackles.” This is not exactly Rizal’s words. This is the opening sentence in Jean Jacques Rousseau’s treatise on the origin of governments entitled “The Social Contract”.

In his letter To the Young Women of Malolos, Rizal wrote in similar fashion, and I quote: God gave each individual reason and will of his or her own to distinguish just from the unjust: all men are born without shackles and free, nobody has a right to subjugate the will and the spirit of another. All men are born equal, naked and without bonds.”

Rizal cautioned against consulting one’s judgment alone. He advised that “we should not consult our own judgment alone, but hear the opinion of others, doing what may seem most reasonable to us.” It is wise to listen to the views of others before making our opinion or rendering judgment.

Rizal believed that history teaches us that freedom is not obtained without pain or merit, nor is it granted “gratis et amore” (free with love). We have to earn it. This observation is true not only in the independence of a country, but also in the freedom of individuals. It may be added that to enjoy freedom, one has to bear the obligations that make the enjoyment of that freedom possible.

ON RELIGION: Rizal’s religious ideas were expressed in his letters to the Jesuit priest, Father Pastells. According to Rizal, individual judgment is a gift from God. The pursuit of truth lie in different paths and thus, “religion may vary, but they will lead to the light.” This idea is the basis of the freedom of religion — the freedom of religious belief and the freedom to act in accordance with one’s religious belief – – that is enshrined in our laws.

ON RACISM: During a ceremony honoring the achievements of two Filipino painters, Juan Luna and Felix Resurrection Hidalgo, Rizal declared that genius is universal. “Genius knows no country, genius is everywhere, genius is light, air, the patrimony of everybody…”. These words were not just said in praise of the extraordinary achievements of Luna and Hidalgo, but a stirring indictment and rejection of the common belief of the (Caucasian) Europeans during this time, particularly the Spaniards, that they were superior to the colored people who inhabited their colonies.

We, who now live in a different time and different social environment, know full well that the idea of a superior race is not only abhorrent, but is also a blatant falsity. It is an idea for a time in human history that is long gone.

ON CHARITY: In his letter, To the Young Women of Malolos, Rizal wrote, and I quote: “Blessed are they who succor their fellow men, aid the poor and feed the hungry.” This is almost a verbatim restatement of Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. This is not a surprise simply because Rizal was educated in Catholic-run universities.

ON MOTHERS AND WOMEN: Rizal’s on mothers and women are mainly contained in his letter To the Young Women of Malolos. According to him, mothers must raise their children close to the image of God; teach their children to guard and love their honor, to love their native land, and perform their duties; and must fortify the minds of their children so that they may overcome difficulties and dangers. The wife should help her husband, “inspire him with courage, share his perils … sweeten his moments or affliction, always remembering that there is no grief that a brave heart cannot bear.”

ON LEADERS AND ORGANIZATIONS: For leaders of organizations, Rizal had some words of advice that, if followed by present leaders, will minimize conflicts and divisions. He advised: “The spirit of tolerance ought to prevail. In discussions, the conciliatory tendency ought to dominate before the tendency to oppose. The individual ought to give way to the welfare of the society. No member should expect rewards for what he does… it is advisable for each one to do his duty just for its own sake, and at best expect to be later treated unjustly, because in anomalous countries, injustice is the prize for those who fulfill their duties.”

The ideas of Rizal which I have here mentioned and briefly restated may not have been exclusively his own. But, what makes those ideas different and significant to us Filipinos is that we can identify with them. We have reason to be proud because those ideas were restated, reinvented, advocated, and applied by a man with whom we share a common heritage. He was a Filipino, proud of his heritage, but willing to adopt what were good about other cultures.

Those of us who have chosen to live in another country, who were educated in a country other than the Philippines, or who are unable to speak any of the dialects of the Philippines or its national language, will always be referred to as Filipinos by other ethnic groups, despite being citizens of the countries we have chosen to live. No matter how long we have lived there. Filipino is a name and an identity that will always be connected to us. Racially, we will always be seen as a Filipino. We simply cannot escape our heritage. For as long as we have that distinctive Filipino features, whether we think of ourselves as Filipinos or not, citizens and people of other ethnic ancestry will always identify us as Filipinos.

The one good thing about being Filipinos who are citizens of another country not the Philippines is that we can be citizens of that country and still believe and act in accordance with Rizal’s teachings without having to be branded as disloyal. We can, for example, be Filipinos believing and acting in accordance with Rizal’s ideas, without being branded as un-American, or anti Australian, or un-English. We can be citizens of another country and yet be proud of our Filipino heritage, as most every other citizens of another ethnic ancestry are proud of the national roots of their ascendants.

The ideas of Rizal that we have just discussed are very much a part of our way of life today. Most of us may have, unknowingly, conducted ourselves according to the ideas of Rizal. Most of us may have, unknowingly, believed and advocated ideas that Rizal believed in and advocated in his lifetime. Wouldn’t it be better if we know that we have conducted ourselves according to Rizal’s ideas It will be satisfying if we know that we share the ideas similar to a great man, like Rizal.

Filipinos who are citizens of another country may not truly be expected to celebrate the independence of the Philippines for which Rizal gave his life. That will be understandable. All of us, however, can celebrate together for the reason that we all take pride in the common Filipino heritage we share.

With knowledge of Dr. Jose P. Rizal, his ideas and his deeds, we should be proud of our roots.

See other works of Brod Manuel B. Quintal, Esq.

Inspirational Words to Live By
Ikaw Lamang
Rizal: Filipino hero, Asian and a universal man
Constitution: To Amend or not to Amend?
The Law and Politics in Impeachment
Words: The Tools of the Legal Profession

* This article is a shorter and revised version of the one that the author wrote years ago that was delivered before an audience composed mainly of Filipino Americans, and before the adoption of the dual citizenship law by the Philippines.
Copyright © 2014
New York, NY 12-17-2014

Manuel B. QUintal

About the Author

Brod Manuel B. Quintal, Esquire, is a former college  professor of Political Science and Law, with graduate degrees in both disciplines. He practices law in the State of New York. His Law Offices of Manuel B. Quintal, P.C. is located at 291 Broadway, Suite 1501, New York, NY 10007, United
States of America. He is the president of the Tau Kappa Phi Law Fraternity Alumni Society – USA/Canada, for 2014-2016.

Facebook: man.quintal


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