SOLIMAN M. SANTOS, JR. is a municipal-level judge covering three rural towns in Camarines Sur. He once taught an undergraduate subject on Rizal while he was still a law student at the University of Nueva Caceres. His continuing interest in Philippine history is reflected in his work. Among others, he and literature professor Paz Verdades Martinez-Santos were co-editors of Militant But Groovy: Stories of Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (2008) and co-authors of Primed and Purposeful: Armed Groups and Human Security Efforts in the Philippines (2010). This piece was published in the June 27, 2011 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.
Sison continued, focusing on Rizal’s two novels and the question of reform or revolution: “When Rizal wrote his masterworks, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, he explored the possibility of reform first and, upon exhausting that possibility within the colonial framework, he also explored the possibility of revolution…In the Fili, Rizal exposes thoroughly and systematically the decadence of the system as the beginning of a revolutionary situation.”
Sison, however, does not go as far as categorizing Rizal as a revolutionary, as does Jesuit historian John N. Schumacher. Schumacher, in his article “Rizal the Revolutionary and the Ateneo” in the journal Philippine Studies, says “what makes Rizal a revolutionary is the fact that he wanted not only to reform, repress, do away with, the abuses from which his people suffered; he wanted to change the Filipinos themselves, the very structure of the society in which he lived.” That Rizal “looked…to the creation of a just society in which the rights of all would be respected”, according to Schumacher, “is another reason why Rizal was a revolutionary, and one can even say a radical revolutionary… Rizal’s thoughts will continue to be subversive of all societies which fail to bring justice and freedom to the Filipino people.” Indeed, the debate whether Rizal was a reformist or a revolutionary also depends on one’s definition of revolution, as in the EDSA Revolution.
Sison the Radical Revolutionary is surprisingly not as harsh on Rizal the Liberal reformist as is nationalist historian Renato Constantino. Constantino’s two major essays on Rizal are “Our Task: To Make Rizal Obsolete” in his book The Filipinos in the Philippines and “Veneration Without Understanding” in his book Dissent and Counter-Consciousness. The titles are indication enough of Constantino’s critical attitude towards Rizal. “To make Rizal obsolete” is not as irreverent as it sounds. On the contrary, it is actually a compliment to Rizal: “When a new generation of Filipinos will be able to read Rizal as a mirror of our past and not as a reproach to our social present, only then can we say that we have truly honored Rizal because we have made him obsolete by completing his work. . . . .A reorientation of our ways and of our thoughts along nationalist lines will fulfill the dreams of Rizal and at the same time make them obsolete as goals because the dream will have become a reality.”
In “Veneration Without Understanding,” Constantino excoriates Rizal for having repudiated the Revolution. He does not mince words: “those words were treasonous in the light of the Filipinos’ struggle against Spain. Rizal repudiated the one act which really synthesized our nationalist aspirations, and yet we consider him a nationalist leader… The exposure of his weaknesses and limitations will also mean our liberation, for he has, to a certain extent, become part of the superstructure that supports present consciousness… for Rizal repudiated real decolonization… His class position, his upbringing, and his foreign education were profound influences which constituted a limitation on his understanding of his countrymen.”
Sison is also critical in his evaluation of Rizal. His main criticisms of Rizal, other than betrayal of the Revolution, are failure to state categorically the need for revolutionary armed struggle to effect separation from Spain, putting his trust in the enemy and the naïve hope that he would work for the cause of the nation in the open and in the city. Sison’s holding Rizal up to the standard of Maoist protracted people’s war is anachronistic and thus unfair. This author has a separate reading of Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios” as finally embracing the Katipunan and the Philippine Revolution of 1896.
Like Rizal, Sison’s career is not only political but also literary. Both are thinkers, organizers and writers, in varying degrees. In a post-release interview with Midweek, Sison was asked about literature and revolutionary politics. His answer: “And you know, I think it is a requirement for revolutionary leadership to have a literary imagination. The scientific mind is important in analyzing given facts. But to be able to anticipate what will happen next, you need literary imagination….With imagination, you create something new.” If Rizal is required reading for Filipino students, more so should it be for Filipino revolutionaries, going by the example of Jose Ma. Sison. But Rizal’s novels do not appear to be “required reading” in the CPP, unlike they were in the Katipunan, at least they were in the book list and collection of its Supremo Andres Bonifacio.