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8 lessons you can learn from and about Jose Rizal, according to historian Ambeth Ocampo

Today, the country celebrates our national hero Jose Rizal’s 160th birthday.

To mark the occasion, here are a few lessons you can learn from and about Rizal, according to historian Ambeth Ocampo.

Rizal did not write the famous poem “Sa Aking Mga Kabata.”

For years now, many historians and scholars have been discussing whether or not the famous poem “Sa Aking Mga Kabata,” and its highly quoted line “Ang hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika, masahol pa sa hayop at malansang isda,” was actually written by Rizal.

According to Ocampo, it wasn’t.

“Apparently, it’s not from Rizal,” Ocampo said in Filipino in an episode of the “The Howie Severino Podcast.” “When I started researching about it, that’s when I saw that it didn’t have an original manuscript. It was published after Rizal died.”

“So at first I thought, ‘what’s happening?’ Apparently, it’s not Rizal who wrote ‘Sa Aking Kababata.’ There are only two manuscripts they say is from Rizal, written in Tagalog. Both of them are not by Rizal. But you know that since it’s in our textbooks, it’s what is being taught to us,” he added.

Rizal wrote an unfinished novel.

After “El Filibusterismo,” Rizal actually wrote another novel but it remained unfinished.

Ocampo himself was the one who discovered Rizal’s unfinished work called “Makamisa” back in 1987 when he decided to make an article about Rizal’s handwritten manuscript in comparison to the printed version to commemorate the 100th anniversary of “Noli Me Tangere.”

“When I searched, I was able to find a notebook that said, ‘Burador de Noli Me Tangere,’ meaning ‘Drafts of the Noli,’” Ocampo said. “And it wasn’t published because it wasn’t noticed because they said it was just a draft of Noli.”

He added, “I worked hard to copy it. It had 265 pages. When I was at 150 pages, I said, ‘If this is the draft of Noli Me Tangere, why isn’t Maria Clara, Ibarra, Kapitan Tiago here?’ Apparently it was another novel and later on I discovered it was the third novel after El Filibusterismo. He just didn’t finish it.”

According to Ocampo, the “Makamisa” was a humorous novel. He shared that Rizal may have seen humor or satire as an effective weapon so he started to write a novel that was humorous.

“Unfortunately, either he didn’t have time or he had a lot of other things to do so he wasn’t able to finish it,” he said. “I think he was experimenting and unfortunately he did not live to finish it. So we don't know if that was part of the three major books or it's a completely different way of doing things.”

Rizal wasn’t a prophet. Society just didn’t seem to change.

Some people may think that Rizal could foretell the future with his works, but for Ocampo, our national hero wasn’t prophetic.

Rizal wrote “The Philippines within a Century,” but for Ocampo, these were Rizal’s thoughts based on his study on politics and history.

“Our heroes were not prophetic, Rizal,  Apolinario Mabini. When we read them, we see that they’re still relevant. ‘Ay, it’s like they saw the problems we have right now.’” Ocampo said. “Actually it’s not like that. What we need to see is that they weren’t prophets but rather people, Filipinos haven’t changed in the past 100 years,” he said.

“Our behavior is still the same. The things that they told us to change 100 years ago are still with us. So rather than be seen that way, actually we need to think that history doesn’t repeat. History doesn’t have the power to repeat. It’s us, the people, who keep repeating history,” the historian added.

He then urged the people to see what Rizal was trying to show that we needed to change.

“Why are they still relevant today? Because we haven’t changed,” Ocampo said. “For me it’s a bit ... it’s depressing to think that the things that they rallied about or that they derailed a century ago, until now it’s still a problem.”

He can be considered father of Philippine archaeology.

For Ocampo, Rizal could be considered the father of Philippine archeology.

He said when Rizal was in Dapitan, people didn’t have enough money for his medical services, so they paid him through eggs and other goods.

According to the historian, one day, someone paid in the form of a stone the locals called the tooth of lightning.

“The person said, ‘you know when lightning strikes the earth, it bites the ground. When it comes back to the heavens, it leaves a tooth,’” Ocampo said.

“Rizal looked at it and said, ‘This isn’t the tooth of lightning. This is a prehistoric stone age tool. Where’d you find this?’ He was brought to the place and he started digging,” he said.

“He found porcelain, gold. Even though he’s not a trained archaeologist, he’s considered the father of Philippine archaeology,” he added. “It shows how restless his mind was so he entered a lot of fields. He also didn’t finish a lot. But it shows that you need to have a curious mind and your mind should always be moving.”

Rizal’s family could have had clairvoyant gifts.

Although Rizal was no prophet, Ocampo said his family could have had clairvoyant gifts and been able to see into the future.

One time, Ocampo said, Rizal dreamt he was taking an exam when he was still a child and when he took the test in real life, the same questions that appeared in his dream were written on it.

“What Rizal wrote for example in ‘Noli Me Tangere,’ when his father wasn’t buried in the church cemetery, that’s what happened to his brother, brother-in-law later,” the historian said. “When Sisa was captured by the guards and said, ‘don’t tie me up,’ and she was forced to walk to her cell, that was his mother,” he said.

“I mean it’s uncanny. We don’t know what it's like but there’s nothing like that in literature wherein we thought that most of what he wrote was like an autobiography but when we look at it, (those) were written long before they actually happened.”

For Rizal, education was important to change Philippine society.

“For Rizal, what appears most in his writings is that education is the most important aspect in order to change Philippine society because if we change our beliefs, we change how we interact with one another, our nation will also change. So education was very, very important for him,” Ocampo said.

Ocampo also noted one of Rizal’s famous lines. “He had a line in his novel that said, ‘what use is freedom if our slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?’ So he saw that, okay, we change the government but if we don’t educate ourselves, our behavior is still bad, nothing will change.”

For Rizal, Ocampo said, it was about having a high standard of what we should be, and not just about having a revolution.

The historian added that the priest’s sermon on “El Filibusterismo” was important. “You know why you didn’t succeed in getting Maria Clara and ruining the Spaniards? Because your heart isn’t in the right place.”

Ocampo said, “So it’s like he’s saying there must be purity of intention. Whatever we do, even if it’s good but the intention isn’t, it won’t bear good results.”

“That’s the lesson of Rizal that we don’t see because it’s hard to do ... when we read his novels, you’d see purity of intention, right education, a man who moves on moral and common good.”

Rizal accepted students to his school in a very unconventional way.

Unlike the entrance exams of today where intelligence would be tested through a series of printed questions, Rizal accepted students to his school through an unconventional way.

“It’s an oral interview. So what he’d do is, he’d bring the child and make the parent go away. They’d go to the forest in one of his properties,” Ocampo said. “Rizal would ask, ‘what do you know? 1+1-2.’ They’d talk about a lot of things. They’d sit in the middle of the forest. After they talk, they’d go back. When they get back to Rizal’s house, it’ll already dark,” he said.

“Rizal would say, ‘do you remember where we sat? I left my hat and book. Go get it.’ And then if the kid looks at the darkness, afraid of monsters, if the kid doesn’t go back, the kid fails. The kid won’t be accepted ... so usually the kid who goes back, who gets the items Rizal left, would run back bringing it. When the kid gets to Rizal’s house, Rizal is standing there with the other kids and he’d say, ‘It’s not enough to have a good mind, you must have bravery and you must have a heart. Welcome to the school.’”

Ocampo compared it to today’s basic education, saying it was too concerned with the mind that it did not pay attention to the heart.

Rizal knew how to make the most out of a crisis.

Ocampo said it was important to note the time when Rizal was thrown to Dapitan.

“That’s the end of the universe. This is a man who knew London, Paris, Madrid like the back of his hand and he was just thrown there,” Ocampo said. “But Rizal was … we should never waste a crisis … good businessmen will tell you that there is always opportunity in crisis and Rizal saw that.”

Ocampo said Rizal made the most of his time and built stores, opened up his own clinic and built his own school.

“Everything he felt that people should do to make a community and a nation better, he actually practiced it there. So it wasn’t just thinking or writing. He actually did something physical and good in that place,” he said. “We get paralyzed by a problem, but Rizal isn’t. If there’s a problem, there’s a solution. Whether it’s right or wrong, you need to try.”

He added, “And I think that’s the part of Rizal’s life that should be studied more because that’s when he did the things he wanted to do.”

Looking at Rizal’s life, people may see all the extraordinary things he’s accomplished and be discouraged to achieve the same thing.

“Actually Rizal’s lesson isn’t to see him and see that we can’t do the same thing. For Rizal, I’d like to think that we need to see from Rizal and from our nation our own capacity, the Filipino capacity to greatness, that if they can do it, so can we,” the historian said.

Ocampo added, “But how will we know it if we don’t read him?” – Kaela Malig/RC, GMA News