World’s First Rizal Monument: A Bikolano’s Pride and Heritage
by Abel C. Icatlo
Rizal’s preponderance as a hero continues to fascinate a great number of people. Over the years, volumes upon volumes of rigorous scholarships were churned out by pundits and well-known academics who attempted to give justice to the inner being of Rizal or to throw aspersions against him as the case may be. Many people tried to read and re-read Rizal, to interpret or mis-interpret him. In the process, different people or authors saw different things on Rizal depending on what ideological or conceptual prism they are using to probe on him. But one thing that gives commonality to Rizalian scholarships is the intent to plumb the depths of Rizal’s personal and intellectual recesses to uncomplicate the multifaceted attributes of Rizal.
One interesting belief about Rizal is that he is an American-sponsored hero and not without reason. This view avers that there were laws enacted by the Philippine Commission during the initial years of American colonial rule that extolled Rizal and placed him aloft a pedestal thereby giving him preeminence over other heroes. Verily, there were laws like Act No. 137 of 1901, creating a province to be named after Rizal, Act No. 234, of 1901, authorizing the erection of Rizal monument in Luneta and Act No. 345 of 1901, which officially set December 30 as a day of observance. It was noted that these laws were crafted to give Rizal the highest veneration and consequently, to deflect the ire of the Filipinos away from American colonizers towards the erstwhile Spanish colonial masters.
But did those legislations make Rizal less of a hero? We must remember that Rizal, although he openly rebuked and repudiated the Katipunan-led revolution, was actually the ultimate exponent of that active resistance against Spaniards. He was the one who planted the seeds of discontent and eventually, of open defiance to the Spanish misrule by way of his pen. His caustic criticisms of the abuses and excesses of the establishment enunciated a thought-process that gave rise to an armed campaign launched by the Katipunan.
Albeit Rizal did not have the chance to meet with the leaders of the Katipunan and become a part of its organization, he was considered to be its moving spirit. His name was even used as a password of the Katipunan and in their gatherings, his picture was always displayed. This only proves too well that long before the public execution of Rizal, he was already held in high esteem by the Katipuneros. Since Rizal’s name had become a by-word among the people at the time, he easily acquired a popularity that no Filipino before him had ever achieved. But there was a drawback to this because he became a convenient target of arrest by the authorities especially after the revolution broke out. He was even implicated, to his surprise, by his good friend, Antonio Luna, as a partsan of the revolutionary movement.
The legal enactments, therefore, made by the Americans were not the determinants of Rizal’s heroism but rather mere confirmation of what had already been existing in the hearts of the Filipinos. What made Rizal a hero was not the American legal fanfare but the popular acclamation of the people. The veneration of a hero normally stems from the remarkable or extraordinary decision of a person to accomplish something larger than himself. Such was the case of Rizal, his veneration was a logical consequence of a widespread acknowledgement of his feats that had the people as the ultimate beneficiary. When he was still alive, he was considered to be the soul of the revolution. Upon death in the hands of the Spaniards, Rizal’s memory continued to be revered as the greatest of the Filipino patriots.
And the strongest counterpoint to the skewed view that Rizal was just a creation of the American colonizers is the existence of the First Rizal Monument in Daet, Camarines Norte which was built in 1898. This monument was erected long before the Americans declared our national hero as such and two years before they came to Bicolandia in 1900 to place the Bicolanos under their colonial administrative apparatus. The recognition of Rizal’s martyrdom and greatness by the Bicolanos can be traced to the Masonic lodges that sprang in Bicol in the 1890’s.
A number of educated men were enticed to join Freemasonry in the Bicol area not for any other purpose but to find a forum by which they could freely discuss social and political issues in their milieu. Rizal, a known mason, had also found a solace in Freemasonry because he was fancied by its liberalism and egalitarianism, besides, the masons in Spain openly and loudly assailed the government and the church which emboldened Rizal even more.
The link between Rizal and the revolutionaries of Bicolandia was established through the network of Freemasonry. The lodge in Camarines Norte was calledTriangulo de Bicol. It was headed by its Worshipful Master Vicente Lukban, a native of Labo, who was to become a General later in the Revolutionary Army of Emilio Aguinaldo. He was an assiduous community organizer who started a farmer’s cooperative in Camarines Norte in 1894 called La Cooperativa Popular. He quit his job as juez de paz of Labo and busied himself with agriculture and commerce in Bicol. A portion of the profit of the cooperative was clandestinely channeled to the Katipunan of Andres Bonifacio in Manila. This undertaking gave the province of Camarines Norte the distinction of being the first province in the Bicol Region to sow the seeds of the revolutionary ferment and to support financially the needs of the Katipunan of Bonifacio.
The cooperative of Vicente Lukban effectively served then as a conduit in spreading the ideals of the revolution not only among the intellectuals but among the farmers and laborers as well. In a way, the disgruntlement of the people to the corrupt Spanish regime was amplified by La Cooperativa. Equipped with simple analytical tools, the people learned to evaluate their hapless state. Hence, a common consciousness to unshackle themselves from the clutches of tyranny and oppression became widespread among the natives, thanks to the initiatives of Vicente Lukban. As emissary of the Katipunan unit in Bicol, Lukban gathered information regarding the Spanish movements in Manila and sized up the implications of such movements to Bicol provinces. However, in one of his trips in Manila, he was arrested and accused of conspiring to overthrow the government. And so, when Andres Bonifacio raised the standard of revolution in August 26, 1896, Lukban was already languishing in jail. He was locked up in Bilibid Prison. The outbreak of the revolution resulted to further arrests of suspected rebels from Nueva Caceres and Camarines Norte. Among those who were arrested from Camarines Norte were Adriano Pajarillo, Pablo del Villar, Ramon Cabezudo, Gregorio Luyon, Diego Liñan and Florentino Peñalosa. Like Lukban, they incurred the ire of the Spanish authorities because of their political activities engendered basically by their Masonic background. But unlike the other Bicolanos arrested from Nueva Caceres, the ones from Camarines Norte were not meted out a punishment by musketry. They were instead spared and eventually released from jail sometime in May 1897 because the Spanish Officers who were in charge of their detention happened to be masons themselves.
Lukban’s incarceration made him steel-breasted even more that instead of staying away from the fray, he got embroiled more deeply into the revolutionary activities. He sought Emilio Aguinaldo and joined the armed forces of the revolutionary government which was at the time based in Biak-na-Bato. After the signing of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato, he was asked by Aguinaldo to join him in his exile in Hongkong. There he sharpened his knowledge in Military Science.
In the same vein, the masons in Camarines Norte including some of those who were arrested in 1896 organized the Katipunan unit. The initial members included Tomas Zaldua, Jose Abaño, Gavino Saavedra and Telesforo Zaldua. They were joined in by members of the Local Guardia Civil. The leader of the Katipunan group was Ildefonso Moreno, the one who was asked by Lukban to organize the local Katipunan and to set the groundwork for the overthrow of the government. The actual armed confrontation was still being set afoot when the rumors of the planned surprise attack reached the Spanish authorities. The Spaniards took preemptive measures to contain the impending attack. They took refuge and set fortifications in the house of Florencio de Arana. On April 14, 1898, the Katipuneros of Camarines Norte launched what was to be known as the Daet Revolt of 1898. Those were the four glorious days for the local revolutionaries who took control of the towns of Basud, Calasgasan, Talisay, Labo and Daet from April 14 to 18, 1898. However, owing to inferior firepower and apathy of the people they succumbed to the Spaniards. The revolt was quelled and it resulted to the arrest, torture and execution of some 500 Filipinos. The Filipino members of the civil guards were beheaded upon the orders of Capt. Francisco Andreu, who was the head of the civil guards from Nueva Caceres. Many others were brutally tortured and imprisoned.
Although the Daet Revolt of 1898 ended in a tragic fate, it served as an incendiary that would send the Bicol region seething in revolutionary mood. Soon after the uprising in Daet, Nueva Caceres was to set the stage for an armed uprising against the Spaniards. In September 1898, Elias Angeles and Felix Plazo took to arms to liberate Nueva Caceres from the Spaniards. Perhaps, they heard about what happened to their fellow native civil guards in Daet in the hands of Capt. Francisco Andreu and so, Capt. Andreu then became the primary target of their attack when they launched their own uprising.
The Spanish government in Bicol was already waning when Vicente Lukban was told by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo to push his troops further south to Bicol after his successful military campaign in Tayabas. Upon hearing of the advancing army of Lukban, the Spaniards in Bicol scampered away for fear of being caught by the advancing expeditionary forces. When Lukban arrived in Daet on September 12, 1898, the town was already controlled by the revolutionaries. Lt. Col. Antonio Sanz, a staff officer in the revolutionary forces, was given the reins of the local government by Lukban while the latter went to Nueva Caceres to take control of command in that place.
On December 20, 1898 Gen. Emelio Aguinaldo issued a decree declaring December 30, 1898 as Rizal Day. In response to that issuance of Aguinaldo, the Bicolanos, through the revolutionary firebrands of Camarines Norte decided to hold the Rizal Day Celebration with appropriate stately ceremony and ostentation. The ceremony included the groundbreaking for the building of a monument in honor of Dr. Jose Rizal. This event earned for the Bicolanos the distinction of being the first ones to observe Rizal Day with fitting pomp and homage for Rizal. The design of the monument was rather unique for it did not bear an image of Rizal. Accounts had it that it was designed by the mason artist, Lt. Col. Antonio Sanz, who was also the revolutionary head of the local government.
Lt. Col. Sanz and Lt. Col. Ildefonso Alegre led the people in collecting contributions for the building of the said movement. The work was completed sometime in February 1899. According to some oral accounts, under the base of the monument was buried a time capsule that contained the list of contributors for the construction of the monument. It is also said that the monument which appears to be Masonic-inspired is made of coral stones which were taken from the old Spanish prison house where many Katipuneros in April 1898 were tortured and executed. Those coral stones were soaked and stained, so to speak, with the blood of Bicolano Martyrs. The First Rizal Monument therefore was hallowed, as it were, by the blood of the Bicolano Martyrs and Patriots who fought and perished during the Daet Revolt of 1898.
Today the monument still stands impressive and majestic and is situated at the riverine park in Daet, Camarines Norte. The said park was the site where the Katipunan held their ground during the April 14-18, 1898 uprising. The monument is some twenty feet in height and it appears like a modified obelisk. The base of the monument, which is cube-shaped, props up the two rungs of three-sided trunk that forms an equilateral triangle, the topmost being pyramidal in shape just like a spire. The National Historical Commission in 1961 attached a marker briefly describing the manner by which the people erected the monument. There was also the title of the three famous books authored by Rizal written in black paint at the three sides of the square base namely Morga 1889, El Filibusterismo 1891 and Noli Me Tangere 1886.
The question now that rings among many curious observers as well as history buffs is that why the oldest monument dedicated in honor of Rizal is located in Bicol where ironically Rizal never set foot and not in Calamba where he was born, neither in Dapitan where he spent a good four years of his life nor in Manila where he went for his education. The reasons for this could be seen in the events that served as a prelude to the construction of the monument. For one, the people of Bicolandia, particularly of Camarines Norte, had a heightened level of social and political consciousness on the eve of the turn of the century. Through the channels in Masonic cells, the political philosophy propounded by Rizal was able to seep through the psyche of the restive men and women disenchanted, as they were, by their colonial masters. A clear proof of this were the inscriptions at the base of the monument of Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo and Morgawhich were the books published by Rizal. Because of the more conspicuous side where Morga, 1889 was written, the Rizal Monument came to be known as “Morga Monument”. Actually, it was referring to the annotation of Rizal ofSucesos de Las Islas Filipinas of Antonio de Morga which came off the press in 1890. Although less popular than the Noli and the Fili, Rizal’s edition of Morga’s book was somehow familiar with the builders of the First Rizal Monument. Similarly, the sound of the bullets that felled Rizal in Luneta had certainly reverberated among the members of the Masonic lodges and the revolutionary movements. They were aware of its political implications which all the more deepened their commitment to overthrow the Spanish establishment.
Second, the people of Camrines Norte were in the mainstream of national upheaval. The involvement of Jose Maria Panganiban in the Propaganda Movement in Spain which was well-acknowledged by his compatriots such as Jose Rizal and Graciano Lopez Jeana only suggests that Camarines Norte was at the forefront of the struggle for reforms. The revolutionary spirit of Gen. Vicente Lukban who established the lodgeTriangulo de Bicol and La Cooperativa Popular served as a big boost for the radical advocacy for freedom. Additionally, the heroes of the Daet Revolt of 1898 which included Tomas Zaldua. Marianito Zaldua, Telesforo Zaldua, Ildefonso Moreno, Gavino Saavedra, Jose Abaño, Domingo Lozada, Isidoro Avila, Andres Dames, Leonas Canranceja among many others eloquently proved that the people in this part of the archipelago were deeply immersed in the fight for change.
And thirdly, the respect and admiration for the example shown by Rizal were but deeply ingrained virtues among the people of Bicolandia. These virtues had found their expression in the building of the First Rizal Monument. As can be seen at the two faces of the three-sided trunk, there is a dedicatory phrase in Spanish which says thus, “A Jose Rizal” (To Jose Rizal), which echoes the affection and distinct veneration of the people to Rizal. Quite expectedly, Rizal would inspire the efflorescence of virtues because somehow the Filipino came into being in the person of Rizal. He vouchsafed the people a mirror for them to see a reflection of the national soul. Rizal’s crystal-clear concept for national integration and unity, though reformist and not revolutionist in methodology, was instrumental in the snowballing of a sentiment among the revolutionaries who where to make Rizal a rallying symbol for separatist aspirations.
Certainly, the First Rizal Monument is a product of years of education and struggle of the Bicolanos to grow as a nation. It is a silent testament to the preeminence of Rizal as a national hero as much as it is a homage to the patriots and martyrs of Bicolandia who offered their lives for the cause of freedom. More than just a cold artifact of our heritage, this stone structure should be viewed as an educational tool that would provide countless and timeless lessons from history because it is symbolic of the greatness, the heroism, the patriotic fervor and the deep love for freedom of the Bicolanos.
This paper was presented at the First Regional Rizal Conference held on December 12, 2007 at the Universidad de Santa Isabel Auditorium, Naga City. It is now made available online by www.pinoygenius.com
Mr. Abel C. Icatlo obtained his bachelor's degree in Philippine Studies Major in Political Science and Philosophy from the University of the Philippines (UP), Diliman with an honor of Cum Laude and Master's Degree in Public Administration in Ateneo de Naga University.
He is a former faculty member of the University of the Philippines and University of the Asia and the Pacific. He has published articles in scholarly journals both of national and international circulation.
A long time cultural worker in the province of Camarines Norte and the Co-founder of the Provincial Museum in Camarines Norte. He is also the primogenitor of the Bantayog Festival in Camarines Norte.
He is a Patron of Arts, a History Buff, a Writer, a Lecturer and staunch advocate of cultural development.
Presently, he works as Museum Curator at the Museum, Archives and Shrine Curation Division under the Office of the Governor and at the same time the Camarines Norte Investment Promotion Officer.
Ni: sir aNGEL a. yASIS jR.
Ginagalang na senador, honorableng kinatawan
Kriminal na mayayaman, at iba pang lingkod-bayan
Sandali lang at meron po akong ilang katanungan
Sagutin po sana ninyo, wag po tayong magplastikan
Naranasan mo na po bang mamalimos sa lansangan
Upang mayroong mailaman sa tiyan mong kumakalam
Marahil po ay hindi pa dahil ikaw ay mayaman
At may gintong kutsara na buhat pa nang isinilang
Naranasan mo na po bang kumain ng walang ulam
Maligo nang walang sabon, matulog nang walang unan
Siguro po ay hindi pa dahil ikaw ay gahaman
Mayroon na ay kung bakit humahamig pa sa bayan
Naranasan mo na po bang ang hapuna'y panalangin
At mumog ang almusalan, tanghalia'y walang kanin
Marahil po'y imposible dahil ikaw po'y salarin
Matakaw at saka walang kabusugang taong-sakim
Naranasan mo na rin bang manimot nang tira-tira
At magkalkal ng pagkain sa gabundok na basura
Siguro po'y imposible, marahil po ay hindi pa
Dahil ika'y sobrang ganid at manhid na ang konsensya
Ako ba ay tamad lamang kaya ako naghihirap
O di ako yumayaman dahil ako ay matapat
Ikaw po ba'y ubod yaman dahil ikaw ay masikap
O dahil ba ika'y sangkot sa scam na malaganap
Kaya po ba ng budhi mong makatulog nang banayad
Pagmeron kang nakikitang namatay nang buto't balat
Nalulunok mo pa po ba ang pagkaing masasarap
Pagmeron kang namamasdang namatay ng nakadilat
Kaya rin ba ng budhi mong maglustay at magpasarap
Mangolekta ng sasakyan, magpabahay ng marilag
Habang mayroong mga taong sa bangketa nagbababad
Pagsapit ng hatinggabi'y doon na rin naglalatag
Kung kaya mo'y purihin ka't makapal ang iyong mukha
Lalo na't kung ang yaman mo'y sa tax namin kinukuha
Ngunit sana'y tandaan mong kahit ako'y isang dukha
Masmalapit sa'kin and D'yos, sa'yo ako naaawa
Bakit sa t'wing lumalabas may suot kang kutamaya
At bakit pag merong lakad sandamukal ang yong gwardya
Kanino ka natatakot ay ikaw naman ang bampira
Ang linta ay ikaw na rin at ikaw pa ang buwaya
Di mo po ba napapansing mataas na ang bakod mo
Pintuan mo at bintana'y kaylalaki ng kandado
Dahil ika'y natatakot sa anino at multo mo
Na baka nga isang araw magparamdam na sa iyo
Saan mo ba gagamitin inipon mong kayamanan
Na ang iba'y ninakawan sa tungangang taong-bayan
Ah! Siguro ay pampagawa ng sariling bilangguan
At sariling sementeryo sa piling ng mga aswang!
Note: This is only one of over 300 poems that has been originally written by Sir Angel Yasis Jr. (Labo NHS). This poem is made available online by www.pinoygenius.com
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