By all accounts, it was a warm, sunny September 18, 1891 in Ghent, Belgium, when Jose Rizal’s much awaited follow-up to his controversial debut novel, “Noli Me Tangere,” came off the press 121 years ago. He began working on this sequel, entitled “El Filibusterismo,” in his home town of Calamba, Laguna. It would take our national hero three years, with additional chapters done in Madrid and Paris, to write. Much like “Noli,” “Fili” (directly translated as “The Subversive,” with an alternative English title listed as “The Reign of Greed”) was written in Castilian while he was traveling and studying in Europe.
According to research, Rizal wrote “El Filibusterismo” following what would ultimately be referred to as “The Calamba Affair.” This episode in his life, which saw his family caught in confrontation with the friar-owned estates, would serve as a plot devise in “Fili.” Though fictionalized, scholars shared the common observation that Rizal could not help pouring out raw emotions of rage, despair and helplessness – to the point that he even cited in his opus the names of real people, especially victims of senseless banishments.
In his paper “The End of the Spanish Empire: History Discourse, Representation,” write C.W. Watson stated the while “Noli” achieved modest success in Europe, it had notably limited impact in the Philippines, leaving Rizal feeling dismayed. What’s more, added Watson, “Noli” only earned him the token “filibustero” status and place on the watch list upon his return to the country even though it was insignificantly in terms of raising political consciousness.
“No reform forthcoming,” Watson wrote, “Rizal retreated to Europe and wrote the sequel. Equally satirical and politically sharp, the Fili took on the same laughably absurd character and situations, reflecting Rizal’s final recognition of his role as a poet.”
As any middle-schooler will tell you, “Fili” revolves around the return of the main character from “Noli.” The man formerly known as Crisostomo Ibarra, disillusioned by the abuses of the Spanish, abandoned his pacifist past in order to return to his beloved country. He is now Simoun, a rich jeweler with “Viva la Revolucion!” tattooed on his heart.
He commissions Basilio, now a young man, to help him by detonating a bomb at a soiree. The explosion was to jump-start the violent revolution that Simoun envisioned. However, Basilio warns his friend Isagani of the plan. Isagani, realizing that the woman he loves is at the venue, rushes to the event, secures the bomb and throw it into the river. He successfully prevents the explosion and, consequently, the revolution.
Simoun, knowing that it is only a matter of time before the authorities figure out his involvement, commits suicide. He finds a final resting place with a priest, Father Florentino, who hears his last confession and assures him that hope is not lost. Fr Florentino the commends Simoun’s jewels into the sea, with the fervent hope that the jewels once used for bribery and corruption would one day be found and used for a meaningful purpose.
The Hero of El Fili
The world almost did not get to see “El Filibusterismo” on account of Rizal is nearly bankrupt, which was actually the primary reason why he left Paris for Ghent. The cost of living and, correspondingly, the printing rates were much cheaper in Belgium. It was also in Belgium that Rizal learned how to properly handle his finances.
Historians and scholars shared that Rizal had to pawn all his jewelry to shoulder the down payment for printing of “El Fili,” and that the printing company, F. Meyer-Van Loo Press, allowed the highly respected emigre to pay in installments.
Rizal sent two copies of the first editions, which came off the press on September 18, 1891, to Hongkong to Jose Ma. Basa and Sexto Lopez, compatriots who shared Rizal’ ideology. However, he was running low on funds and faced the heartbreaking decision that he would possibly have to stop the printing of his second novel.
On September 25, 1891, destiny smiled upon Rizal. Valintin Ventura, a reformist living in Paris who founded the Propaganda Movement along with Rizal, Juan Luna, Marcelo H.del Pilar and Garciano Lopez Jaena, got wind of Rizal’s financial dilemma and extended a hand. He sent Rizal 200 francs to cover the publication expenses of the Fili.
This was not the first time that Ventura had helped our national hero. In Paris, he had provided Rizal a room in his home at Parisian hotels were quite expensive. During his stay, Rizal shared with Ventura details about his works, which greatly impressed the reformist. According to research, Valentin was overwhelmed by the way Rizal wrote the Fili that he made him read it all over again. He would later describe the novel as “perfect, correct, vigorous, poetic and deeply felt.”
As a token of gratitude, Rizal gave Ventura the original manuscript of the Fili, and Ventura dutifully kept the manuscript. Years later, when a Spanish-American Museum offered to buy the manuscript from him, he refused and told them that he would be more willing to donate it to the Philippine government. It was then acquired by the National Library through Dr. Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera.
Rizal dedicated “El Filibusterismo” to the three martyred priests – Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora – whose deaths had left and indelible mark on him. Watson wrote that by the time of writing the fili, “Rizal had certainly grown disillusioned with the cause of reform.” The first novel, “Noli,” did not produce any tangible results other than Rizal being christened a filibustero. Watson added that Rizal himself was “profoundly hostile to the notion of revolt and rebellion. As he perceived it, there were simply no political options available at the time for someone like himself, and the best he could do under the circumstances was to repeat the message of the first novel.” For Fili, however, he directed the message straight at the ilustrado (in this case, to be construed as “educated” or “informed”) youth of Manila in an effort to raise their political consciousness. Like “Noli,” “Fili” was written to enlighten, to bring Filipinos closer to the truth of the greed of the conquistadores.
What was it True Message?
Scholars opinions vary as to whether or not the fili was actually separatist or revolutionary. As stated in an article published in the Asian Journal, Rizal was trying to say three things in Fili. The first was addressed to the public in general and the message was, “We have tried to achieve Hispanization and been met with apathy; therefore, the only alternative is revolution.”
The second message was directed at the Spaniards: “This is a final warning to the Spanish colonialist – the time is very short, you had better reform rapidly or face rebellion.”
And the third was for the Filipino people: “We, as a people, are not yet prepared for the rebellion. This is our fault. Now is the time to start preparations, not to rebel. A rebellion at this premature time would meet certain failure.”
But where “Noli” encountered to question and aspired for change and liberation though discourse and diplomacy, “Fili” tacitly urged a nation to open its eyes to reality and rebel against the Spanish government for its oppression and abuse. And it certainly looked like it did the job.
“It was understood by the people,” Rizal biographer and author Rafael Palma declared. “By it, Bonifacio was inspired to found the Katipunan.”
The Fili owes much of its structure and plot design to the Alexander Dumas classic, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Both novels revolve around a man bent on avenging himself and getting back his beloved fiancee. Both novels explore the psyche of a man who change his identity and shifts his ideals to carefully execute a plan of vengeance and retribution.
Historians and scholars may argue for even more decades to come on the real impact of the Fili to the Filipino nation. One epic of novel that not only dissected and exposed the tyranny of the conquerors but laid bare the true heart of a man whose courage knew no bound. By Geray Cadiz
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