Senators to Filipinos: Be like Rizal, 'fight inequality and abuse'

MANILA, Philippines – Be like Jose Rizal, and fight inequality and abuse of power, senators told Filipinos on the national hero's 122nd death anniversary.

Opposition Senator Leila de Lima likened the current administration to a "dark chapter," recalling the time when the Philippines was still colonized by the Spanish monarchy. (READ: The Impunity Series)

She said that it is every Filipinos' duty to "fight for what is just and right to never again repeat the mistakes of the past." (LIST: No to corruption? Duterte's controversial reappointees)

"During this dark chapter in our history, when there is a prevailing culture of impunity and blatant attempts to desensitize us to violence and corruption, we are called upon to speak up, stand up, and fight back," De Lima said.

Rizal's 122nd death anniversary is on Sunday, December 30. He was shot dead morning of December 30, 1896, by a firing squad after a guilty verdict for being a revolutionary.

The jailed senator said that Rizal could have enjoyed his privileges as a professional back then, but chose to stand up against the abuses of the Spanish. This, she said, is what Filipinos should emulate.

"Let us remember that anyone can be a hero; all it takes is to shed one’s apathy. The times call for more patriots – true patriots who are ready to protect the country from the evil that has overtaken our government and nation," De Lima said.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile, reminded Filipinos that Rizal was today's version of an "influencer" who worked on his novels on the Spanish' injustices.

"He was a great influencer if social media was present then, and defintely not a troll. His lofty ideals, as reflected in his writings and works, inspired our forefathers to be braver and united the Filipinos to carry on his cause," Pangilinan said.

Senator Grace Poe likewise said that emulating Rizal during the digital era is through "spreading the message of love for the country, critical thinking, and peaceful reforms using social media."

Value for education

Meanwhile, Senators Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara and Senator Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV celebrated Rizal for his value for education.

Aquino recalled Rizal's Noli Me Tangere where the lead protagonist Crisostomo Ibarra aspires for quality education for Filipinos.

"Paaralan ay siyang aklat na kinasusulatan ng hinaharap ng mga bayan. Ipakita ninyo sa amin ang paaralan ng isang bayan at sasabihin namin sa inyo kung ano ang bayang iyan," Aquino quoted Ibarra as saying.

(The school is a book where the future of the nation is written. Show us the school of a town, and we will tell you what kind of town that is.)

With the passage of the Free Tuition Law, the Aquino said that Rizal's dream for the Filipinos has been realized.

"Ang pangarap ni Rizal dati nagkakatotoo na. Sa araw ni Gat Jose Rizal, bigyang buhay natin ang diwa ng ating pambansang bayani sa pagtiyak na kahit kapos ay makapagtatapos," Aquino said.

(Rizal's dream has come true. On Rizal Day, let's celebrate the spirit of our national hero by ensuring Filipinos finish schooling despite poverty.)

For Angara, the struggle to be free from poverty and illiteracy remains, and this could be done by taking advantage of the free education from elementary to college.

"Kung pinaglaban nina Rizal ang karapatan ng bawat tao na mabuhay nang matiwasay at marangal, kailangan natin buhayin – bigyan ng laman – ang mga karapatan na ito," said Angara.

(If Rizal fought for the rights of every individual to live peacefully and with dignity, we also need to live up – and give value to – to these rights," Angara said.

Embrace roots

Senator Loren Legarda commemorated Rizal for his nationalism. She said that Filipinos should also be like him by preserving the nation's heritage.

The senator said that Rizal, in his works, stressed that need to embrace one's roots as integral to loving and understanding the country.

"Like Dr Rizal, we, too, should take pride in our heritage. We will be more confident of ourselves if we know who we are and if we understand our roots. We must all strive to know about our heritage, appreciate it and preserve it for the future generations," Legarda said. –

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.