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Memorializing Rizal on a chair

By: Jobers Reynes Bersales - CDN Digital | December 30,2019 - 07:04 AM

Today is the 123rd anniversary of the death by firing squad of our national hero, Jose Rizal. Nothing more than a wreath-laying ceremony and one or two short speeches extolling his heroism will occur early in the morning in front of his monument in cities and towns all over the country. A short reenactment of his execution usually precedes this.

It is, as I once wrote in this space, a far cry from the first three or so decades after his death, when an entire day of mourning was observed, radios played sad songs and dirges, and houses were adorned with his portrait together with a black or violet ribbon and some flowers.

There is one exception to this in Cebu, however, in more recent times: the unveiling of the hero’s statue in 1952, a seated Rizal made by the celebrated Cebuano sculptor Fidel Araneta.

Cover page of the program on the 1952 Rizal Day event (from the Jovito Abellana Collection, Museo Sugbo).

By the way, this particular seated Rizal statue used to stand, pardon the pun, across the old administration building of the Cebu Normal School, (now University), the same one that served as the headquarters of the Visayan and Cebu Kempeitai, the dreadful Japanese military police of World War II. This statue was moved somewhere else in the campus I think a decade or so ago, a victim of the university’s limited space as its once sprawling campus lost a vital chunk of to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

One must note, by the way, that this is one of three Rizal statues in Cebu City, all of which show the hero seated in lieu of the usual standing posture, complete with trench coat that one finds all over the country. The two other seated Rizal statues are at the Rizal Memorial Library and Museum and at the north end of Plaza Sugbu of the Cebu City Hall.

Why those of Cebu City are seated has never been adequately explained except for the one that was unveiled at the CNU campus one fine day exactly 67 years ago today. According to a twelve-page program printed just for the event, this particular Rizal statue was inspired by the Lincoln Monument in Washington DC, which, as we all know, shows the bearded president seated as if presiding over Judgment Day.

If we go by the aforesaid program, this statue was apparently thought of in just a month, the brainchild of Dr. Pedro G. Guiang, the Cebu provincial and city superintendent of schools at the time. His portrait graces the document, complete with a rather ‘epal-ese’ epitaph: “Man of Original Ideas & Decisive Action” where one would have expected a portrait of the National Hero and some favored quote. To be fair the program’s final page does contain vital quotes from the hero entitled, “Rizalian Gems of Thoughts (sic).”

Dr. Pedro Guiang, the man behind the project.

According to the program, Dr. Guiang, in a fit of inspiration, had Fidel Araneta prepare a design that the he then presented to a group of city public school supervisors and elementary principals “called to a conference one December afternoon.” The following day, even without any funds available yet, a 20×20-meter section in front of the Normal School building was prepared, inasmuch as “(t)he second city of the Philippines,” to quote from the program, “deserved a decent monument to honor Rizal.” (In this vein, the Rizal monument at the library and museum was apparently not adequate enough for ceremonies. As the years would later show following this unveiling, every Rizal Day ceremony would be held here at the campus until the one at the Cebu City Hall was finally inaugurated decades later.)

Money started pouring in from teachers and students of the different public elementary schools two to three days after this group meeting. Just three or so weeks later, the statue was unveiled by no less than former president Sergio Osmeña, Sr., together with his son, Cebu governor Sergio Osmeña Jr., and Cebu City mayor Jose Rodriguez. Present during this event were the members of the provincial board and the city council as well as all the heads of provincial and city departments, civic organizations and the members of the “Tocayos de Rizal,” an organization of men whose first names were ‘Jose’ like that of Rizal.

As mentioned earlier it was a whole day of celebrations. The early morning unveiling ceremony proceeded with speeches by both the governor and the mayor, culminating with a declamation: Rizal’s “My Last Farewell” by the poet Vicente Padriga, the first editor of the Bisaya Magazine, accompanied on the piano by Prof. Manuel “Maestro Maning” Velez, composer of the famous “Sa Kabukiran,” among others. (Note, however, that these distinctions of Padriga and Velez are not mentioned in the program). A floral offering by city and provincial dignitaries then completed the morning ceremony.

Sketch plan showing the original location of the monument as well as the layout of the event venue.

In the afternoon, a parade around the city, the norm on Rizal days for decades (alas, no longer today), began at 3 p.m. after which the Third Military District Band, which also performed during the morning’s activities, rendered musical pieces. At 7:30 in the evening, the Girl Scouts of the Philippines presented an operetta called “The Spirit of Rizal,” followed by a drama entitled, “The Death of Dr. Jose Rizal” by the Cebu Normal College to cap the day’s events.

Such was the way Rizal’s sacrifice was commemorated then that one wonders why ceremonies on his death are so abbreviated today. It is as if his death is some distant abstract, seen more as a government-mandated requirement to commemorate rather than as a vital part of the nation’s noble memory and its patrimony.

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