No Me Toques y El Subversivo

Rather than focus exclusively on Rizal or his novels, Diaz-Abaya attempts to reconcile the two in José Rizal, thereby fueling the pertinence of the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo Philippine history, and the myth that these two novels alone would suffice to describe more than 300 years of Spanish Colonization.

Representations of the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo are replete with malevolent friars and suffering Filipinas, dispassionate civil guards and driven Filipinos, subdued calls for peace and savage cries for blood. In essence, these representations signify a Spanish Colonization that is reduced to two opposing forces. The first-level sign is that of education against rebellion. Rizal’s protagonist, Ibarra, serves as a signifier for the former while Elias and Simoun serve as signifiers for the latter. Representations of these characters would have Ibarra chastising Elias for hastening into the revolution when the Filipinos were not yet ready for blood; Elias retorts by saying that waiting would beget only further suffering. It is Simoun that is the enigma; he would also resort to violence, but for personal gain. His intentions are not so noble as that of Elias’.

Ibarra and Elias can well signify Rizal and Bonifacio, respectively. Rizal mentions it specifically in the film, that Ibarra would be his ears and eyes in this tumultuous period. Elias’ persistence for revolt, on the other hand, signifies Bonifacio’s desire for freedom through action and not words. The conflicting ideals of Rizal and Bonifacio are well represented throughout the film, but ultimately, education –meaning Rizal– wins. “Bonifacio…seduces the people, and infusing them with sentiments of hate and vengeance, promotes the insurrection that cost so much blood (Medina 42).” Bonifacio signifies needless loss and misguided nationalism; his intentions might be noble, but his methods are dark. On the contrary, Rizal’s intentions reached thousands without shedding a drop of blood but his.

Film delights in representing the Rizal-Bonifacio bout as one of the key elements of the Spanish Colonization, and each figure is defined in terms of the other. Signs are unavoidably players on a greater field, and are defined by how each relates to another. Media has painted Bonifacio as blood-red as opposed to Rizal as snow-white, education a more noble means as opposed to the savages of revolt. The myth of Rizal against Bonifacio is masked by the myth of education against rebellion; for the reasons previously stated, rebellion cannot hope to win. José Rizal represents a Bonifacio once emboldened by words, an Elias that succumbs to Ibarra’s intents of setting up a school. Simoun is presented as the darker side of Rizal –and by extension of the sign, of all Filipinos– that wants to raise arms and rebel, but he is always subdued by a peace of heart and mind. Perhaps the myth of the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo as mirrors of the Spanish Colonization has persisted because of how education is presented as superior to violence, underlying the importance of education to Filipinos.

Then again, perhaps education isn’t as highly prized as the idea of education –a means to escape poverty, to succeed in the world, to surpass all other obstacles. Filipinos do not want to identify with the illiterate and irrational Bonifacio but with the refined and rational Rizal. In effect, education is rendered as the ultimate end; the myth of education and rebellion is in fact reduced to the spectacle of education. Filipino ideology dictates that what is positive, indisputable and inaccessible should be coveted above all.

Another first-level sign is the conflict between the Spaniards and Filipinos. The Spaniards are the dominant force, but the resilient Filipinos never stop their struggle for independence. Representations of the Spanish Colonization have the Filipinos overcoming the Spaniards by sheer numbers and willful determination, signifying the natives’ virtues of fraternity, nationalism, and love of freedom.

It is no evil thing for such a representation to echo throughout history, but more often than not, this is presented as the only side to the Filipinos during the Spanish Colonization; apathetic and traitorous Filipinos are conspicuously absent, though it seems impossible that  all Filipinos were as good and patriotic as films represent them to be. Rizal wrote theNoli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo for the Filipinos. That they are mirrors of the Spanish Colonization is in actuality a myth of Filipinos wanting to see their people in an ideal light. They are abused by the Spaniards, but they fight back; they are a people thrust into revolt not of want but of necessity.

Film reconstructs history in such a way as to present only the ideologies. The myths surrounding the film and the Spanish Colonization are generated by the Filipino audiences who want to identify with the characters they see, that fit their version of the period.

Consequently, there are no benevolent friars, no bloodthirsty Jose Rizal, no Noli Me Tangere or El Filibusterismo hailed by the Spaniards. History as Filipinos understand it is a history carefully deconstructed and reconstructed with only the most dominant ideologies in mind. It is not a matter of contesting history but of asking why the myths persist.

This is the last of four parts.

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