A Reaction on the Revitalization and Millenarianism Beliefs in the Rizalistas of the Philippines
The Rizalistas sprang at a time when grave injustices, sometimes argued to be greater than those imposed by the Spaniards, where being done by the new colonizers: the Americans. During the 1920s-1930s when the Americans were just beginning to institutionalize their power in the Filipino society, they were looking for whatever they can use to turn the people away from ideas of revolution and genuine independence. It was also during this time that Rizalista movements became prevalent and were in their most influential. As Renato Constantino noted in Veneration without Understanding, Rizal was an American-sponsored hero. Keeping in line with this assumption, it would not be a far cry to believe that the Rizalista movements were American-sponsored as well. Rizal, despite his truly nationalistic ideals and teachings, is generally considered to be a staunch advocate of reformism and assimilation, hence, for the Americans, the perfect symbol to idolize for a country facing a new colonizing power.
The different Rizalista movements vary in their beliefs, whether Rizal was a God, a son of God, a man sent by God, or anything in between. Nevertheless, they hold the generally similar beliefs that Rizal was not an ordinary man, nor was he an ordinary Filipino, and that he symbolizes a divine connection between man and God, if he was not God himself. The revitalization belief promises deliverance from deprivation if one will follow the teachings of the religion, and lives as Rizal wanted them to live, in other words if they create a new society based on a new culture. Millenarianism, on the other hand, states that Christ will return and that when it happens, all bad things will be eliminated from the world, there will only be blessedness and goodness. To put it in perspective of the Rizalista movements, they believe that Rizal (Christ) will return along with a bamboo that will sprout from the top of Mt. Banahaw where there will emerge a golden Philippine flag, after which all who did not believe in the salvation brought about by the movement will be doomed to destruction.
To outsiders such as us, it sounds absurd and even pathetic that reasonable people will be led to actually believe in what was stated above. Indeed, it seems farfetched; it is likely that normal people will judge the believers of these movements without carefully considering all the relevant factors that may have caused them to believe as they do. However, it is important, especially to us who prize ourselves as intellectuals, to look at the issue through a critical and objective lens and not be swayed by the subjectivities of the topic itself.
First, it is worth noting that incidences of religious fanaticism such as this one are not entirely new, in fact, there are numerous similar cases all around the world which venerates men as Gods, or as God-like or God-sent beings. We need to expound our horizons. The Rizalista movement is a form of Folk Catholicism, meaning the fusion of Catholic beliefs with indigenous traditions. Catholicism has been deeply entrenched in our core as Filipinos that we combine it with other beliefs we have. Our version of Catholicism has retained much of the miraculous beliefs that were imposed on us during the rule of the Spanish clergy. We believe in a multitude of mysticisms, so called pamahiin, which were handed to us by our parents, handed to them by their parents, and so on. We are taught to accept all the teachings of the elderly; or else we will be branded as rebellious, ungrateful children. We are taught that salvation will come to those who have suffered much on this world.
The Rizalistas believe that Rizal will come back one day to lift their sufferings and give them the ease and comfort they deserve. I don’t think this is farfetched, but not in the sense that I also believe in it. I see it as only one of the many ways that we seek our happiness from religion. We have been taught that way. It is not different from when we idolize celebrities, thinking that they are an example we should follow; or when we revere politicians who have been “good Samaritans” to us when they helped us send our loved ones to the hospital because we did not have money for the deposit. We look for saviors in the most obscure of places, simply because we have nowhere else to look. The influence of the Catholic religion has taught us to worship and our experiences taught us that it is not really God, or there is someone/something other than God, who will get us through difficult times.
Second, it needs to be noted that Rizal was blatantly and largely promoted by the Americans, which shaped the culture we have today. As noted above, it is necessary to keep in mind that Rizal was the ideal hero for the new colonizers – a reformist who opposed armed revolution. The promotion of Rizal may have lead some to exaggerate their admiration, which was favorable for the Americans who wanted to maintain the low educatioanl level of Filipinos and promote apathy while advocating for a champion of the masses.
Third, a study of the conditions that caused the sect to spring is just important as the study of the sect itself. Anthony Wallace, in his theory on revitalization movement, argued that revitalization occurs when individual members of society suffer from extreme stress and disillusionment with their current religious beliefs or with society as a whole. Shunned to the oppressive conditions they face, away from the richness which they only get a glimpse of, they turn to divine and sometimes fanatical beliefs. It can be seen as a way of coping with the strain from the outside world. They are despondent of the troubles they face every day and so they respond by shutting themselves out of the old world order. They desire a new order, one where they will not be disadvantaged but they do so in their little ways.
It is not difficult to see coping mechanisms such as this in real life, but in different ways. More and more people are suffering from depression and other mental illnesses that are triggered by the pressure from external forces. Of course, mental illnesses are not solely personal incidences – they can be seen as a reflection of societal conditions. Why is it not surprising to hear in the news of a father who attempted/committed suicide because he felt he could not properly provide for his family, or of a student killing himself because of his inability to pay tuition? We have a deaf ear when we hear of stories such as these, perhaps some will comment a brief statement like “it’s his fault for not working enough to provide for his family’ or “it’s the student’s problem for wanting to study in a school he can’t afford” after which we return to our own businesses. And yet, we raise eyebrows when we hear of “absurd” beliefs such as that of the Rizalistas? I think the cases are more interconnected than what we normally see. We only fail to see the connection between them. In a Dynamics of Social Movements class I took a while ago, it has been stated that feelings of discontentment are one of the primary reasons why individuals choose to revolt. The Rizalista movement also sprang from feelings of discontentment. What’s to be done now, I think, is to figure out how to gauge those negative feelings away from fanatical ideals and into an organized movement with a clearly defined set of goals. I stand with Rizal in his belief that education is necessary for us to truly gain independence, but education alone is not enough. As Bonifacio said, the sun of reason that shines in the East is teaching us that it is only right to fight for our freedom and independence. If we have feelings of discontentment then maybe it is time again to revolt.