Filipino nationalist José Rizal’s life and death were both dedicated to his country. Using the ultimate weapon he could wield, Rizal wrote numerous political essays, poems and books decrying the Spanish occupation of the Philippines. Although he would not live to see the fruition of his life’s work, Rizal’s influence on the Philippine Revolution would ultimately lead his beloved country to independence from tyranny, and render him a national hero.
Dr. José Protacio Rizal did not begin his life as a revolutionary. A polymath by nature and education, Rizal primarily worked as an ophthalmologist and was conversant in 22 languages. He wrote his two most well-known books, El filibusterismo (The Reign of Greed) and Noli Me Tángere (Touch Me Not, or The Social Cancer) by the time he was 30 years old. However, Rizal had always been politically active and was not afraid to call out the Spanish government for its tyranny — or the Filipinos for their need to seek freedom.
“I do not mean to say that our liberty will be secured at the sword’s point, for the sword plays but little part in modern affairs, but that we must secure it by making ourselves worthy of it, by exalting the intelligence and the dignity of the individual, by loving justice, right, and greatness, even to the extent of dying for them, — and when a people reaches that height God will provide a weapon, the idols will be shattered, the tyranny will crumble like a house of cards and liberty will shine out like the first dawn.” - El filibusterismo
“Encystment of a conquering people is possible, for it signifies complete isolation, absolute inertia, debility in the conquering element. Encystment thus means the tomb of the foreign invader.” - Filipinas dentro de Cien Años (The Philippines: A Century Hence)
“Ignorance is servitude, because as a man thinks, so he is; a man who does not think for himself and allowed himself to be guided by the thought of another is like the beast led by a halter.” - Letter to the Young Women of Malolos, 1889
“While a people preserves its language, it preserves the marks of its liberty.” - El filibusterismo
“I wish to show those who deny us patriotism that we know how to die for our country and convictions.” - inscribed at Fort Santiago Walls
“Without education and liberty, that soil and that sun of mankind, no reform is possible, no measure can give the result desired.” - “Sobre la indolencia de los filipinos” ("On the Indolence of the Filipinos”), published in La Solidaridad
“In order that he may progress it is necessary that a revolutionary spirit, so to speak, should boil in his veins, since progress necessarily requires change; it implies the overthrow of the past, there deified, by the present; the victory of new ideas over the ancient and accepted ones.” - “Sobre la indolencia de los filipinos”
To Rizal and his contemporaries, cowardice was the main roadblock to freedom. In order to be truly free, one must take the risk and face the danger — as Rizal himself did in his written works, even after being named an enemy of the Spanish state.
“The tyranny of some is possible only through the cowardice of others.” - Letter to the Young Women of Malolos, 1889
“Cowardice rightly understood begins with selfishness and ends with shame.” - Noli Me Tángere
“The people do not complain because they have no voice; do not move because they are lethargic, and you say that they do not suffer because you have not seen their hearts bleed.” - Noli Me Tángere
““No one blames a pilot who takes refuge in port when the storm begins to blow. It is not cowardice to duck under a bullet; what is wrong is to defy it only to fall and never rise again.” - Noli Me Tángere
“Filipinos don't realize that victory is the child of struggle, that joy blossoms from suffering, and redemption is a product of sacrifice.” - "Como se gobiernan las Filipinas" (How one governs in the Philippines), published in La Solidaridad
José Rizal was executed on December 30, 1896. Only 35 years old when he died, Rizal had already planted the seeds of revolution that would grow for decades to come. When the Philippines gained their independence 50 years later, it was Rizal’s voice, spirit and words that led them there.
“No good water comes from muddy spring. No sweet fruit comes from a bitter seed.” - Letter to the Young Women of Malolos, 1889
“To live is to be among men, and to be among men is to struggle, a struggle not only with them but with oneself; with their passions, but also with one's own.” - Letter to Rizal’s family, 1884
“It is a useless life that is not consecrated to a great deal. It is like a stone wasted on the field without becoming a part of any edifice.” - La Solidaridad
“Dying people don't need medicine, the ones who remain do.” - Noli Me Tángere
“Oh how beautiful to fall to give you flight, to die to give you life, to rest under your sky; and in your enchanted land forever sleep.” - “Mi Ultimo Adiós” (My Last Farewell)
“One only dies once, and if one does not die well, a good opportunity is lost and will not present itself again.” - Letter to Mariano Ponce, 1890
“I die without seeing dawn's light shining on my country ... You, who will see it, welcome it for me … don't forget those who fell during the nighttime.” - Noli Me Tángere
“I die just when I see the dawn break, / Through the gloom of night, to herald the day; / And if color is lacking my blood thou shalt take, / Pour'd out at need for thy dear sake, / To dye with its crimson the waking ray.” - “Mi Ultimo Adios”
José Rizal is remembered today for his vision and courage against overwhelming forces. For more inspiring words from civil rights leaders, check out: