José Rizal (1861-1896) was a Filipino nationalist, poet, and author of several influential novels, including Noli Me Tangere, an account of religious corruption among Spanish friars in the Philippines. Rizal joined the Filipino student community in Spain in his early twenties and became an outspoken member of the Propaganda Movement. He was deeply inspired by the life and untimely death of Father Jose Burgos, whose execution Rizal’s brother had witnessed.
The 1887 publication of Noli Me Tangere—which strongly condemned the Spanish Catholic friars—was swiftly banned in the colonies. It was followed four years later by the similarly incendiary sequel El Filibusterismo. Both novels contributed to the intellectual development of the Philippine nationalist movement. Noli Me Tangere told the story of an affluent mestizo Filipino who returns from seven years in Europe intending to promote political and social reform, but is barred by the colonial administration and Catholic Church. The narrative closely reflects the experiences of Rizal and his contemporaries during the Propaganda Movement.
José Rizal was executed by firing squad in 1896 during the period of Philippine insurrection against the Spanish colonial government, falsely accused of fomenting violence and of associations with the revolutionary Katipunan. Upon his execution, Rizal’s figure was reinterpreted through the lens of the passion of Christ; like Jesus, Rizal was rumored to have twelve nationalist “apostles,” and he was considered a saintly figure in Philippine popular culture. He is remembered today as the most prominent Filipino nationalist and the father of the modern Philippines.
In 1956, the Philippine government passed the “Rizal Law,” requiring that all universities provide mandatory courses on José Rizal and his works. Interestingly, this was opposed by the Catholic Church, which continued to resent its portrayal in Rizal’s novels despite the Filipino clergy’s early association with the nationalist movement. Church leaders accused the bill’s proponent, Senator Claro M. Recto, of being a communist and anti-Catholic. The final bill included a provision allowing Catholic students to refrain from reading Rizal’s works, citing conscientious objections.
P.N. Abinales and Donna J. Amoroso, State and Society in the Philippines (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), p. 187.
Steffi San Buenaventura, “Filipino Folk Spirituality and Immigration,” New Spiritual Homes: Religion and Asian Americans, ed. David Yoo (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999), pp. 52-86.
Luis H. Francia, A History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos (New York: The Overlook Press, 2010).
"Filipino Ilustrados Jose Rizal Marcelo del Pilar Mariano Ponce," Wikimedia Commons