In the hit series Maria Clara at Ibarra, which ends this week, Barbie Forteza’s Klay was able to interact with the characters of Rizal’s novels through the open pages of a magical edition of Noli Me Tangere owned by Professor Torres, as played by Lou Veloso.
When she was transported back to the present time, she found the need to return to Ibarra’s world to save some of the characters from the tragic fates that await them in the story. To be able to do that, Klay has to go to El Filibusterismo, which is the follow-up novel to Noli. She would need to borrow her teacher’s magical copy for that.
Too bad for Klay, Professor Torres refuses to lend her the book because she can no longer change what Rizal had already written in his novels. But Klay is stubborn. She is able to travel to El Fili by stealing the teacher’s book.
The followers of Maria Clara at Ibarra are probably not even aware that Rizal’s original manuscripts of Noli, El Fili, and Mi Ultimo Adios were actually stolen 62 years ago from the National Library. It had to happen during the national hero’s 100th birth anniversary in 1961.
Let us start our story, however, from the time of the Rizals’ reversal of fortunes. Rizal’s parents, Francisco Mercado and the former Teodora Alonso, weren’t fabulously rich in the beginning.
But when they came into immense wealth – by dint of hard work – they were able to build the grandest residence in Calamba, Laguna. Add to that the vast farmlands that yielded so much produce that allowed the family to maintain their status as principalia in town.
The land was in a hacienda owned by the Dominicans who collected “buis” from them. “Buis” is different from “buwis,” which means tax.
The “buis” is the lease for staying on a property owned by the friars. To this day, the practice of “buis” is still in effect among farmers and fisher folk who do not have their own rice fields or fishponds and have to rent from landed people.
It was different in the Spanish era when friars controlled lands. But even if the Rizals were only tenants of the Dominicans, the good life was still savored by every member of the family. There was enough money to send the children to good schools in Manila. In Rizal’s case, he even got to study in Europe.
But none of the Rizal girls – nine of them – was considered eligible to be selected Miss Congeniality. Given their education and status in town, some of them tended to be quite haughty.
Some married quite well, however, like Lucia, who had her own huge home also in Calamba. Her place was cool: it had a gym. That must have been where Rizal developed his good physique.
The past few weeks, a photo of a half-dressed Rizal circulated on Facebook. It wasn’t a photograph though, but a sketch by Rizal himself. It was that era’s version of selfie. And so that was the kind of prosperous life the Rizal family had.
The time came, however, when the “buis” became too oppressive even for well-off tenants like the Rizal family. They refused to comply with what the Dominicans demanded from them.
Since Francisco Mercado knew that trouble was coming their way, he brought the family to live in the family house in Binondo. Doña Teodora was no stranger to Manila anyway – being an original Manileña.
That was a wise decision on the part of Don Francisco. Soon after they left, the Calamba houses whose owners refused to pay the dues imposed on them by the friars were demolished. The roof of the Rizal home was removed – with the hardwood floors and the other decorative elements either taken away by scavengers or left to rot.
When William Howard Taft therefore declared Jose Rizal as the national hero in 1901, the authorities had difficulty putting together a memorabilia in honor of the great Malay. The first people sought out, of course, were the Rizal siblings.
Among the first items they had to secure were the Rizal manuscripts – of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. The Noli was in possession of Rizal’s sister Soledad.
If the Rizals had not fallen on hard times, maybe they would have simply donated every item that belonged to the national hero for the public to appreciate. But some of the siblings had been reduced to vending sinamay cloth in a store in Binondo.
One Rizal sister, Maria or Angge, may have married a man of means, Daniel Cruz, but her latter life was tragic. She went completely blind. And during the last days of the Pacific War, her son Mauricio, grandson Ismael and grandson-in-law Vladimir Gonzales (grandfather of Panjee Gonzales) were taken by the Japanese soldiers from their home and were never seen again.
Soledad or Choleng had in her possession the original manuscript of Noli. She was said to have parted with it for P25,000 – a huge amount in 1911, the year the transaction took place.
El Fili was acquired from the descendants of Valentin Ventura in 1925 to the tune of P10,000. The Venturas deserved the payment. After all, Valentin was the one who helped fund the publication of El Fili.
As to the original copy of Mi Ultimo Adios, some historians claim that it was bought from Josephine Bracken for 500 US dollars when she went back to Hong Kong. But how could she have gotten hold of that?
On Rizal’s last night, he summoned his loved ones to his Fort Santiago cell and started giving away his worldly possessions. To sister Trinidad, he gave his petroleum lamp, along with whispered instructions that “there is something in it.”
That something was his copy of his Mi Ultimo Adios. Now, the question is: why would a Rizal sister give Mi Ultimo Adios to Josephine, a woman detested by the entire family?
That shouldn’t matter anymore. What’s important is that the government was able to gather all three important Rizal mementos.
Noli, El Fili, and Mi Ultimo Adios actually disappeared sometime during the Japanese Occupation, but magically reappeared during liberation. There are so many stories as to how these documents were recovered, but nobody could tell which version is correct.
And then, as the country celebrated Rizal’s 100th birthday, all three manuscripts were stolen – no thanks to security personnel who were either sleeping or idly watching a construction nearby.
The theft occurred on the first week of December 1961. The thieves initially made negotiations with Luis Montilla, the head of the Jose Rizal Centennial Commission. Alejandro Roces, however, took over after he was appointed Education Secretary.
All three manuscripts were held for ransom – from P100,000 to P1.5-M, then back to P100,000. The negotiations were held on the phone, at the Quirino Grandstand, at Alba’s Restaurant in Quezon City – all the way to the then very popular resort Jale Beach in Cavite.
The government then insisted that there was no ransom paid. And that all it took were the disarming ways of Alejandro Roces. Even its recovery the second time around remains a mystery.
The novels of Rizal continue to baffle us as a nation. It’s like Noli and Fili have magical powers that work even on local television – via Maria Clara at Ibarra.
In the beginning of the series, Barbie’s Klay questioned her professor as to why she – a nursing student – had to study Rizal’s works. Then, lo and behold, David Licauco’s fans (a growing legion now) were able to uncover last week the actor’s old postings on social media.
As a 16 or 17-year-old student back then, he tweeted: “Studying Rizal’s life for tomorrow’s finals. Ano makukuha ko dito?” Isn’t this a magical coincidence?
Putting to heart the message of Rizal’s novels is important to us as a race.
Thanks to GMA’s Maria Clara at Ibarra, a whole generation of Filipinos – young mostly – are now into Rizal’s works.
Could this be the national hero’s way of preparing us Filipinos for more challenging days ahead?
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