Tomorrow is Independence Day and I have decided to write a tribute to our national heroes, most especially to Graciano Lopez-Jaena, the only Ilonggo to have been declared a national hero. Although much has already been written about him, I feel that now is a good time to examine what lessons we can learn from this extraordinary man.
Born to poor parents, Graciano at an early age showed signs of exceptional intelligence and consistently excelled in school. But even when he was still young, Lopez-Jaena already displayed a rebellious and irreverent streak. This was manifested in 1874 when, at barely 18 years old, Graciano wrote “Fray Botod,” a satirical story about the fat and abusive friar of Jaro. Because of “Fray Botod” and his other subsequent run-ins with abusive Spaniards, the young Graciano was “blacklisted” by Spanish authorities as a “filibuster.” To prevent further trouble with authorities, his wealthy relatives in Jaro agreed to finance his medical studies abroad and young Graciano departed the Philippines for Spain in 1880.
One cannot write about Graciano Lopez Jaena without talking about Jose Rizal and Marcelo H. del Pilar much like one cannot imagine Athos without Porthos and Aramis. The three were the pillars of the Propaganda Movement in Spain. All three possessed exceptional qualities that distinguished them from their peers – equally talented, intellectually gifted, very patriotic and extremely ambitious. And like the Three Musketeers, each particularly excelled in one craft. Of the three, Jose Rizal was the finest writer because his two novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, inspired the people to revolt against Spain. Marcelo del Pilar was the better propagandist or PR man because, unlike Rizal and Lopez Jaena who both wrote in Spanish, he wrote in Tagalog which was better understood by the hoi polloi. But when it comes to public speaking, no one comes close to Graciano Lopez Jaena.
Graciano may not have been the most fastidious of writers but his oratory skills were legendary. Lopez Jaena was a very powerful, charismatic speaker and it is said that when he spoke about the injustices perpetuated by the Spaniards in the Philippines, his audience would almost always break into tears (including the Spaniards in the audience). Wanting to study and emulate his oratorical style, Jose Rizal once transcribed verbatim one of Graciano’s speeches and found it full of grammatical errors, awkward sentences, etc. Rizal concluded that Lopez-Jaena moves crowds not with elegant words but with his sincerity, his courage and his passion for his country. If he was born today, Graciano would have been the media spokesman of the group and thus would have been more famous than the other two heroes.
Graciano wanted to be the very first Filipino to sit as a member of the Spanish Parliament where he could use his oratorical skills to push for more reforms in the Philippines. But in the end, their lobbying efforts to put a Filipino in the Spanish Parliament ended in failure. The Propaganda Movement disintegrated when financial funding from home dried up and La Solidaridad, the newspaper Graciano founded, had to be collapsed due to lack of funds. Matters became worse when Rizal and del Pilar split over a petty misunderstanding. Giving up, Rizal went back to the Philippines to write his two novels while del Pilar and Lopez-Jaena decided to stay on to continue the fight in Spain.
It is interesting to note that Rizal, del Pilar and Lopez-Jaena all died within the same year: 1896. Graciano was first to die on January 20, del Pilar second on July 4 and Rizal last on December 30. But while Rizal died gloriously in Luneta, del Pilar and Lopez-Jaena both died in some obscure hospital in Spain due to tuberculosis. To this day, Graciano’s remains have not been found and returned to the Philippines because he was buried in an unmarked Barcelona grave.
The deaths of Rizal, del Pilar and Lopez-Jaena marked the end of the Filipinos’ non-violent struggle towards reforms. Soon after their deaths, Andres Bonifacio along with thousands of patriotic Katipuneros rose up in arms against Spain. And the rest, as they say, is history.
(Stateside Ilongga has some interesting photos of the Philippines Independence Day Parade in New York ... here.)