Jose Rizal “Laong Laan or Dimasalang” National Hero of the Philippines
José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Realonda, widely known as José Rizal (Spanish pronunciation: [xoˈse riˈsal]; June 19, 1861 – December 30, 1896), was a Filipino nationalist and polymath during the tail end of the Spanish colonial period of the Philippines. An ophthalmologist by profession, Rizal became a writer and a key member of the Filipino Propaganda Movement which advocated political reforms for the colony under Spain.
He was executed by the Spanish colonial government for the crime of rebellion after the Philippine Revolution, inspired in part by his writings, broke out. Though he was not actively involved in its planning or conduct, he ultimately approved of its goals which eventually led to Philippine independence.
He is widely considered one of the greatest heroes of the Philippines and has been recommended to be so honored by an officially empaneled National Heroes Committee. However, no law, executive order or proclamation has been enacted or issued officially proclaiming any Filipino historical figure as a national hero. He was the author of the novels Noli Me Tángere and El filibusterismo, and a number of poems and essays.
Rizal who has been known for his strong criticisms against the Spaniards wouldn’t have written all his essays and articles using his real name. He used the pen names Laong Laan and Dimasalang in many of his writings.
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José Rizal was born in 1861 to Francisco Rizal Mercado y Alejandro and Teodora Alonso Realonda y Quintos in the town of Calamba in Laguna province. He had nine sisters and one brother. His parents were leaseholders of a hacienda and an accompanying rice farm by the Dominicans. Both their families had adopted the additional surnames of Rizal and Realonda in 1849, after Governor General Narciso Clavería y Zaldúa decreed the adoption of Spanish surnames among the Filipinos for census purposes (though they already had Spanish names).
Like many families in the Philippines, the Rizals were of mixed origin. José’s patrilineal lineage could be traced back to Fujian in China through his father’s ancestor Lam-Co, a Chinese merchant who immigrated to the Philippines in the late 17th century. Lam-Co traveled to Manila from Amoy, China, possibly to avoid the famine or plague in his home district, and more probably to escape the Manchu invasion. He finally decided to stay in the islands as a farmer. In 1697, to escape the bitter anti-Chinese prejudice that existed in the Philippines, he converted to Catholicism, changed his name to Domingo Mercado and married the daughter of Chinese friend Augustin Chin-co. On his mother’s side, Rizal’s ancestry included Chinese, Japanese and Tagalog blood. His mother’s lineage can be traced to the affluent Florentina family of Chinese mestizo families originating in Baliuag, Bulacan. José Rizal also had Spanish ancestry. His grandfather was a half Spaniard engineer named Lorenzo Alberto Alonzo.
From an early age, José showed a precocious intellect. He learned the alphabet from his mother at 3, and could read and write at age 5. Upon enrolling at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, he dropped the last three names that made up his full name, on the advice of his brother, Paciano and the Mercado family, thus rendering his name as “José Protasio Rizal”. Of this, he later wrote: “My family never paid much attention [to our second surname Rizal], but now I had to use it, thus giving me the appearance of an illegitimate child!” This was to enable him to travel freely and disassociate him from his brother, who had gained notoriety with his earlier links to Filipino priests Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora (popularly known as Gomburza) who had been accused and executed for treason.
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Despite the name change, José, as “Rizal” soon distinguished himself in poetry writing contests, impressing his professors with his facility with Castilian and other foreign languages, and later, in writing essays that were critical of the Spanish historical accounts of the pre-colonial Philippine societies. Indeed, by 1891, the year he finished his El Filibusterismo, this second surname had become so well known that, as he writes to another friend, “All my family now carry the name Rizal instead of Mercado because the name Rizal means persecution! Good! I too want to join them and be worthy of this family name…”