To this day, he continues to be a source of inspiration — or a source of profit, in the case of the so-called "Rizal industry." Considering the breadth of material available on him, however, the assertion that "We don't know who Rizal really is," may be surprising to some people. After all, isn't the fact that we celebrate the man's legacy twice a year — one on June 19, the other on December 30 — enough to show that we know enough of the man as he is?
Not quite, Mr. Ambeth R. Ocampo tells us.
Why "Rizal Without The Overcoat"?
According to Ocampo, the title of his book comes from an incident in his childhood, when he visited one of Rizal's many monuments at Luneta Park in Manila. His father pointed to the statue and remarked: "Ang init-init dito naka-overcoat" ("It's so hot here [in the Philppines], and yet he's wearing an overcoat.") Ever since, Ocampo has had an insatiable curiosity in the life of Rizal, and the overcoat became a metaphor for the mystique that obscured Rizal's more human qualities.
And it's those human qualities which Ocampo attempts to show us in his book.
An Overview of "Rizal Without The Overcoat"
As Ocampo points out in his 2011 foreword to the book, "Rizal Without The Overcoat" is not meant to be a biography. Rather, it is meant to, in Ocampo's words, "…show Rizal as he is, as a warm human being like you and me(,) not a hero fossilized in marble and bronze." Specifically, it's a collection of articles from his "Looking Back" column, which was published in the Philippine Daily Globe and the Philippine Daily Inquirer. You can read his most recent articles here.
Because of that, the articles are arranged by theme, rather than chronologically. For example, "Everyday Rizal" gives us accounts of what the national hero's everyday life was like, while "Our Rizals" and "Many Rizals" offers insights into the many rumors surrounding Rizal. Did the Katipunan frame Rizal? Was Rizal an American-sponsored hero? Did he father Hitler? Was he the infamous killer Jack the Ripper?
Some readers may be frustrated with this out-of-chronological-order treatment, and would prefer that Ocampo construct a biography instead. But for those who are fascinated with only a few aspects of Rizal's life, this book offers an easy, accessible way to get a glimpse of the same.
Granted, Ocampo has earned the ire of certain circles for this approach to the life of the Philippine national hero. But, in this writer's humble opinion, it's crucial that Filipinos know of Rizal beyond his contribution as an author of "Noli Me Tangere" and "El Filibusterismo."
Some Interesting Tidbits
If you want to know of Rizal beyond what you've been taught in school, this book does not disappoint. For example, "Sa aking mga kabata" ("To my childhood companions") is a poem traditionally attributed to Rizal, but Ocampo presents compelling evidence to the contrary. Ocampo also unearths other achievements not documented in history textbooks, such as Rizal being the "Father of Philippine Comics" and Rizal's unfinished sequel to "El Filibusterismo."
Indeed, you will see Rizal in a different light after reading this book. You'll learn that, despite the relatively well-off status of his family, Rizal can be charitably described as "stingy." (To be fair, it's justifiable, since they didn't have electronic money transfer methods during the 19th century.) His mischievous side also comes out once in a while, as when he impersonated a Japanese person after fellow Louvre museum visitors mistook him for such, plus his rather candid pose for a picture with his friends Juan Luna, Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo and Trinidad H. Pardo (page 32).
The book also touches several times on Rizal's premonitions and prophetic dreams, as well as his uncharacteristic belief in mystical beings like Maria Makiling — a beautiful fairy who oversees Mt. Makiling in Laguna, Rizal's home province. According to one account, he once went looking for her, and when he failed, he lamented that the frailes encroaching on the land were responsible for Maria's refusal to show herself to mortals. For a man of Rizal's caliber, this is a surprising revelation!
If you insist on seeing Rizal as a near-godlike figure, then this is not the book for you. Certainly, some people have accused Ocampo of "idol-smashing" after reading this book. But if you love unearthing the human side of the most revered figures in history, and feel that the rest of us could benefit from that knowledge, then this is not a book you want to pass up. Have a happy Rizal Day!