We are ruled by many laws, yet we rarely read these if only to gain an appreciation of their spirit and intent. Republic Act 1425, better known as the Rizal Law, was passed to teach Filipino students nationalism or love of country as expressed in the life and writings of Jose Rizal. The preamble states that it is the duty of schools “to develop moral character, personal discipline, civic conscience, and to teach the duties of citizenship.” On those general terms, there is nothing controversial except that one of the means to that end was to make Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” required reading in schools. Considering the novels, in part, anti-Catholic, the Church could not accept these as “a constant and inspiring source of patriotism with which the minds of the youth, especially during their formative and decisive years in school, should be suffused,” as the law states.
Going through the novels with a fine-tooth comb, specific passages were deemed offensive to the Catholic faith. Church spokesmen argued that Catholics could read selected passages from Rizal’s work, but to compel Catholics to read Rizal’s novels in its “unexpurgated” or uncensored version was to force heresy on them and violate their freedom of conscience. Catholic schools put up a good fight and even threatened to close down if the Rizal bill was passed. Claro M. Recto calmly told them to go ahead so the state could then nationalize all the schools and teach what it wanted. The Church retreated but threatened to “punish” erring legislators in future elections. Recto was undaunted.
A compromise was suggested with a proposal to use “expurgated” versions of the novels as textbooks, with the “unexpurgated” copies to be kept under lock and key in the school libraries, to be used or made available only at the discretion and or approval of higher school officials. Recto pushed ahead. He did not want an adulterated reading of the novels, he did not want a watered-down bill and declared, “The people who would eliminate the books of Rizal from the schools would blot out from our minds the memory of the national hero. This is not a fight against Recto but a fight against Rizal. Now that Rizal is dead and they can no longer attempt at his life, they are attempting to blot out his memory.”
Section 1 of RA 1425 states: “Courses on the life, works and writings of Jose Rizal, particularly his novels, shall be included in the curricula of all schools, colleges and universities, public or private; Provided that in the collegiate courses, the original or unexpurgated editions or their English translations shall be used as basic texts.”
It is clear from this that students are to read either the original Spanish or translations of these, and that they should be read whole and unedited, yet a compromise is also found in the law: “The Board of National Education is hereby authorized and directed to adopt forthwith measures to implement and carry out the provisions of this Section, including the writing and printing of appropriate primers, readers and textbooks. The Board shall promulgate rules and regulations, including those of a disciplinary nature, to carry out and enforce the regulations of this Act. The Board shall promulgate rules and regulations providing for the exemption of students, for reason of religious belief stated in a sworn written statement, from the requirement of the provision contained in the second part of the first paragraph of this section; but not from taking the course.”
It is not well known that an exemption from the reading of the novels, based on religious belief, is available, but not exemption from the course. To date nobody has applied for this exemption. Besides, anyone who wants to avail himself of it won’t know how to go about it.
The next two sections have to do with making the novels available. Section 2 directs schools to keep “an adequate” number of copies of the novels in their libraries. Do school libraries today have enough on the shelves to serve the entire school population? What is the intent of the law, to make copies available free for every student or merely keep enough for reference?
Section 3 adds that the Board of National Education should have the novels translated into the major Philippine languages, “cause them to be printed in cheap, popular editions; and cause them to be distributed, free of charge, to persons desiring to read them, through the Purok organizations and the Barrio Councils throughout the country.”
Can we go to our “barangay” [villages] today and get copies of Rizal’s novels for free? I doubt it. But returning to the law and knowing how it came to help us appreciate the rationale for having Rizal taught in schools today.
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