I first knew about him when I was in my second grade in my Sibika at Kultura (Civics and Culture) class. Before that, the only place I saw him was on big one-peso coins measuring almost two inches in diameter until it went out of circulation. He is Jose Protacio Mercado Rizal y Realonda or simply Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero who died on the 30th of December 1896 in Bagumbayan, now known as Luneta in Manila.
He inspired awe in me during those impressionable years of my life. He was, according to our Sibika at Kultura book, a doctor, farmer, writer, sportsman, orator, poet, engineer, painter, sculptor, teacher and all other possible professions I already forgot. He must be very good, I thought, for of course he is the national hero of my country, the pride of the Malay race (although most Malays from Indonesia and Malaysia would sneer at this epithet).
In college, the Rizal I knew when I was eight years old was deconstructed to a point of irrecognizability. He was depicted as a person committing the same mistakes, same blunders, same indecisiveness as any living mortal. He was even rumored to be gay. The last one shocked me for I never thought of him having sex with any of the members of the propaganda.
However, just recently, I chanced upon an article entitled “Women First in Heart of First Filipino” which basically enumerated the love interests of Rizal. Based of the latest count, he had no less than ten women all scattered around Europe and in his hometown in Laguna. They were Segunda Katigbak, Leonor Valenzuela, Consuelo Ortiga, a certain girl named Julia whom he met when he was 15 years old in Laguna, O Sei San, Gertrude Beckette, Nelly Boustead, Suzanne Jacoby, and finally Josephine Bracken whom he met in Dapitan.
What even impressed me more was aside those professions he had that I learned in my second grade, the national hero was also a woman’s man, a Don Juan.
Not that I am being skeptical about the claim, nor I am questioning the historical proofs that strengthen the claim that Rizal, indeed, was a real man, virile, I think is the better word. However, despite all these relationships with women attributed to him, I wonder why he didn’t have a child, except for the case of miscarriage suffered by the Irish girl Josephine Bracken in Dapitan which purportedly was Rizal’s supposed progeny.
In the Philippine society, a man’s virility is primarily measured by the number of women he conquered and successfully slept with. Virility is a positive trait that will guarantee the continuation of a family name, honor, wealth and all other factors related. As much as Rizal is a representation of an ideal Filipino, his virility must therefore be emphasized. This explains the outrage of most people when Rizal was suspected to be a homosexual, for this allegation is not only an attack on Rizal but an assault to long-held values of manliness in the Philippines.