Dr. José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda[1] (June 19, 1861 – December 30, 1896, Bagumbayan), was a Filipino polymath, patriot and the most prominent advocate for reforms in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era. He is considered a national hero of the Philippines,[2] and the anniversary of Rizal’s death is commemorated as a Philippine holiday called Rizal Day. Rizal’s 1896 military trial and execution made him a martyr of the Philippine Revolution.

The seventh of eleven children born to a wealthy family in the town of CalambaLaguna, Rizal attended the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, earning a Bachelor of Arts. He enrolled in Medicine and Philosophy and Letters at the University of Santo Tomas and then traveled alone to Madrid, Spain, where he continued his studies at the Universidad Central de Madrid, earning the degree of Licentiate in Medicine. He attended the University of Paris and earned a second doctorate at the University of Heidelberg. Rizal was a polyglot conversant in at least ten languages.[3][4][5][6] He was a prolific poet, essayist, diarist, correspondent, and novelist whose most famous works were his two novels, Noli me Tangere and El filibusterismo.[7] These are social commentaries on the Philippines that formed the nucleus of literature that inspired dissent among peaceful reformists and spurred the militancy of armed revolutionaries against the Spanish colonial authorities.

As a political figure, Jose Rizal was the founder of La Liga Filipina, a civic organization that subsequently gave birth to the Katipunan[8] led by Andrés Bonifacioand Emilio Aguinaldo. He was a proponent of institutional reforms by peaceful means rather than by violent revolution. The general consensus among Rizal scholars, however, attributed his martyred death as the catalyst that precipitated the Philippine Revolution.


Jose Rizal’s parents, Francisco Engracio Rizal Mercado y Alejandro (1818–1898)[9] and Teodora Morales Alonso Realonda y Quintos (1826–1911),[9] were prosperous farmers who were granted lease of a hacienda and an accompanying rice farm by the Dominicans. Rizal was the seventh child of their eleven children namely: Saturnina (Neneng) (1850–1913), Paciano (1851–1930), Narcisa (Sisa) (1852–1939), Olympia (Ypia) (1855–1887), Lucia (1857–1919), María (Biang) (1859–1945), José Protasio (1861–1896), Concepcion(Concha) (1862–1865), Josefa (Panggoy) (1865–1945), Trinidad (1868–1951) and Soledad (Choleng)(1870–1929).

Rizal was a 5th-generation patrilineal descendant of Domingo Lam-co (traditional Chinese柯儀南simplified Chinese柯仪南pinyinKē Yínán), a Chinese immigrant entrepreneur who sailed to the Philippines from Jinjiang, Quanzhou in the mid-17th century.[10] Lam-co married Inez de la Rosa, a Sangley native of Luzon. To free his descendants from the Sinophobic animosity of the Spanish authorities, Lam-co changed the surname to the Spanish “Mercado” (market) to indicate their Chinese merchant roots. In 1849, Governor-General Narciso Claveria ordered all native families in the Philippines to choose new surnames from a list of Spanish family names. José’s father Francisco[9] adopted the surname “Rizal” (originally Ricial, the green of young growth or green fields), which was suggested to him by a provincial governor, or as José had described him, “a friend of the family”. However, the name change caused confusion in the business affairs of Francisco, most of which were begun under the old name. After a few years, he settled on the name “Rizal Mercado” as a compromise, but usually just used the original surname “Mercado”. Upon enrolling at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, José dropped the last three names that make up his full name, at the advice of his brother, Paciano Rizal Mercado, and the Rizal Mercado family, thus rendering his name as “José Protasio Rizal”. Of this, Rizal writes: “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!”[11] This was to enable him to travel freely and disassociate him from his brother, who had gained notoriety with his earlier links with native priests who were sentenced to death as subversives. From early childhood, José and Paciano were already advancing unheard-of political ideas of freedom and individual rights which infuriated the authorities.[12][13] Despite the name change, José, as “Rizal” soon distinguishes himself in poetry writing contests, impressing his professors with his facility with Castilian and other foreign languages, and later, in writing essays that are critical of the Spanish historical accounts of the pre-colonial Philippine societies. Indeed, by 1891, the year he finished his sunset, 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…”[11] José became the focal point by which the family became known, at least from the point of view of colonial authorities.

Aside from Chinese ancestry, recent genealogical research has found that José had traces of Spanish. His maternal great-great-grandfather (Teodora’s great-grandfather) was Eugenio Ursua, a descendant of Japanese settlers, who married a Filipina named Benigna (surname unknown). They gave birth to Regina Ursua who married a Tagalog Sangley mestizo from Pangasinán named Manuel de Quintos, Teodora’s grandfather. Their daughter Brígida de Quintos married a Spanish mestizo named Lorenzo Alberto Alonso, the father of Teodora. Austin Craig mentions Lakandula, Rajah of Tondo at the time of the Spanish incursion, as an ancestor.



Rizal first studied under the tutelage of Justiniano Aquino Cruz in Biñan, Laguna. He was sent to Manila and enrolled at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila. He graduated as one of the nine students in his class declared sobresaliente or outstanding. He continued his education at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila to obtain a land surveyor and assessor’s degree, and at the same time at the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Arts and Letters where he studied Philosophy and Letters. Upon learning that his mother was going blind, he decided to study medicine specializing in ophthalmology at the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Medicine and Surgery but did not complete the program claiming discrimination made by the Spanish Dominican friars against the native students.[14]

Rizal, 11 years old, a student at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila.

Without his parents’ knowledge and consent, but secretly supported by his brother Paciano, he traveled alone to Europe: Madrid in May 1882 and studied medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid where he earned the degree, Licentiate in Medicine. His education continued at theUniversity of Paris and the University of Heidelberg where he earned a second doctorate. In Berlin he was inducted as a member of the Berlin Ethnological Society and the Berlin Anthropological Society under the patronage of the famous pathologist Rudolf Virchow. Following custom, he delivered an address in German in April 1887 before the anthropological society on the orthography and structure of the Tagalog language. He left Heidelberg a poem, “A las flores del Heidelberg,” which was both an evocation and a prayer for the welfare of his native land and the unification of common values between East and West.

At Heidelberg, the 25-year-old Rizal, completed in 1887 his eye specialization under the renowned professor, Otto Becker. There he used the newly invented ophthalmoscope (invented by Hermann von Helmholtz) to later operate on his own mother’s eye. From Heidelberg, Rizal wrote his parents: “I spend half of the day in the study of German and the other half, in the diseases of the eye. Twice a week, I go to the bierbrauerie, or beerhall, to speak German with my student friends.” He lived in a Karlstraße boarding house then moved to Ludwigsplatz. There, he met Reverend Karl Ullmer and stayed with them in Wilhelmsfeld, where he wrote the last few chapters of “Noli Me Tangere“.

A plaque marks the Heidelberg building where he trained with Professor Becker, while in Wilhemsfeld, a smaller version of the Rizal Park with his bronze statue stands and the street where he lived was also renamed after him. A sandstone fountain in Pastor Ullmer’s house garden where Rizal lived in Wilhelmsfeld, stands.[15]

Rizal’s multifacetedness was described by his German friend, Dr. Adolf Meyer, as “stupendous.”[16][17] Documented studies show him to be a polymath with the ability to master various skills and subjects.[3][4][16] He was an ophthalmologistsculptorpaintereducatorfarmerhistorian, playwright and journalist. Besides poetry and creative writing, he dabbled, with varying degrees of expertise, in architecturecartography, economics, ethnologyanthropologysociologydramaticsmartial artsfencing and pistol shooting. He was also a Freemason, joining Acacia Lodge No. 9 during his time in Spain and becoming a Master Mason in 1884.[18]…………….


Rizal’s advocacy of institutional reforms by peaceful means rather than by violent revolution makes him Asia’s first modern non-violent proponent of political reforms. Forerunner of Gandhi and contemporary of Tagore and Sun Yat Sen, all four created a new climate of thought throughout Asia, leading to the attrition of colonialism and the emergence of new Asiatic nations by the end of World War II. Rizal’s appearance on the scene came at a time when European colonial power had been growing and spreading, mostly motivated by trade, some for the purpose of bringing Western forms of government and education to peoples regarded as backward. Coinciding with the appearance of those other leaders, Rizal from an early age had been enunciating in poems, tracts and plays, ideas all his own of modern nationhood as a practical possibility in Asia. In the Noli he stated that if European civilization had nothing better to offer, colonialism in Asia was doomed.[60] Such was recognized by Gandhi who regarded him as a forerunner in the cause of freedom. Jawaharlal Nehru, in his prison letters to his daughter Indira, acknowledged Rizal’s significant contributions in the Asian freedom movement. These leaders regarded these contributions as keystones and acknowledged Rizal’s role in the movement as foundation layer.

Rizal, on the 2000 Philippine peso coin

Rizal, through his reading of Morga and other western historians, knew of the genial image of Spain’s early relations with his people.[61] In his writings, he showed the disparity between the early colonialists and those of his day, with the latter’s atrocities giving rise to Gomburza and the Philippine Revolution of 1896. His biographer, Austin Coates, and writer, Benedict Anderson, believe that Rizal gave the Philippine revolution a genuinely national character; and that Rizal’s patriotism and his standing as one of Asia’s first intellectuals have inspired others of the importance of a national identity to nation-building.[29][62]……….

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