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Rizal and His Vices

6 July 2011

It was Winston Churchhill who said, “Never trust a man without vices.”   So Rizal, despite his infinite smarts and talents, was still a man and must have had some deep, dark side, I wager.  Let the questions roll:

Did he drink?  In his early days as a medical student in Germany, he wrote about being invited to drink beer with other young people. He commented on how he allowed them to pay for his first round, graciously accepting their welcome to the foreigner; but quickly made a mental to pay for his own drinks next time.

I spend half of the day in the study of German and the other half, of the disease of the eye. Twice a week, I go to the bierbrauerie, or beerhall, to speak German with my student friends … That night they didn’t let me pay at all for my beer for being a stranger and recently arrived, but next time I shall have to pay in accordance with the custom of each one paying for his own. When they drink, they have the custom of toasting the health of every one saying, “Prosit!” or “Prost!” and holding forth the glass toward the person to whose health they are drinking. (09 February 1886, Heidelberg)

An ad from the Chicago Tribune in 1927.

In his travels with Maximo Viola, the buddies were also known to down beers in the hotels where they stayed.  It seems Rizal looked at going to pubs as an opportunity to socialize with his peers and practice his language skills.  Other scholars pose that he did not like wine and preferred ice water; and that he simply ordered beer so he would not call attention to himself.

Did he smoke?  Perhaps it was his medical training that taught him the ill effects of tobacco or perhaps it was necessity that prodded the young Rizal to spend his money on necessities like food and books, but all clues lead to the conclusion that Rizal did not smoke.  His travel diaries detail his cash flow to the last precious peseta and the purchase of smokes was never part of them.  I wonder how the good doctor, if he had lived, would feel about his name and image becoming a widely traded cigar and cigarette brand during the American occupation?

Did he gamble? It seems that lotto was a consistent vice.  His letters to his sisters contained references to lucky numbers he could bet on.  As a student in Madrid, he regularly shared a ticket with 10 or so equally frugal classmates.  In 1892, while Dr. Rizal was in exile in Dapitan, he shared the second prize of P20,000 in the government-owned Manila Lottery.  Rizal owned a third of Lottery ticket No. 9736 together with Captain Carnicero and Francisco Equilior, a Spanish resident of Dipolog.  Of the P6,200 he won, Rizal gave P2,000 to his father, P200 to his friend Basa in Hong Kong and the rest he invested well by purchasing agricultural lands along the coast of Talisay, about one kilometer away from Dapitan.  He took his easily-acquired wealth to develop the community — trading abaca, running a little store, opening a school, and tending fruit trees, all the while serving as the community doctor.

Did he do drugs?  Rizal admitted to dabbling, when he was 18 years old, in hashish, a derivative of the cannabis plant, more popularly known as marijuana, in an 1890 letter to Dr. Adolph B. Meyer:

No book, no historian that I know of speaks of any plant whose use is similar to that of the hashish. I myself, though in 1879, used hashish; I did it for experimental purposes and I obtained the substance from a drugstore.

Did he fight?  In Rizal’s “Memorias de un estudiante”, he referred obsessively to his short height and one can imagine how this can be a sore point with any child.  Leon Ma. Guerrero even lent a name to the Laguna schoolmaster’s bullying son — Pedro — about whom Rizal wrote:

The son of the teacher was a few years older than I and exceeded me in stature … After beating him in a fight, I gained fame among my classmates, possibly because of my smallness.

In his lifetime, Rizal called on three men to duels.  The first was Antonio Luna who he challenged for making ungentlemanly remarks against Nellie Boustead, a woman they were both courting.  The second was Wenceslao E. Retana, a Spanish scholar he challenged for maliciously writing an article that his family was ejected from their property in Calamba for non-payment of rent.  And the third was Juan Lardet, a Frenchman who he challenged for accusing him of  shady business deals in Dapitan.  While Luna apologized, the other two did not proceed with the fight after being advised of Rizal’s prowess.

In a true fight, scholars agree that his only handicap will be his height (5′ 3″) and consequently, his reach.  Otherwise, the weight-lifting Rizal who cross-trained in various martial arts — swordsmanship, pistol shooting, buno (wrestling), arnis, judo and boxing — would very likely have done well.

So, folks, Rizal was as human as you and I.  And the parallels between his existence and the modern condition is what makes the choices he made in his short, celebrated life all the more remarkable.

Research Notes

1. “Cigars“. The Chicago Tribune. Page 5. 27 July 1913.
2. Joaquin, Nick. “Anatomy of the Anti-Hero“. Date accessed: 22 June 2011.
3. “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Jose Rizal“. Date published: 14 June 2011. Date accessed: 22 June 2011.
4. “Jose Rizal Cigars“. Naquem. Date published:  21 November 2009.  Date accessed:  22 April 2011.
5. “José Rizal in Heidelberg and in Wilhelmsfeld“. Date published: 06 April 2010. Date accessed: 22 April 2011.
6. “Jose Rizal on Cigarette Wrappers“. Pinoy Kollector. Date published: 10 June 2011. Date accessed: 22 June 2011.
7. Mallari, Perry Gil. “Fightin’ Jose“. The Manila Times. Date published: 12 June 2008. Date accessed: 22 June 2011.
8. “Miscellaneous Letters Exchanged Between José Rizal and Others in 1890“. Date accessed: 22 June 2011
9. Ocampo, Ambeth. “Rizal’s lotto windfall“. Philippine Daily Inquirer.  Date published:  11 March 2011.  Date accessed:  22 June 2011.
10. “Rizal in Brunn“. Scribed. Date accessed: 22 June 2011.
11. “Rizal’s Exile in Dapital, 1892-96“. Date accessed: 22 June 2011.
12. W.E. Retana. “Vida y Escritos del Dr. Jose Rizal“. Madrid: 1907. p. 75. Date accessed: 22 June 2011.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Romiazon M. Salazar permalink
    7 March 2012 20:38

    Hello po, may documentary po kami sa Rizal subject po namin. Pwede po ba kami mkakuha ng contact number nyo at mainvite kayo tungkol sa Good and Bad side of Jose Rizal? Thank you po

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