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article imageRetracing a Piece of Philippine History in Madrid Special

By Romeo Marquez     Nov 14, 2011 in Travel
Madrid - Madrid hosts the monument of the Philippine national hero Jose Rizal, perhaps some kind of an atonement for his execution ordered by Spanish authorities 115 years ago.
In the course of three centuries to the present, the Philippines continues to look up to Spain for what ancient colonizers and historians regard as the islands' formal debut into world consciousness.
The Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, working for Spain at that time, was supposed to have discovered the string of 7,100 islands strewn in the Pacific and claimed them for his principals.
Later, the Spanish explorer Ruy Lopez de Villalobos named them Las Islas Filipinas to honor King Felipe II. When the Americans came in 1898, the Spanish name was Anglicized to Philippine Islands, then shortened to Philippines.
The "discovery" in 1521 was a boon to Spain, for the Philippines became a rich source of food, spices and minerals, and thus begun more than 300 years of colonization, ending at the turn of the century in 1898 when Filipino revolutionaries declared independence only to be nipped by another colonial power, the United States, which then took over.
Ceremonial guards on horseback await the arrival of dignitaries ast the gate of the Palacio Real de ...
Ceremonial guards on horseback await the arrival of dignitaries ast the gate of the Palacio Real de Madrid, the official residence of the King of Spain.
That much of history forever links the Philippines with motherland Spain. Here in Madrid, the most visible sign of a shared past is the monument of Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippines' foremost hero, whom the Spanish colonizers martyred in a hail of bullets in December 1896, precipitating a nationwide revolt.
Rizal lived and studied in Madrid. The places he stayed in have been conspicuously marked, ostensibly to celebrate his greatness.
But his monument - actually an exact replica of the one in Manila - remains the iconic symbol of supreme sacrifice by one who had, ironically, quite strongly resisted armed struggle against Spain. Rizal advocated making the Philippines a province of Spain.
Jose Rizal s monument  a replica of the one in Manila  stands on a corner road at Avenida Filipinas ...
Jose Rizal's monument, a replica of the one in Manila, stands on a corner road at Avenida Filipinas in downtown Madrid.
In the interplay of politics, Spain must have been swayed to erect that monument, not so much to honor him as to be a subtle reminder of over three centuries of repression and exploitation. If Rizal had been Spain's most loyal son, why did the Spanish authorities order his death by musketry?
Rizal had so eloquently portrayed Spanish brutality personified by the governors-general, the Guardia Civil, the friars and the swinging upper class of Philippine society in his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo yet he preached the tedious peace process rather than the bloody revolution.
Rizal's literary genius is enshrined in a farewell poem, Mi Ultimo Adios, written on the eve of his execution, which is well recognized by Spain. Had he succeeded in incorporating the Philippines as a Spanish province in Asia, Rizal could have been one of Spain's most prolific sons.
Rizal s  Mi Ultimo Adios  (My Last Farewell) in its original Spanish.
Rizal's "Mi Ultimo Adios" (My Last Farewell) in its original Spanish.
A quick tour of Madrid a few weeks ago proved amazing. Rizal may be known to Filipinos there but their knowledge of him seems quite scant, limited to the superficial "he's the national hero of the Philippines".
The most astonishing is that many Spaniards do not specifically know him. Neither do they know the Philippines' geographical location. Even more surprising for some is the Filipino's Asian looks that seem irreconcilable with having Spanish names and an ability to speak Spanish.
But even then, the Filipinos' popularity does seem boosted by a willingness to work odd jobs in the health and service industries though their educational attainment overqualifies them. Thus, their presence in hospitals, supermarkets, restaurants, private homes, cruise ships, convenience stores and shopping malls.
One wonders if that situation is just a continuation of the centuries-long exploitation of Filipinos that Rizal had ranted against in his books, only in a different time, place and form.
Tracing Rizal's footsteps in Madrid led to a small apartment-hotel which probably saw its heyday in the mid-19th century when Filipino reformists sought to loosen Spain's tight grip on the islands.
The Plaza Mayor in the heart of Madrid is a favorite place for community activities.
The Plaza Mayor in the heart of Madrid is a favorite place for community activities.
More than a century later, the structure still stands among a row of high-rises in the narrow, cobbled streets of the city. It's been converted into apartment rooms. A bunch of eight Filipinos occupies a room made smaller by an old sofa, a television, a refrigerator and a computer table which serves also as dining table.
Not far from his residence is the Ateneo de Madrid where he, according to some accounts, Rizal watched theatre and did research. Also close is the former school, now the Museo de la Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando.
Hotel Ingles, founded in 1853, remains a landmark in the neighborhood. On the ground floor is a marker celebrating Rizal, one of its esteemed guests.
The community within all these historical landmarks is called Barrio de las Letras which saw the likes of painters like Pablo Picasso and Juan Luna.
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