Saturday, December 30, 2006

Consummatum est (or Ladies and gentlemen, we hanged him!)

It is quite impossible to write anything today that wouldn’t at least touch the subject of Saddam Hussein’s execution which took place in Baghdad earlier today.

Therefore, without wanting to go deeper into a discussion over the justifiability of capital punishment as such (neither the Czech Republic nor the Philippines support it, for that matter), I will say this: I don’t think there will ever be a regime in Iraq that will designate November 30th as “The Day of Saddam Hussein’s Martyrdom”. At least I hope not.

The fact that Saddam was hanged in a building his secret police once used for executions, speaks for itself. What goes around comes around. Well, now that I got it off my chest, I can proceed to the other execution that I originally wanted to write about, the one which happened also on this day - but 110 years ago - and there are no prizes for guessing which one that might be.

To call Jose Rizal’s execution "martyrdom" is, of course, justified in every sense of that word and it makes perfect sense to commemorate it year after year. Besides, it is not just on November 30th that people - including visiting foreign dignitaries - go visit the hero’s monument in Luneta.

I will never forget the strange sense of satisfaction I felt while watching the new Vatican’s ambassador to Manila bow down in front of the monument (as the protocol demands, of course). I sincerely hope there is a way for Jose Rizal and for Ferdinand Blumentritt (wherever their souls may roam) to know that these ceremonies regularly take place today.

The dramatic circumstances of Rizal’s heroic end obviously left mark in the correspondence between JR an FB. The last letter of their more or less regular mail exchange has been given number 211 by the editors of the National Historical Institute. You can find it on the page 539 of the second volume of the two-part Rizal-Blumenritt Correspondence published in the year 1961 by the NHI and reprinted in 1992. It is obviously very short and very dramatic:

My dear brother,

When you receive this letter, I shall be dead by then. Tomorrow at seven, I shall be shot; but I am innocent of the crime of rebellion.

I am going to die with tranquil conscience.

Adieu, my best, my dearest friend, and never think ill of me!

Jose Rizal

Fort Santiago, 29 December 1896

There are certain things we gain and also some things we lose with modern technologies. I don’t want to sound ridiculous but I think it is a pity that in the age of e-mail communication it is virtually impossible to get a message from someone already departed. Oh, that romantic era of fin-de-siècle!

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