Rizal, Damaso and Company

One of the things I regret is not taking Spanish seriously in college for three reasons. First, It would be interesting to watch Spanish and Latin American films without subtitles. Second, It would be interesting to read Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quijote in the original languages. And Third but not the least to read Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterisimo as Rizal wrote it and as Andres Bonifacio read it.

Perhaps it is not too late to learn Spanish.

Today one of the more famous character from Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere stands out and has crossed over to the Filipino culture – Padre Damaso. The more loud enemy of Rizal’s Ibarra has become synonymous with abusive and proud members of the Philippine Catholic Church.

Padre Damaso. A friend of the Ibarra family turned its second worst enemy after the Curate of San Diego learns that his god daughter(and subsequently revealed later his daughter), Maria Clara, has become the defacto betrothed to Ibarra – an Insulares (Creole) . And given the chance he destroys the Ibarra family. Ibarra’s father Don Rafael is accused of being a heretic and filibuster by Damaso. To complicate matters Don Fernando also accidentally kills a Spanish Tax Collector who was fighting with a child, The Tax Collector was a Peninsulares. Other charges comes up. Don Rafael dies in jail. Damaso then works further to have the body of Don Rafael taken from the Town Cemetery to the Chinese cemetery, since the town cemetery was no place for a heretic an erehe, in the night two males take the body away but a storm forces them to throw the corpse into the river.

Of Movies and Plays inspired by Rizal, Noli and Fili

Actor Oscar Keesee with the cigar as another villain-priest

I have only seen four films adapted and inspured by Rizal’s novels. The first two are films that were shown once or twice on tv and in cinema. Gerry De Leon’s Noli Me Tangere (1961), El Filibusterisimo (1962) and Sisa (1951). Noli Me Tangere was restored sometime during the 1980s and 1990s it had a screening then I do not what happened to it. El Filibusterismo was less fortunate in that it is said only one copy exist and its present owner does not want to part with it. Sisa was shown on Channel 5 a few years ago. Then there is of course the Cultural Center of the Philippines series of Noli Me Tangere.

De Leon’s Noli had Oscar Keesee portray Damaso and Johnny Montiero play Salvi while the CCP’s Noli series had Subas Herrero essaying the role of Damaso. Keesee was a screen heavy or character actor who brought gravitas to the role. You really would love to hate him as Damaso. Johnny Moniero who would later play roles as a swordsman or gunmen in Filipino movies played Salvi as cowardly reptilian. Most of us would be familiar with Subas Herrero – who was often typecast as the Don, businessman, Kingpin and even Joseph Estrada’s father in law in Mamang Sorbetero – gave depth to Damaso specially in the latter chapters.

The Musical Isang Panaginip na Fili

There have been several adaptations of the novels in theatre as well … Kanser was one and within a few days they would be staging Isang Panaginip ng Fili – the musical looks into the change the characters from Noli undergo as the story proceeds to Fili by entering into the mindseye of Rizal as he wrote it inside a hotel room in Paris.

Rizal has also been portrayed in films. Two films typify the way we look at Rizal. In Marilou Diaz Abaya’s Rizal we are treated to an almost reverential treatment of Rizal. The film interwove Rizal’s life with this novel. It is almost as if you are looking at the set of a religious paintings of Rizal and his work. On the other hand there is Mike De Leon’s Bayaning Third World. The film takes on a critical, funny and at certain point a iconoclastic view of Rizal. In particular it searches for answers to the question did Rizal Retraction and Re-Entering the Catholic Fold. Ed Rocha as Padre Balaguer is interesting and entertaining.

The young Ibarra learns only of this upon his return home. And further verbal abuses from the proud Damaso makes him lose his temper during a gathering.

We all hate Damaso but he is not the worst enemy of Ibarra. We love it when Damaso gets to eat Tinola and finds he has the chicken neck. Or probably remember the long sermon given by Padre Damaso during the town fiesta. Or if you were able to see the movie version of Noli – saw how Oscar Keesee as Padre Damaso dominated the screen or how Subas Herrero did the same when he played Damaso.

But he is not the main villain of story. One of the villains but not the main one or only one. In the end even Damaso suffers when his daughter – learning who her father was and the apparent death of Ibarra – decides to enter the convent. Damaso was stricken and warned his daughter obliquely of the fate that awaits her. He dies soon after of depression. But what does happen in the convent that Damaso was afraid of ?

The answer lies with probably the topmost villain in Noli Damaso’s fellow Franciscan Padre Salvi. His replacement curate who has secret desire for Maria Clara. Unlike Padre Damaso, Padre Salvi is quiet and more subdued but like a crocodile waiting for its prey to approach it was poised to strike. As I remembered my Noli, Salvi was one of the authors of the doom of Ibarra and Maria Clara. And in the end he becomes the regular visitor of Maria Clara in the convent, And this was what Damaso was afraid of.

Of course, the novels Noli and Fili are populated by a community of people we may be familiar with. Sisa and her children Crispin and Basilio. Kapitan Tiyago and his penchant to be on good terms with the curate. Dona Victorina de de Espadana who thinks marrying as Spaniard – even the quack Don Tiburcio de Espadana – will raise her social class a notch or two – hence she is entitled to not one but two Des. Somewhat mirroring them is the Alferez and his wife. Then there is Pilosopong Tasyo the intellectual who is protected by his eccentricity. The student Placido Penitente. Of course there will always be Elias who protects and debates with Ibarra. – who laters comes back as Simoun – his brown eminence. And the good secular priest Padre Florentino. A rich tapestry of characters who intereact with each other and proving sometimes funny and often biting social commentary that is still important for our time and age.

There are and we are Ibarras, Simouns, Maria Claras, Sisas, Elias, Damasos, Salvis,, Dona Victorinas, Placido Penitentes, Basilios, Pilosopong Tasyos, Kabesang Tales and Padre Florentinos in our time.

Noli and Fili is a mirror of the past, present and future of the Philippines. Rizal also wrote Philippine A Century Hence an interesting read about what might happen to the Philippines. But his main work lies in Noli and Fili. And this probably one of those times I appreciate this was made required reading.

Peninsulares, Insulares and Indio in Noli and Fili

One of the interesting thing about Rizal’s novel is the fight between the Peninsulares – Spaniards born in Spain, and Insulares , Spaniards born in the colony Philippines. In Spannish Colonial society the Peninsulares ranks above the insulares. And this is the reason why Padre Damaso would like his daughter Maria Clara to wed Linares the Peninsulares rather than Ibarra the Insulares. And this is the reason why Dona Victorina married the medical quack Dr Tiburcio de Espadana a Peninsulares and later in the novel Fili the same Dona arranges her niece to marry a Peninsulares over Isagani an Indio.

And its still being talked about today.

For those interested in watching Isang Panaginip na Fili:

The musical will run on November 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, December 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, U.P. Diliman, Quezon City, from Wednesdays to Fridays at 7pm, and at 10am and 3pm on weekends. For tickets, please contact Cherry at 09177500107, or the Dulaang UP Office at 926-1349, 981-8500 local 2449 or 433-7

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