As you may have noticed these past few entries, we have devoted space in this blog on the University of Santo Tomas campus. But on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of the Philippines’ National Hero, Jose Rizal, allow me to take a little diversion of this trip to talk about this school’s “relationship” with our hero.
To anyone with some knowledge of Rizal’s biography, it is a well-known fact that Rizal entered University of Santo Tomas in 1877 and managed to get a degree in Philosophy and Letters two years later. He then proceeding to medicine, ophthalmology to be precise, for the next 2 years before going to Spain to finish medicine and get his degree.
Rizal’s UST experiences have been subject of controversy over the years as some folks asserted Rizal was “unhappy” during those UST years because of the discrimination against Filipino students by the Dominican priests who ran the university during that time. Then, there are those from the opposing camp that Rizal was at his most “productive” during those years. I will leave the debate to historians, Rizalists, and rabid Thomasian fanboys and haters to duke this one out, but nonetheless, there was no doubt that in some degree or another, Rizal’s thoughts and ideals that he is known for was shaped by those years as a student of UST.
Regardless of the circumstances, and whether it was by design or by coincidence, the connection of Rizal and UST would be reminded once more around 30 years after Rizal’s execution by the Spanish authorities. That time would be the time of UST’s expansion into the growing district of Sampaloc in Manila.
The Spaniards were now gone by that time and the Americans were now in charge. In a bid to give the Americans a “friendlier” image to the Filipinos, it was long decided early on that they would “adopt” Rizal to be the hero Filipinos should emulate. Since then, they have not stopped in propagating all that “Rizal” loving. Sampaloc’s transformation from sleepy backwater to bustling suburb during the 1910’s-30’s was one of those opportunities to showcase Rizalism in a city as growing and busy as Manila.
In the end, the government named many streets in Sampaloc’s northern corner after characters, works, and places associated with Rizal. Places like Calamba, Rizal’s hometown; Makiling, the mountain whose legend he wrote about; and Dapitan, where he was exiled. Incidentally, a side of the UST complex lies along Dapitan Street itself.
Some of the streets take their name from Rizal’s novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo such as the town of San Diego and the characters like the protagonist Crisostomo Ibarra/Simoun; (for some strange reason, Crisostomo and Ibarra are separate streets although they are part of one name of the character) the protagonist’s love Maria Clara; Basilio,the sacristan abused by the cruel sacristan mayor; Basilio’s mother the tragic Sisa; and the protagonist’s spiritual adviser in his last days, Padre Florentino.
There are also streets named after people close to Rizal like his godfather Pedro Casañas, his Mason friend, the liberal Pi Y Margal, and his Austrian ethnographer friend Ferdinand Blumentritt. One street though not named after Rizal’s friend is also noteworthy as it was named after an American writer who wrote a biography of him, Austin Craig.
Some street names took theirs from his writings like (A Mi) Musa, Instruccion, Metrica, and Kundiman. Then there are the streets named after Rizal pennames which themselves have significant meanings: Laong-Laan, which means “long since dedicated” and Dimasalang, meaning “untouchable”, both reflecting the courage and dedication Rizal has for his country and fellow Filipinos.
There is no doubt that UST’s “Rizal connection” has been given an interesting dimension these days with the presence of these streets. All in all, it makes for an interesting discussion as to how UST and Rizal have this connection that cannot seem to be untangled, then as it is now.
Acknowledgements to The Varsitarian and Daluyan: A Historical Dictionary of the Streets of Manila, published by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines
© The Urban Roamer