By Alex P. Vidal
“When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.”— Tecumseh
IT is with great delight that as we commemorated Graciano Lopez Jaena’s birth anniversary on December 18, 2022, the attention of most people around the world would be on the crowning of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 champion.
Argentina and France would be disputing the most coveted title in soccer in Doha this year on the great Ilonggo journalist’s 166th birth anniversary.
We have always been proud to mention that Lopez Jaena, born on December 18, 1856 and died on January 20, 1896, was pure Ilonggo, or someone who spoke Hiligaynon and once lived in Jaro district.
In his generation, Lopez Jaena was not only an outstanding journalist, but was also an orator at par with the country’s and even the Asia’s best.
As the first ilustrado to arrive in Spain where he started the Propaganda Movement against our Spanish colonizers, Lopez Jaena became revolutionary when he formed a triumvirate with Dr. Jose Rizal and Marcel H. del Pilar.
But he became well known for his newspaper, La Solidarid.
Thus it’s not a coincidence that contemporary journalists flood the Western Visayas community with newspapers.
It runs in the Ilonggo blood: almost every freedom-loving and lovers of letters and literature want to dabble in community journalism or to own and manage their own newspaper in the Ilonggo-speaking populace.
Before he became famous, Lopez Jaena was first sent by his parents to study at St. Vincent Ferrer Seminary in Jaro which had been opened under the administration of Governor General Carlos María de la Torre y Nava Cerrada.
In the seminary, he served as a secretary to Claudio Lopez, his uncle who was the honorary vice consul of Portugal in Iloilo.
But he had ambition to become a physician. Lopez Jaena convinced his parents that he needed to enroll in a university in Manila.
He was denied admission at the University of Santo Tomas because he did not have a Bachelor of Arts degree when he was at the seminary in Jaro.
Lopez Jaena was appointed to the San Juan de Dios Hospital as an apprentice.
He eventually dropped out due to financial difficulties and returned to Iloilo.
His assimilation with the poor ignited his feelings about the injustices common in that era.
Lopez Jaena’s potentials as a reformer and writer became apparent at the age of 18 when he wrote the satirical story “Fray Botod” which depicted a fat and lecherous priest.
Lopez Jaena ribbed Fray Botod’s false piety which “always had the Virgin and God on his lips no matter how unjust and underhanded his acts are.”
The story was not published, but a copy circulated widely in Iloilo. The infuriated friars could not prove that Lopez Jaena was the author, thus he became off the hook, so to speak, temporarily.
The son of Jaro refused to testify that certain prisoners died of natural causes when it was obvious that they had died at the hands of the mayor of Pototan town, thus he was pilloried.
The Ilonggo hero continued to agitate for justice. When he received threats on his life, he sailed to Spain in 1879, where he pursued the Propaganda Movement.
In the land of our colonizers, Lopez Janea became a leading writer, propagandist, and speaker for reform of the homeland.
He finally pursued his medical studies at the University of Valencia but did not finish, thus incurring the ire of Rizal.
Lopez Jaena defended why he did not finish his medical studies by saying, “On the shoulders of slaves should not rest a doctor’s cape.”
“The shoulders do not honor the doctor’s cape, but the doctor’s cape honors the shoulders,” Rizal intoned.
The national hero died of tuberculosis in poverty on January 20, 1896, 11 months short of his 40th birthday.
He was buried in an unmarked grave at the Cementerio del Sub-Oeste of Barcelona the following day.
Marcelo H. del Pilar’s death followed on July 4. Rizal was killed on December 30 by firing squad in Bagumbayan.
Their deaths ended the great triumvirate of Filipino propagandists, but their works contributed in the liberation of their compatriots from the Spanish colony.
Lopez Jaena’s remains were never brought back to the Philippines, according to historians.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)