Walking along the streets of Dapitan (with street names such as Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo, Leonor Rivera, and other names associated with Jose Rizal), with serene atmosphere and surrounded with heritage houses, it felt like I time traveled back to the 19th century.
The city is closely linked to the great Philippine Hero- Jose P. Rizal because he was exiled in this quaint town from July 17, 1892 to July 31, 1896. What makes this town special were his contributions which can still be seen and experienced by the tourists and history geeks (like me).
Rizal’s Legacy in Dapitan
Even though Rizal was on exile he still got lucky – he won a lottery!
On Sept. 21, 1892 the mail boat Butuan was approaching the town of Dapitan carrying lottery ticket No. 9736 jointly owned by Captain Carnicero, Dr. Rizal and Francisco Equilior (a Spanish resident of Dipolog, a neighboring town of Dapitan), which won the second prize of P20,000 in the government-owned Manila lottery. (Source: http://www.philstar.com/news-feature/634455/rizal-lottery-winner-1892, Rizal a lottery winner in 1892)
His share of P6,200 was used to purchase a 10-hectare agricultural land in Talisay, where the Rizal Shrine is located. He gave part of his winnings to his father (P2,000) and to his friend Jose Basa (P200), who smuggled copies of his novels from Hong Kong into the country.
Rizal was one lucky man because I have never ever won any lottery or raffle throughout my entire life. Big thanks to his winning because it played a significant role in Dapitan’s transformation.
During his four year exile, Rizal changed the lives of the townsfolk by building key structures like a clinic, a school and a water supply and distribution system which can still be seen inside the Rizal Shrine.
Rizal’s place in Dapitan was also inspired by his favorite park in Spain, the Parque del Buen Retiro.
Yes, the sights inside the Rizal Shrine are very ordinary- different kinds of trees and plants, replicas of the old structures once built and view of the sea. However, when I stepped inside, remembered and understood its significance not just to Rizal, but to the community it served (then and now), it felt really great. He really changed the lives of the people in that quaint town.
It was during his exile when Dr. Pio Valenzuela (one of the Katipunan members) visited him on June 21, 1896 and informed him about the Katipunan’s plan to launch a revolution. As taught in our Philippine History classes, Rizal objected the proposal and stressed out the importance of strengthening their cause by getting backup from the rich and influential people of Manila first. It was also during this meeting wherein he suggested Antonio Luna to lead the military operations of the revolution because of his knowledge of military science and tactics.
Can’t Get Enough of Rizal
Yes, I saw him everywhere– his statue, name and works can be found all over the city. One of which is the Punto del Desembarco de Rizal, the site where he landed from the steamer ‘Cebu’ in 1565.
In front of the shrine, I saw a 20-foot cross which was built to symbolize the propagation of Christianity in Dapitan. The natives of Dapitan were converted into Christianity when the Augustinian friars arrived.
The identity of the city and its people was transformed with the leadership of Rizal. It is a fact that he was not just a doctor and writer. Among all his talents and achievements, he was also a licensed land surveyor. Because of his knowledge in civil engineering, he built the dam and water system of the town (which can be seen inside the Rizal Shrine).
One of the most visited sites in Dapitan is the Relief Map of Mindanao which he constructed with the help of his favorite Jesuit teacher, Fr. Francisco de Paula Sanchez.
It is a huge map of Mindanao (roughly 900 square meters) which Rizal used as a tool to teach history and geography of the area to the community. It doesn’t just end there. They also beautified the town plaza by placing oil lamps as street lights and by planting white santans, red gumamelas and acacia trees.
When I saw and walked around the map, I was impressed once again with Rizal and his brilliant mind. It’s really cool to learn about geography when you can actually walk through the places (provinces) as if you’re traveling.
Right in front of the Relief Map of Mindanao is the St. James Church, where Rizal would hear mass during his exile. A marker can be seen inside the church, it is the spot wherein he usually stood while hearing mass. I was impressed by the interiors of the church specifically the orange accent in the ceiling. Aside from its charm, it is hypnotizing and will draw you in to stare and look at it closely.
The church and the Old Rectory (Jesuit Mission House) are heritage landmarks of the Christianization in Dapitan. In 1892, the rectory was designated to be Rizal’s official residence while in exile but the conditions imposed on him were too much that he instead lived with Captain Ricardo Carnicero. (Source: http://www.dapitancity.gov.ph/index.php/tourism/landmark/item/14-saint-james-church)
Aside from his famous novels and poems, he wrote a treatise on kulam (hex) while in Dapitan. Entitled “La curacion de los hechizados” (The treatment and cure of the bewitched), this work explained the psychological treatment for kulam.
I have read about Rizal and kulam from Ambeth Ocampo’s book “Rizal Without the Overcoat”. Then, I remembered it again when I read about it inside the Rizal Museum.
More to see aside from Rizal
Not far from the city plaza, I saw a well-preserved heritage house – the ancestral house of Aniano Adasa built in 1900. It is one beauty that cannot be missed. It now houses the Dapitan Tourism Office. Seeing heritage houses are bonus treats as you wander around the city.
If you want to have a break from your heritage and historical adventure, Gloria de Dapitan is the answer. It is a one stop place to unwind from array of restaurants, movie house, bowling alley and rides inside Fantasy land.
Dapitan is a small city so it’s best to walk around or rent a bicycle to experience the whole serene retreat. And it was during that trip that I got to ride a bicycle again (after 10+ years).
Discovering Dapitan and learning about Rizal’s contribution to the city really cemented my admiration to him. Unfortunately, the city is not a popular travel destination in the Philippines. When my friends learned about this travel, they even asked ‘why in Dapitan?’ with weird looks on their faces. It’s sad reality, but despite its remote location and unpopularity, one thing’s for sure- just like love, it’s worth it!