Sunday, February 28, 2016

Philosophical Presuppositions of Hermeneutic Phenomenology

by Alan S. Cajes

Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) introduced phenomenology as a method of philosophical inquiry in his Logical Investigations (1900-01), although he developed this approach further in Ideas I (1913). Phenomenology, as a method, begins by experiencing phenomenon as is. It is like letting reality be without ascribing anything into it. This means experiencing phenomenon without any interpretation.  In order to make this possible, Husserl proposed techniques, such as the phenomenological epoché, or suspension of the natural attitude, as well as ‘eidetic’ and ‘transcendental reductions’. In his later work Experience and Judgment (1938), he used the phrase “prepredicative experience” (die vorprädikative Erfahrung) to come in contact with the life-world (Lebenswelt), “the world in which we are always already living and which furnishes the ground for all cognitive performance and all scientific determination (Husserl, 1938, p. 38).”

Phenomenology, therefore, begins by suspending knowledge and the approach is through a strategy of absolutely denying any knowledge. Husserl (1938) explains the need to go back to the ‘phenomenon’ that ‘appears as such’; hence, not ‘as I see it’ (p. 34). By doing this phenomenological reduction, the phenomenologist grasps the essence or the universal through a particular phenomenon. Husserl (1938) calls this eidetic intuition. Thus, phenomenology is similar to the eidetic sciences, such as the mathematical sciences.

Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) took off from Husserl, his teacher, but proposed a phenomenology that does not suspend judgment or knowledge when dealing with phenomena. He altered the direction that Husserl set and argued for a phenomenology that adopts the historicity, facticity, temporarity or concreteneness of human experience. This means a phenomenology that involves interpretation or hermeneutical phenomenology.[1]

Heidegger’s line of thought can be traced back to his 1913 doctoral thesis entitled Die Lehrevom Urteil in Psychologismus (The Doctrine of Judgment in Psychologism), which posed the question: “What is the meaning of meaning?” For him, the very act of asking the question presupposes a pre-understanding of meaning. He propounded this idea in his Being and Time (1927; trans. 1962) arguing that phainomenon is “that which shows itself in itself, the manifest (p. 28),” logos is ‘discourse’ or ‘to let something be seen’ (p. 32) and that truth or aletheia is ‘to reveal’ or disclose that which is hidden (p. 33). Thus, the hermeneutic phenomenologist interprets phenomena based on his/her ‘beingness’ in time. Clearly, Moran (2002) says, he deviated from Husserl and linked his ideas to Dilthey, who was influenced by Schleiermacher.

Freidrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) started his hermeneutic exposition with an analysis of the methodology of Georg Anton Friedrich Ast (1778-1841) and Friedrich August Wolf (1759-1824). The reason is that he wanted to provide a proper methodology to hermeneutics itself. The search for a hermeneutic method is important because “we often find instances where difficult passages are carelessly overlooked or foolishly distorted because of the interpreter’s pedantic lack of sensitivity (Schleiermacher, 1829, p. 62).”

Schleiermacher developed his methodology that he called the divinatory and the comparative or the psychological and the grammatical. The formulation of his method is based on the notion that hermeneutics or the art of interpretation aims to understand a “thought or series of thoughts expressed in words (Schleiermacher, 1829, p. 66).” The grammatical interpretation follows canons stating that a “more precise determination of any point in a given text must be decided on the basis of language common to the author and his original public,” and the “meaning of each word of a passage must be determined by the context in which it occurs (Schleiermacher, 1990, pp. 72-97.”

Grammatical interpretation, however, is not enough. The art of understanding should be “sensitive to the particular way an author combines the thoughts, for had those thoughts been formulated differently, even in the same historical situation and the same kind of presentation, the result would have been different (Schleiermacher, 1829, p. 68).” Thus, the divinatory method is necessary to understand the creative act of the author, which is “to reconstruct the creative act that begins with the generation of thoughts which captivate the author and to understand how the requirement of the moment could draw upon the living treasure of words in the author’s mind in order to produce just this way of putting it and no other Schleiermacher, 1829, p. 11).”

The two methods are the only methods of interpretation, says Schleiermacher. They are “necessary to obtain complete understanding” and must complement each other (Schleiermacher, 1829, p. 72). This is the reason why the success of the interpretation depends on the interpreter’s linguistic competence and ability for knowing people.

While Schleiermacher starts with a critique of past hermeneuticists, Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911) begins with the question: Is it possible to study individual human beings and particular forms of human existence scientifically? Dilthey’s answer to this question led hermeneutics into the heart of the human sciences, particularly in the science of history.

For Dilthey (1986), the human sciences have the “advantage over the physical sciences because their subject is…inner reality directly experienced in all its complexity (P. 33).” Consequently, the human sciences deliver a form of knowledge unlike from that of the natural sciences. The difference lies primarily in the difference of the subject of the two disciplines. They physical sciences deals with physical entities while the human sciences deal with human persons who are capable of self-reflection. Humans are endowed with rationality that could turn around and examine itself. This enables them to shape their lives in response to their historical conditions. In the process of living, humans create a culture that curves a niche or historicity.

Every action is a function of what is the mind. In other words, there are no human actions that do not spring from human cognition. Thoughts, therefore, beget actions. Humans are what they think. Indeed, as Dilthey claimed, the physical expressions are manifestations of mental events or states. They appear in the world of the senses as manifestations and expressions of the mind. These manifestations of the mind are called life expressions.

There are three types of life-expressions. The first type includes conceptions, judgments, and larger ideas. The second type consists of actions. The third type covers expressions of experience. The first type of life-expressions refers to plain statements that can easily be understood when expressed. Those under the second type are not products of an intention to communicate. They are more difficult to interpret and are generally the expression of the cultural patterns of people’s own communities. Thus, it is important to distinguish which actions are the life-expressions against the total life-structure in which the actions are grounded. The third type are the most difficult to interpret because of the special relation that exists among expressions of experience, the life from which they emerge, and the mind that interprets them.

The mind, however, can penetrate the ‘inside’ of these life-expressions through an activity called understanding. This is what Dilthey (1986) calls “the process by which we recognize some inner content from signs received by the senses.” Indeed, “understanding is the process of recognizing a mental state from a sense-given sign by which it is expressed (p. 94).” This “systematic understanding of recorded expression” is called “exegesis or interpretation (p. 94).”

Understanding takes the form of what he calls elementary and higher understanding. Elementary understanding refers to the immediate understanding of life-expressions in one’s familiar community. The meaning of these expressions can be immediately understood without a need for further investigation. The higher forms of understanding are more complex due to the possible contractions between the expression and the mental state or event. Thus, interpretation of these forms of understanding demands further verification.

What makes understanding or interpretation systematic? According to Dilthey (1986), “the analysis of understanding…is the basis of making interpretation systematic…The possibility of valid interpretation can be deduced from the nature of understanding (p. 103).” This point is important because it constitutes the anvil by which Dilthey forged his hermeneutical theory. In fact, the analysis of understanding is his hermeneutic methodology. The problem now is not what people can know, but how people know. In other words, the hermeneutic problem is concerned with the nature of historical knowledge because life-expressions are the responses of human beings to their own historical condition.

Dilthey made his point clear. Humans react to their own historical condition. This reaction takes the form of life-expressions. Life-expressions are the manifestations of the mental states or events that ground them. Understanding is the process by which one recognizes the mental states or events.

But what makes understanding possible? The possibility of understanding life-expressions hinges on the common nature shared by human beings and the fact they express their thoughts in language. What Dilthey is saying is that human beings can understand the feelings or thoughts of other human beings through the life-expressions because they too express feelings and thoughts through life-expressions. This commonality of nature, of the way to express the mental events, makes one capable of understanding the meaning behind the sense-given signs.

In addition, human beings express their thoughts in language. Language is a product of culture, which is a system of behavior, attitudes and beliefs that all human beings have. This is the reason why it is possible to reproduce a life that is foreign to an interpreter into one’s own thoughts. By so doing, understanding could lead to the reconstruction of the author’s intentional acts in its proper cultural and linguistic context, and more so, it could mean understanding the author better than he understood himself/herself (Dilthey, 1986, pp. 103-104).

Through the critique of historical reason, Dilthey (1986) answers his hermeneutic problem: What is the nature of historical knowledge? Given the nature of the inquiring consciousness, then human beings should be studied in the light of it. It is on this basis that hermeneutics, as the theory of interpretation of life-expressions, can be the epistemology of the human sciences (p. 152).

For Hans Georg Gadamer (1900-2002), the question plays a central role in hermeneutics. It is the questions that beget assertions. Every assertion is an answer to a question. Gadamer (1986) says, “which answers to which question fits the facts. This phrase is in fact the hermeneutical Urphanomen: No assertion is possible that cannot be understood as an answer to a question, an assertion can only be understood in this way (p. 185).” Indeed, he says, the “real power of hermeneutical consciousness is our ability to see what is questionable (p. 186).”

Productive questions are products of the imagination, which in turn is a function of reason. The imagination does not only create questions, it anticipates them. This was the case of Galileo who “worked out the laws of the free fall at a time when no one could have observed a free fall empirically, since it was only in post-Galilean times that a vacuum was experimentally produced (Gadamer, 1986, p. 63).” Gadamer (1986) explains:

“It is imagination (phantasie) that is the decisive function of the scholar. Imagination naturally has a hermeneutic function and serves the sense for what is questionable. It serves the ability to expose real, productive questions, something in which, generally speaking, only he who masters all the methods of his science succeeds (p. 186).”

Gadamer stresses the value of imagination against method, especially the methodology of the natural sciences. The use of the imagination in hermeneutics can only be equaled by one who masters all the methods of his science. In other words, the art of hermeneutics should not be limited to one or several methodologies. It should encompass all of the methodologies ever known to man. Whether it is possible to know and master all the existing methodologies, that is another question.

The reason why Gadamer has a critical attitude towards method is that it does not guarantee the acquisition of valid and certain knowledge. Gadamer (1986) explains,

Whoever wants to learn a science has to learn to master its methodology. But we also know that methodology as such does not guarantee in any way the productivity of its application. Any experience of life can confirm the fact that there is such thing as methodological sterility, that is, the application of a method to something not really worth knowing, to something that has not been made an object of investigation on the basis of a genuine question (p. 54).

Thus, science is not anymore the crowning glory of rationality as its devotees have claimed. It is “no longer the quintessence of knowledge and of what is worth knowing, but a way. It is a way of addressing and penetrating into unexplored and unmasked realms (Gadamer, 1986, p. 242).”

Gadamer has declared an all-out intellectual war against the method of science, most especially the modern sciences, which, through method, impose on natural consciousness a deep-rooted alienation. The notion of alienation corresponds to what he calls the I-It relation, that is, when the interpreter treats the text as a mere object of interpretation and not as an Other, whose otherness is an invitation for a dialogue. Science, with its inherent alienation, is directly opposed to Gadamer’s idea of hermeneutics as an I-Thou activity, a communication, and a dialectical process. Bernstein (1986) explains,

As Gadamer frequently reiterates, ‘the hermeneutic phenomenon is basically not a problem of method at all. It is not concerned with a method of understanding, by means of which texts are subjected to scientific investigation like all other objects of experience. It is not concerned primarily with amassing ratified knowledge that satisfies the methodological ideal of science – yet, it is concerned, here too, with knowledge and with truth.’…For Gadamer’s perspective, it has been the obsession with Method, and with thinking that the primary task of hermeneutics is to specify a distinctive method of the Geisteswissenschaften, which plagued and distorted nineteenth-century hermeneutics (p. 88).”

He further emphasized that Gadamer constantly plays on the idea that it is philosophical hermeneutics, not epistemology, method or science, which can achieve what philosophy has always promised humankind – “some profound access to truth that is not available to us by the limited and normal methods of science (p. 362).”

The hermeneutic problem, for Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005), was “first raised within the limits of exegesis, that is, within a framework of a discipline which proposes to understand a text – to understand its beginning with its intention on the basis of what it attempts to say (Ricoeur, 1980, p. 236).” This means that the goal of interpretation is not merely to decipher the literal meaning of a text but, more importantly, the genesis of the text so that the interpreter would be able to ground what it attempts to say. That is why Ricoeur (1980) considers interpretation as the “work of thought which consists in deciphering the hidden meaning implied in the literal meaning (p. 245).”

Since Gadamer has discounted the capacity of methodical science to interpret, how would Ricoeur answer the hermeneutic problem? First, Ricoeur (1986) says, that the methodology of the sciences implies an assumption of distance, which presupposes the destruction of the primordial relation of belonging: without which there would be no relation to the historical as such (302).” Now, this idea of ‘distanciation’ hinders a person from understanding the text beyond its literal meaning, that is, the cultural epoch that conditions the embodiment of thought in the text. To correct this distanciation brought about by the methodology of the sciences is a precondition for understanding. This is so because the “purpose of all interpretation is to conquer the past cultural epoch to which the text belongs and the interpreter himself. By overcoming the distance, by making himself contemporary with the text, he makes its familiar, that is, he makes it as his own (Ricoeur, 1980, p. 249.” Overcoming the problem of distance is, therefore, the starting point of Ricoeur’s hermeneutics. This implies that the methodological attitude of the sciences has to be abandoned because “placing at a distance is a methodological attitude (Ricoeur, 1986, p. 311).”

By rejecting the scientific methodology, Ricoeur attempts to bring back hermeneutics to ontology. Ricoeur (1986) declares that the “struggle against methodological distanciation transforms hermeneutics into a critique of critique; it must always push the rock of Sisyphus up again, restore the ontological ground that methodology has eroded away (p. 315).” Method has robbed humans of their historical existence and to correct this necessitates a radical repositioning of epistemology. Ricoeur (1986) explains,

“To restore the historical dimension of man requires much more than a simple methodological reform… Only a fundamental upheaval that subordinates the theory of knowledge to ontology can bring out the real sense of the Vorstruktur des Verstehens – the forestructure (or structure of anticipation) of understanding – that is the condition for any rehabilitation of prejudice (p. 306).”

Thus Ricoeur (1980) grounds hermeneutics in ontology via what he calls the short route, just like what Heidegger did. He says,
"I call such an ontology of understanding the ‘short route’ because, breaking with any discussion of method, it carries itself directly to the level of an ontology of finite being in order to recover understanding, no longer as a mode of knowledge, but rather as a mode of being… Instead of asking: on what condition can a knowing subject understand a text or history? one asks: What kind of being is it whose being consists of understanding? The hermeneutic problem thus becomes a problem of the Analytic of this being, Dasein, which exists through understanding (p. 239).”

With the radical overhaul of the epistemic framework, understanding ceases to be a mode of knowledge. As a result, the question of truth “is no longer a question of method; it is the question of the manifestation of being for a being whose existence consists in understanding being (Ricouer, 1980, p. 242).”

By giving hermeneutics an ontological dimension, interpretation is brought to a new context. The subject who interprets signs or symbols “is no longer the cogito rather, he being who discovers, by the exegesis of his own life, that he is placed in being before he places and possesses himself (Ricouer, 1980, p. 243).” This paves the way for what he calls the overcoming of distance, in which hermeneutical phenomenologists can make themselves a contemporary of the text, and can thereby make it as their own.

In summary, hermeneutic phenomenology recognizes the importance of a phenomenon as the object of knowing. However, it does not suspend any interpretation of the phenomenon unlike the Hussserlian approach. What hermeneutic phenomenology seeks is to understand the phenomenon by interpreting it as if the interpreter enters into a dialogue with the phenomenon.

[1] This approach is associated with Heidegger, Gadamer and Ricouer and is distinguished from Transcendental phenomenology (Eugen Fink, et. al.), Existential phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty, et. al.), Linguistic phenomenology (Derrida, et. al.), and Ethical phenomenology (Scheler, et. al.) Retrieved August 3, 2014 from


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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Nature is a Horizon for Human Becoming

by Alan S. Cajes

Note: This paper is a collection of earlier notes. It is an entry to a study on the relationship among worldviews, life expressions, and social determinants using hermeneutic  phenomenology. Hermeneutic phenomenology  is a methodology of interpretation that combines the approaches of  hermeneutics and phenomenology. It has ancient tradition dating back to the times of the oracles, who were considered as among the most powerful individuals. Photo showsLycurgus Consulting the Pythia(1835/1845), as imagined by  Eugène Delacroix. Photo is retrieved from

My view is that we, human beings, are not God, but we are godly. We have a soul, an embodied spirit, but our spirit is pure. We have consciousness, and consciousness is essence, a timeless being. Through consciousness we can experience oneness with the divine. We are not human beings with a soul, but a soul that temporarily inhabits a physical body. We are spirits, and spirits are immortal. We have psychic capacities and these are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We have the potential and it is a potential given to us by the Creator in order to reshape our destiny, change our psychology and to make our sense of identity in the image and likeness of the Creators. We are in this world, but not of this world. Thus our planet, the world, nature, our environment is a vessel, a means, a way, a cocoon that enables us to become or realize our potential, our being.

As an example, I used to think that we perform an act to promote our own vested interest. We love, and we are loved in return or simply find fulfillment in loving. We take good care of other people to enjoy freedom with responsibility. We cheat to get material gain. We steal to attain financial security. We lie to enjoy freedom with no responsibility. And so on.

But I abandoned that idea one Good Friday, a day when the Christian community remembers the passion and death of Christ. When I was younger, I used to take part in the Siete Palabras of our parish as a speaker. So it is a special day for me. As I reflected on the mystery behind Good Friday, I asked the following questions: Did Christ die to fulfill the prophecy? Did he go through the process of betrayal to experience what it is to be human? Or did he just do it to please the Father? I asked the questions because Jesus Christ admitted: "Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?” In the Garden of Gethsemane, however, we learned that he somehow had second thoughts about his mission and that he was terribly afraid. He first prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” Christ was deeply troubled and aggrieved. However, Christ eventually chose to accept his fate saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.”

Thus, there is a higher form of vested interest -- giving it up. As we transcend the logic and music of our right and left brains, we plug ourselves into a higher form of consciousness, that of the Divine, where there is no more vested interest, but only a higher level of selflessness.

That is how I imagine the process of human becoming or fully realizing one’s being. I cannot say for certain what we can become or what is up there. But we can somehow speculate. Our religions, customs, traditions have their respective thoughts, teachings, guidance on this. Cosmology tells us that the process of becoming of the universe is still ongoing. So, it is safe to assume that the best is yet to come for us.

In a sense, I can say that reality exists in two places -- inside and outside our skin. The reality that exists inside our skin includes our beliefs, feelings, aspirations, ideas, pains, fears, hopes, joys, among others. These fragments of an 'inner' reality constitute our personality, i.e., who we are and who can or what we will be. The outer reality consists of other people, other forms of life, nature, social structures and systems, including economic activities and political institutions. These particles of the world 'out there' shape and form our spatio-temporal condition. Although we can make a distinction between a world 'in here' and a world 'out there', we find that these two worlds are not juxtaposed aliens to one another, but rather interpenetrating each other. The inner world shapes and forms the outer world, and the outer world mirrors the inner world.

Whatever we have in the inner world, to paraphrase Chief Seattle, ultimately finds its expression in the outer world. This relationship ever rises to a higher level of complexity and nuances, such as when there are many competing 'inner worlds' that seek realization in the outer world.
Look at a watershed. Some people see it as an ideal site for a housing project. Others perceive it in terms of the money they could get by selling timber. There are also people who look at it as a place for eking a living. Still others, who recognize the inherent value of the watershed, fight for its protection and preservation.

The idea is that the worlds that we carry inside our heads seek to be manifested in the world out there. And it is the dominant worldview -- usually shared by those who hold political and economic power and authority -- which usually fashion the outer world where we all live at the expense of the other worldviews that might constitute the majority. For instance, a minority worldview becomes dominant when it is sustained by State power. And by State power I mean the authority vested by people in their elected officials in government. The people's representatives are supposed to carry the worldview of the represented. But that is more fiction than fact in the country's political system. It is very rare that the people elect their true representatives in government. The general condition is that we elect those who do not necessarily share our world view -- people who have a worldview of their own. When these people hold the mantle of power and authority, which constitutionally emanates from the sovereign Filipino people, the most likely result is that they institutionalize their own worldview at the people's expense. Hence, a worldview held by a powerful few could become a dominant worldview with the "consent of the governed."

I had a personal experience related to this. I was assigned to improve the performance of a village corporation that received financial assistance from the government. Based on the feasibility study of the project of that village corporation, a building would be constructed so that the members of the corporation could work there and have access to simple tools and equipment for the production process. The documents also showed that the village corporation shall have as members those who are beneficiaries of the agrarian reform program of the government. Besides, the funding for the project came from the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program of the government.

When I reached the project site, I discovered some discrepancies between what the documents of that village corporation are saying vis-à-vis the actual situation on the ground. First, the building was located in a lot beside the house of the village corporation president. Second, the village corporation president is not a beneficiary of the agrarian reform program. Third, the location of the building is on average more than ten kilometers away from the village corporation members. Fourth, the members did not use the building in producing their products because it was expensive, time consuming and inconvenient for them to work there. Fifth, the village corporation president owned the majority of the stocks of the village corporation; hence, his decision would prevail over the votes of the rest of the membership. Sixth, the officials of the town recommended that the project of that village corporation be funded by a grant window of the government. Seventh, the village corporation president was an ally of the local chief executive of that town at the time when the project was conceptualized and approved for funding by the government.

So, there was a conflict between the worldview (what they wanted) of the members and that of the village corporation president, whose election as president, and even membership in that group, despite the fact that he was not qualified to become a member, was made possible with the support of local political power. A minority worldview was imposed on the entire membership by one person conniving with the politicians, who are supposed to serve the affected constituents.

Nature or what we normally call the environment helps in forming our thoughts, and therefore our ideas. This is clearly manifested in the Visayan term kalibutan. This term has two meanings: consciousness and world. Thus, the statement walay kalibutan kung walay kalibutan means "there is no consciousness if there is no world". Or simply, "no world, no consciousness."  I learned about these insights when Prof. Dr. Manuel Dy Jr. shared his thoughts about the advantage of using native dialects in philosophic discourse to some philosophy students at Divine Word College of Tagbilaran, now Holy name University, way back in 1990. The world or reality, transformed into images or ideas, is the content of our thought. This basic human experience enabled St. Thomas Aquinas to formulate his theory of knowledge: "Nothing is in the intellect which does not pass through the senses." The same experience led John Locke to believe that the mind is a tabula rasa, a blank sheet into which is written the various human experiences. In other words, we are conscious because of the world. Thus, the environment to a large extent makes us what we are and who we are.

When the early people saw a world, an environment or nature that is both mysterious and powerful, their natural recourse was not to conquer the forces of nature but to live in harmony with its ways. The early Greeks, for instance, revered nature. Our indigenous communities generally share this outlook. This aboriginal worldview did not aim at mastering nature but at harmonizing human activities with the rhythm and harmony of nature. 

In some approaches to philosophy, including phenomenology, a human person, defined as an embodied subjectivity, is a consciousness whose consciousness is consciousness of something other than consciousness itself. It means that a person is aware that he is aware, knows that he knows. But it does not stop there. A person is aware also of those that are external to him. He knows or could know that which surrounds him. The intentionality of human consciousness affirms the social and political nature of human beings.  In the philosophy of Aristotle, the rationality of man signifies his political nature. Every person desires what is good, not only the good for himself but also the good for others. The search for the good, which ultimately translates to the search for happiness, can be realized under a civil community or State. As Aristotle said, “As the State was formed to make life possible, so it exists to make life good.” So, human beings have an essence and have the potential to realize their being. The world or the cosmos help in this process of becoming. And the civil community has a role in making this possible.

Let me share a personal experience about the important role of the civil community or its instrumentalities in ensuring the alignment between world view and actual lived experiences. As I mentioned earlier, a single human person, the village corporation president, imposed his worldview to the rest of the membership in the example I shared earlier. When I found out about this, I discretely talked to the members of the corporation who were living in two far-flung barangays. I consulted them regarding their situation and asked what they wanted. I could sense the despair of all the members present in two of the consultative meetings that I conducted. They wanted the building constructed near their barangays, but they were afraid to confront or go against the will of their president. They said they have loans from the president, who is engaged in lending money for a fee.

I submitted my report and recommendations to my supervisor, who approved the suggested next steps. Together with the members, we changed the village corporation into a non-stock association in which each member has only one vote. We excluded the village corporation president in the membership of the new association. Despite strong opposition and threats of physical harm by the president, we dismantled the building and constructed one small unit in each of the two barangays. We used the salvaged parts of the old building and contributed our personal money for the other construction requirements. The members were very appreciative and vowed to continue supporting the project. They thought it could not be done. Yet, we did it.

There were many factors that helped me form this worldview. Way back in high school, I used to visit after school the Santo Nino Shrine that is built on top of a hill in my town. The view from above is breathtaking. In that place, I spent countless hours meditating, praying, admiring creation, watching the clouds, reading, talking with friends, or just doing nothing. I felt closer to nature and the Creator in that space. It was also during this time that I became active in the activities of our church, the St. James Parish of Batuan. Our parish priest, Rev. Fr. Danilo Maniwan, mentored me and other young people to become young catechists. So, I became a member of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Lourdes, Student Catholic Action, and the Catholic Youth Organization. As catechists, we visited barangays to meet with the youth, children and adults and shared with them what we have learned on topics like Mariology, Christology, Salvation, Youth and the Church, etc.

In college, I studied Philosophy under mentors, who trained under the Dominicans, the Jesuits, and the SVD Missionaries. It was the first time that I was introduced to the thoughts and worldview of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin when I took up Cosmology, one of the major courses of the Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy curriculum. De Chardin’s ideas were radical and planted the seed for my openness to the possibility that creation and evolution are not contradictory. That creation and evolution are like two sides of the same coin.

At this time, I joined various student organizations such as the Student Catholic Action (SCA), Kristiyanong Alyansa para Itaguyod ang Tao (KAPIT) – Alyansa ng mga Kristiyanong Mag-aaral (AKMA), and the Diwanag Philosophical Society (Diwanag), among others. I learned so many things from these organizations. For example, SCA taught me self-denial, KAPIT taught me authentic Christian humanism and active non-violence, and Diwanag taught me respect for creation.

When I was working as a field staff of the Department of Trade and Industry in our province, I learned about the need to help nature recover the harvested resources.
This was clearly illustrated to me in my experience with the mat weavers in the town of Ubay.

I assisted the mat weavers’ association on organization development matters, as well as in marketing the mats. I shared with them some designs prepared by our office. During one Sandugo Celebration of the Province of Bohol, we displayed the items that were produced by our assisted livelihood groups. I displayed the sample mats from Ubay based on the design that I gave to the weavers. One visitor, an exporter, liked the mats that were displayed and asked if we could produce 400 mats every quarter. I was excited with what the buyer said. I said to myself that this would be good news to the mat weavers who are mostly living below or within the poverty threshold.

The first opportunity I had, I called for a meeting with the mat weavers at the house of the group’s president in Barangay Cagting. I told them about the exiting news – that they could have a stable source of alternative income. Everyone was silent for almost a minute after telling them what the buyer relayed to me. Later, the president said that they could not possibly meet the demand because they only weave mats during off farm season, which means summer. Besides, the president said, they do not have enough supply of romblon, a plant that has long leaves that are used to weave mats. We can plant romblon, I said. They said it is possible but it will take months for the plant to grow. Besides, they said they had no experience in planting romblon. The plant grows in some suitable idle lands. The weavers just collect the mature leaves to weave mats when they are not working in their farms. In the absence of full-time weavers and sufficient supply of raw materials, the transaction did not prosper.

That was how I learned about the need to ensure that the natural resources that support economic activities are always available and sufficient. One of the things that we did at work later was plant seedlings of the raw materials of our supported livelihood groups.

When I left school and started working on rural development issues, a poem that I learned from a college teacher kept haunting me. The poem is entitled, “The Enigma of Man’s Existence”. It goes this way: "What is man? / Is he simply and purely a protoplasmic creature born without his consent and extinguished without his permission? / And between his unconsented birth and unpermitted death, what does he have? / A little piece of light and life precariously sandwiched between two interminable darkness -- the darkness of his unknown origin, and the darkness of his unknowable destiny. / What is man, but tears and laughter between the earth and the sky? / What is man, but hunger and sex between the mouth and the genitals? / What is man, but loneliness between the womb and the tomb? / Our usual rationalization is commonly expressed in this dogma: to err is human. / How many self-donations were made on the strength of those words as if to be human is already to be wrong?  / Now, the question still remains: what then is the true essence of man?"

In graduate school, some of the questions were answered with the help of my professors at the Graduate School of the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas (UST). In particular, the late Prof. Dr. Claro R. Ceniza, easily one of the greatest Pilipino metaphysicians of all time, introduced me to the fusion of logic, physics, and metaphysics. The ideas we shared in our Advanced Metaphysics course left an indelible mark on my consciousness. I also learned a lot from my thesis and dissertation adviser, the late Prof. Dr. Florentino Hornedo, who was a recognized Renaissance man. He guided me in navigating the ideas of the modern and contemporary philosophers, the postmodernists, hermeneuticists, phenomenologists, historians, theologians, etc. One of the significant learnings that I gained from reading his books and listening from his lectures is contextualism. That is why it is important that we look at the world, nature, our environment from various perspectives so we have a better an enriched understanding about what it means for us and for the rest of creation.

At the Asian Social Institute (ASI), although I am not new to the ideas of environmentalists, evolutionists and theoretical physicists, the lessons that I gained from the different courses made me recall what William Shakespeare said through Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I realize that there are still a lot of books to read and lots of lessons to learn. Of special interest is the synthesis of knowledge under the guidance of our teachers, whose respective courses are not in conflict, but contributory to each other. The complex yet simple and elegant exposition of various ideas make learning relevant, exciting and useful. It is like looking at the world from a higher dimension. Which reminded me of an ungracious proverb shared by Dr. Ramon Reyes: “philosophy is that which, with which and without which, everything remains the same anyway”. My formation at ASI taught me that philosophy or knowledge in general may not change the external world at once, but it surely could turn the world that you carry inside your head upside down. I now view the world through a cosmic lens and relates with the cosmos as if it is a numinous.

In my line of work at the Development Academy of the Philippines (Academy), I am involved in designing and implementing training programs or technical interventions that will build and improve the capacity of the government to perform its mandated functions. One area that takes most of my time is environmental management. One field under environmental management is waste management. I have professional work experience in this field at the Academy starting in 1994. I had the opportunity to work with the pioneers in this field, experts and practitioners for instance whose advocacy is zero waste management.

The field of waste management is significant in the sense that waste could harm and kill people and other organisms. It can degrade or destroy our environment. It can harm and eventually kill our planet. The ill effects of climate change that we are now experiencing is largely due to improper waste management. The greenhouse gas emissions come mainly from our wastes. These gases change the chemistry of our atmosphere and induce the enhanced greenhouse effect that results in global warming. Waste may be defined as a resource that is thrown away somewhere because society does not know how to use it. It can take the form of a damaged, broken, defective, extra or unnecessary material produced by a manufacturing process. Manufacturing refers to the “act or process of generating something”.

In this sense, Earth is a huge manufacturing plant. For instance, the planet, through its fundamental ecological processes, combines one atom of carbon and two atoms of hydrogen to form water, which the planet transforms into various states, such as ice, liquid or vapor in a process called the water cycle. But unlike its artificial counterparts, the planet does not produce waste that cannot be assimilated or absorbed by the natural system. This idea leads to the concept of non-biodegradable waste or stock waste. Stock wastes, such as plastic and tin cans, are resources dumped somewhere and remain there for a long period of time. Because society keeps on throwing stock wastes, more and more non-biodegradable wastes are dumped somewhere until society finds it hard to find a place to store the waste. Stock waste is the opposite of biodegradable waste or flow waste, which can be assimilated by the environment. Examples of flow waste are biomass or remains of living things, food waste, animal waste, etc. Microorganisms can break down flow waste into materials that can be safely used again. Compost is case in point. It is a decomposed organic matter. It can be used as fertilizer and soil conditioner.

The decomposition of flow waste, however, produces by-products that have been proven to be harmful to the environment. One harmful by-product of the decomposition of organic materials by anaerobic (without oxygen) microbial action is methane, a greenhouse gas that absorbs infrared radiation thereby preventing it from escaping to space. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency: “Methane is about 21 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2) by weight…. Methane's chemical lifetime in the atmosphere is approximately 12 years.” The catalogue of the negative impacts of dumped wastes is “long and lamentable” especially if the flow and stock wastes are mixed with hazardous elements such as mercury, lead and alkali and acid wastes.

The need to effectively manage wastes, therefore, should be one of the top priorities of society. This means that every sector of society – national and local governments, business, civil society and the citizens – should work hand in hand to manage wastes well. Finger pointing has never worked in solving the problem of waste management. Since not all sectors of society have a complete understanding about how to effectively manage wastes, it behooves everyone to learn and share knowledge and resources on how to make communities clean. For if cleanliness is next to godliness, then we, as particles of the human society, still have so much to do.

I have personally trained hundreds of local officials down to the barangay level on sustainable and ecological solid waste management. During my early years at the Academy, I helped in promoting zero waste management. Our unit -- the Center for Sustainable Human Development -- which I have been managing since 2005 has formally trained various local government units, such as Palawan, Cebu, Cavite and Northern Samar, on waste management. Some of the technologies that we share with our training participants are on natural farming, biomass recirculation, recycling, etc. I have also participated in the review or crafting of policies related to waste management.

One of the memorable accomplishments that we have done is a hands-on training on biogas technology. This project was funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency. We partnered with a cooperative in Batangas. This cooperative has members who have pig farms. Through the training, the cooperative installed cost-effective bio-digesters that convert the pig waste into useful resources, such as captured methane gas that can be used for cooking.
This intervention addressed the ill effects of improperly disposed pig waste, such as greenhouse gas emission, and health and sanitation hazards. It also gave the members additional savings because they have displaced the use of LPG gas for cooking.

At the personal level, to the extent possible, I am using organic products because these have no bad effects to our natural systems. What I dispose are mainly residual wastes. I sell or give the recyclable materials to the waste recyclers. When zero waste is not possible, I practice waste minimization. I practice energy efficiency and conservation. I use LED bulbs. I do not use an air-conditioning unit at home, although I am planning of installing one for use during the very hot summer. I do not have a car. I commute, except during official functions at work. I implement shadow projects to compensate my carbon footprint. For instance I practice assisted natural regeneration in planting trees. Whenever feasible, I eat vegetarian food and buy food from organic farms.

I am not fully living out my worldview. It is not easy to fully live it out. Fully living it out means living in a house that has the features of a nipa hut – made from biodegradable or recyclable materials, not connected to the electricity grid because it has renewable energy as a source of power, and produces zero waste. It means going to your place of work by walking or through a mode of transportation that has low carbon footprint. It means eating organic food and using items that have zero or low carbon emission. It means a low carbon lifestyle.  When I calculated my carbon footprint for 2015 using the Carbon Footprint Calculator, the results showed that my carbon footprint is 4.77 tons per year. The average in the Philippines is 0.97 tons. The average worldwide is 4 tons. The global target to combat climate change is 2 tons. Of course my carbon footprint is lower than the average in industrial countries which is 11 tons. But it also means that I need to reduce my carbon footprint because it is an indicator that I am not living out my worldview.

There are reasons why this is the case. First, the food that I eat is not all organic. Second, the electricity that I use is not totally from renewable energy sources. Third, the transportation system is dependent on fossil fuel. Fourth, the city infrastructure is not conducive for walking or biking. Fifth, the other services that we access from public agencies and private companies, such as water, ATM cards, etc. are not carbon neutral. In other words, our socio-economic domains do not provide an environment that is conducive for me to express my worldview in my day to day existence. To cite an example, we do not have accessible parks or green areas where people could relax, meditate, reflect, exercise or engage in meaningful conversations. Our air quality is not good for our health. Our water systems are degraded. Our vegetative cover is almost gone. So, I cannot appreciate the beauty of creation because I see degradation everywhere. Somehow it affects our disposition, our way of living in the world.

Thus I have a worldview that I cannot live out fully because I am in a situation that is formed by the worldview of others.

How did this happen? One explanation is that the government is not performing its mandated function to promote the welfare of our people. There are laws that are not enforced. As Hornedo would say, our government allows cars that we do not produce, using fuels that we do not have. Our sidewalks are parking spaces for vehicles. We do not have safe pedestrian lanes. That is just one example of the effects of bad governance. And the result is traffic congestion, which leads to air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, loss of productivity, stress, etc. But government could actually change all that. We have some cities that ban smoking in their respective territory.

When I had the chance to study at the Ecole National de A’dministration in Paris on Managing Big Cities, I saw with my own eyes and personally experienced how France made Paris and its other cities walkable, clean and nice to live in. That is also true in other cities that I had the chance to visit. The public parks in Savanna and Tokyo are awe-inspiring.

I can perhaps consider the Christian outlook as somehow a dominant way of looking at the world prior to what I consider as my current worldview. Under that view, God created heaven and earth and gave man dominion over everything else.

Since I was still very young then and had no exposure to environmental issues, I did not think then that it was necessary for me to live out that worldview. When I helped in gathering firewood for our restaurant business and in cutting trees from my grandparents’ land to build our house, I did not consider those acts as a violation of my worldview. When I helped in our farm, I was not worried then that we were using chemical inputs and not practicing organic farming. I simply thought then that what I was doing was a normal thing to do.

My grandparents and my parents are Catholics. So it was just normal that I was raised in the traditions of the faith. Although I went to a public school for my basic education, we had a subject on religious education that was handled by catechists. The next 16 years of my formal schooling were spent in Catholic schools. 

My symbol is the Philippine Eagle. I have always been fascinated with this species when I heard about it on radio when I was young. This species requires a specific area to survive. The area has to be in a good condition. This species does not encroach the territories of other eagles. It is faithful to its partner.

Monday, January 4, 2016

On the Importance of Green Productivity

by Alan S. Cajes

DTI Asec. Bles Lantayona & Dr. Camilo Mora
The Asian Productivity Organization (APO) implemented the Workshop on the Development of the International Green Productivity Advisory Committee (IGPAC) on 25-27 November 2015 in Tokyo, Japan. The workshop aimed to enhance international collaboration on green productivity (GP), give updates on new GP activities and initiatives, as well as discuss trends on green technology. APO Secretary General Mari Amano opened the workshop, together with the key officials of the IGPAC. The first two days of the Workshop covered technical topics related to GP and green technology in relation to sustainable development and climate change. On the last day, the participants visited a recycling facility (Re-tem) and a city of the future showcase (Panasonic).

The technical sessions of the workshop included high-profile presentations by internationally recognized experts. The key lessons gained from the workshop include the following:

1. The internationalization of the Green Productivity Advisory Committees (GPACs) serves as a platform for member countries to mutually share and learn ongoing GP activities and issues, visit and learn from cutting-edge GP practices across the region, and discuss challenges and opportunities of organizing GPACs in member countries.

2. For year 2015, the Earth Overshoot Day occurred on August 13 according to the Global Footprint Network. The global overshoot happens when humanity’s annual demand for the goods and services that the land and seas can provide exceeds what the Earth’s ecosystems can renew in a year. This implies 1.6 planets are needed to support humanity’s demand on Earth’s ecosystems.

3. The world emission will increase to 55.2 GtCO2 in year 2025 and 56.7 GtCO2 in 2030 compared to 1990 level. The surface temperature will increase by 2.7 degrees Celsius at the end of the century. Thus the modern age is called the Anthropocene given the dramatic increase in human activities (world population, world gross domestic product, overseas direct investment, urban population, etc.) and the global changes in earth’s systems as a result of the increase in human activities (atmospheric CO2 concentration, atmospheric N2O concentration, atmospheric CH4 concentration, rate of disappearance of the ozone layer, etc.)

4. The projected 40% increase in human population by 2050, combined with goals to substantially improve standards of living for the poorest 5 billion people on Earth, implies at least a doubling of future resources by 2050.

5. Governance in the Anthropocene requires a recognition of the following: human as part of the Earth’s life systems; primacy of ecological boundaries over social boundaries; integration of ecological limits in rules and policy; fair sharing among present and future generations of life; precaution about crossing the planetary boundaries, namely, climate change, ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol loading, ocean acidification, global freshwater use, chemical pollution, land system change, rate of biodiversity loss and biogeochemical loading.

6. Achieving a low climate target calls for very aggressive emission decreases. Keeping CO2-induced global warming below 2 degrees Celsius would require emissions reductions of almost 3.2% per year from 2020 onward.

7. The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability is as follows: 2047 for Earth; 2038 for Manila; 2041 for Tokyo, and 2046 for Beijing. Climate departure means the moment when the variability of coldest and hottest temperatures is exceeded. Thus an old climate is left behind and a new climate will take place.

8. To ensure the survival of human species, the world must shift to a green economy, which the UNEP defines as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In simple terms, a green economy is low carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive.

9. A green economy must recognize the vicious cycle involved in maximizing short-term quantity of growth. This vicious cycle starts with exploiting the human and natural capital. As a result, it worsens social exclusion, reduces labor productivity, widens income gap, increases resource intensity, reduces resource efficiency, and jeopardizes ecological sustainability. The effects undermine economic vitality (low economic dynamism/resilience, high economic vulnerability). Thus exacerbating further exploitation of human and natural capital.

10. The vicious cycle needs to be replaced with a virtuous cycle – one that proceeds by investing in human and natural capital, thereby resulting in high labor productivity, social inclusion, equitable income distribution, high resource efficiency, low resource intensity, and ecological sustainability. These effects reinforce economic vitality (high economic dynamism/resilience, low economic vulnerability) thereby enhancing more investments in human and natural capital.

Indeed, advocating the Green Productivity philosophy, tools and approaches are critical given the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations and the 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions recently committed by the Philippine Government. The good news is that we can do something about delaying such climate departure. The bad news is that it will come, sooner or later. The quality of human survival will largely depend on the quality of decisions or choices from the 3 pillars of sustainable development: environment, society & economy. 

About the foto shown above.

While DTI Asec. Bles Lantayona & Dr. Camilo Mora discuss the concept of climate departure, the temperature in Tokyo plunges to 8.9 degrees (7 degrees lower than yesterday). Dr. Mora, as cited by Prof. Ryoichi Yamamoto, calculated the global mean year of climate departure to be year 2047. For Manila, the climate departure year is 2038, which is later than Singapore's 2028, but earlier than Tokyo's 2041 & Seoul's 2042. Climate departure refers to the.moment when the climate will "exceed historical bounds of variability". Asec. Bles is my co-participant from the Philippines to the workshop on the development of the International Green Productivity Advisory Committee. Dr. Mora is Assistant Professor at University of Hawaii, Manoa. Prof. Yamamoto is Professor Emeritus at University of Tokyo. The climate departure projection is based on business as usual mode. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Rizal as Teacher, Farmer, Surgeon and Engineer in Dapitan

Rizal's arrival in Sta. Cruz Beach

by Alan S. Cajes

Jose P. Rizal said that he spent “four years, thirteen days, and a few hours” in Dapitan, now a third-class city in Zamboanga del Norte. The Spanish regime arrested and exiled the 31-year old surgeon to Dapitan from 17 July 1892 to 31 July 1896 for fear that he was sowing the seed of a movement towards independence.

In a letter to his friend, Fernando Blumentritt, on 5 April 1896, Rizal explained that Dapitan was “founded by Boholanos before or after the coming of the first Spaniards” and that “Dapitan means a place of rendezvous or meeting-place.” As a disclosure, let me state that I am a Boholano thus I was excited for the opportunity to visit the place during the holidays and gather data on Rizal’s ecological way of life in a home away from home. I have written elsewhere about the evacuation of some Boholanos to Dapitan. However, there is another narrative claiming that the evacuees were actually conquerors of the Boholanos and that they were forced out of their Mansasa-Dauis settlement as consequence of the raid by Ternate sometime in 1563. This article, however, has a simpler aim -- to piece together some of Rizal’s ideas and feelings during his banishment as embodied in his separate writings.

Rizal’s Place in Dapitan

View of "handome bay" from Rizal's place
Rizal described Dapitan as “situated by a handsome bay that faces West, on some sort of island formed expressly for her, as if in order to isolate her from the vulgar world, by a lovely river which to this end has graciously consented to split itself into two, thus to embrace her with two silvery arms and carry her towards the sea as an offering, the most beautiful that it has found in its tortuous and eventful pilgrimage over mountains and valleys, through forests and plain.”[i]

Rizal initially stayed in the house of the governor and military commandant near the town’s plaza. Later, he was allowed to move to the coastal barangay of Talisay where he bought a 16-hectare piece of land using his lottery earnings. He said in another letter to his friend that “Talisay is the proper name of the piece of land I have bought.” Although the place is named after the talisay tree, Rizal said in a letter to Manuel Hidalgo on 8 February 1893 that there was no talisay tree in the area. So, he thought of calling his farm Balunò (Baunò) after the trees that were found there.

As soon as he settled down, Rizal cleared the land, planted rice and corn, and built a house, a clinic and a school.[ii] In another letter to Hildalgo on 7 March 1893, he said:

Replica of Rizal's house
“My house will be finished either tomorrow or after tomorrow. It is very pretty for its price (40 pesos) and it turned out better than what I wanted. My lot cannot be better and I am improving it every day... I have plenty of land to accommodate at least five families with houses and orchards."[iii]
 In another letter to Blumentritt on 19 December 1893, Rizal described how he lived:

 “I have three houses; one square, another hexagonal, and a third octagonal, all of bamboo, wood and nipa. In the square house we live, my mother, sister Trinidad, a nephew and I; in the octagonal live my boys or some good youngsters whom I teach arithmetic, Spanish and English; and in the hexagonal live my chickens. From my house I hear the murmur of a crystal clear brook which comes from the high rocks; I see the seashore, the sea where I have small boats, two canoes or barotos, as they say here. I have many fruit trees, mangoes, lanzones, guayabanos, baluno, nangka, etc. I have rabbits, dogs, cats, etc. I rise early—at five—visit my plants, feed the chickens, awaken my people and put them in movement. At half-past seven we breakfast with tea, pastries, cheese, sweetmeats, etc. Later I treat my poor patients who come to my land; I dress, I go to the town in my baroto, treat the people there, and return at 12 when my luncheon awaits me. Then I teach the boys until 4 P.M. and devote the after-noon to agriculture. I spend the night reading and studying.[iv]

In his poem, My Retreat[v], Rizal shared a glimpse of his new home:
Beside a spacious beach of fine and delicate sand
and at the foot of a mountain greener than a leaf,
I planted my humble hut beneath a pleasant orchard,
seeking in the still serenity of the woods
repose to my intellect and silence to my grief.

Its roof is fragile nipa; its floor is brittle bamboo;
its beams and posts are rough as rough-hewn wood can be;
of no worth, it is certain, is my rustic cabin;
but on the lap of the eternal mount it slumbers
and night and day is lulled by the crooning of the sea.

The overflowing brook, that from the shadowy jungle
descends between huge bowlders, washes it with its spray,
donating a current of water through makeshift bamboo pipes
that in the silent night is melody and music
and crystalline nectar in the noon heat of the day.

If the sky is serene, meekly flows the spring,
strumming on its invisible zither unceasingly;
but come the time of the rains, and an impetuous torrent
spills over rocks and chasms—hoarse, foaming and aboil—
to hurl itself with a frenzied roaring toward the sea.

The barking of the dog, the twittering of the birds,
the hoarse voice of the kalaw are all that I hear;
there is no boastful man, no nuisance of a neighbor
to impose himself on my mind or to disturb my passage;
only the forests and the sea do I have near.

Rizal as Teacher

Rizal dreamed of founding a school with Blumetritt as school director so that he could focus in studying science and in writing history.[vi] In Talisay, he built a school and taught local children (16 high school level boys in 1896), as well as children entrusted to him by his kins (elementary level), how to catch insects, gather shells, dive for rare fish, speak and write languages like Spanish, English, French and German, as well as “practical lessons in botany and zoology,” physical fitness and martial arts. As a teacher, Rizal developed his own practical teaching method, learning aids and learning management.”[vii]  His poem, Hymn to Talisay, depicts the style and content of his instruction:

At Dapitan, the sandy shore
And rocks aloft on mountain crest
Form thy throne, O refuge blest,
That we from childhood days have known.
In your vales that flowers adorn
And your fruitful leafy shade,
Our thinking power are being made,
And soul with body being grown.

We are youth not long on earth
But our souls are free from sorrow;
Calm, strong men we’ll be tomorrow,
Who can guard our families’ right.
Lads are we whom naught can frighten,
Whether thunder, waves, or rain
Swift of arm, serene of mien
In peril, shall we wage our fights.

With our games we churn the sand,
Through the caves and crags we roam,
On the rocks  we make our home,
Everywhere our arms can reach.
Neither dark nor night obscure
Cause us fear, nor fierce torment
That even Satan can invent
Life or death? We must face each!

“Talisayans”, people call us!
Mighty souls in bodies small
O’er Dapitan’s district all
No Talisay like this towers.
None can march our reservoir.
Our diving pool the sea profound!
No rowing boat the world around
For the moment can pass ours.

We study science exact;
The history of our motherland;
Three languages or four command;
Bring faith and reason in accord.
Our hands can manage at one time
The sail and working spade and pen,
The mason’s maul – for virile men
Companions – and the gun and sword.

Live, live, O leafy green Talisay!
Our voices sing thy praise in chorus
Clear star, precious treasure for us.
Our childhood’s wisdom and its balm.
In fights that wait for every man,
In sorrow and adversity,
Thy memory a charm will be,
And in the tomb, thy name, thy calm.

Hail, O Talisay!
Firm and untiring
Ever aspiring,
Stately thy gait.
Things, everywhere
In sea, land and air
Shalt thou dominate

In another letter to his friend on 15 January 1895, he said: 

“My life now is quiet, peaceful, retired and without glory, but I think it is useful too. I teach here the poor but intelligent boys reading, Spanish, English, mathematics, and geometry; moreover I teach them to behave like men. I taught the men here how to get a better way of earning their living and they think I am right. We have begun and success crowned our trials.”

Josephine Bracken, his partner, supervised the school when Rizal was away. In a letter to his mother on 12 March 1896, Rizal intimated:  “She bathes them, and washes and mends their clothes, so that, poor girl, she is never at rest, but she does it willingly for she has a great love for the boys, and they love her more than they love me!”

Rizal as Farmer

Rizal’s farm had fruit trees (mangoes, lanzone, guayabanos, baluno, nanka, etc.), rabbits, dogs, cats, chickens, rice, corn, ferns and flowers like roses and sampaguita. In another letter to his mother, Rizal said:

“My land has 6,000 abaca plants. If you want to come here, I shall build a house where we can all live together until we die…My land is beautiful; it is in the interior, far from the sea, about a half-hour’s walk; it is in a very picturesque place. The land is very fertile. In addition to the abaca plantation there is land for planting two cavanes [150 liters] of corn. Little by little we can buy the remaining lands near mine. There are plenty of dalag [mudfish], pakò [ferns] and little round stones.”[viii]

When Rizal found out that that the local fisherfolk used an inefficient fishing technique, he looked for ways to address this problem. This can be gleaned from his letter to Hildalgo on 19 January 1893:

“Here I have formed a partnership with a Spaniard to supply the town with fish of which it lacks. In Dapitan alone there are six thousand inhabitants and in the interior some two or three thousands more and for so many people there is nothing but small sakag that catches little fish of the size of the talaisá. Aquilino told me that with one pukútan [net] alone like yours, the whole town could be supplied with fish, because here there is a good beach and fish abound a little distance away from the shore. If you wish to sell me your pukútan at an agreed price, and if it is still in good condition, I would buy it. If not, I would appreciate it if you would buy me a pukútan in the same condition, good, strong, etc. Here nobody knows how to weave the mesh of a net.”[ix]

Rizal also formed the Sociedad de Agricultores Dapitanos in 1895 to “improve/promote agricultural products, obtain better profits for them, provide capital for the purchase of these goods, and help to the extent possible the harvesters and labourers by means of a store (co-op) where articles of basic necessity are sold at moderate prices.”[x]

Rizal as Surgeon

Rizal’s fame as an exiled surgeon began seven days after his arrival in Dapitan and while he was staying in the house of the governor and military commandant. This was made possible by an incident that occurred during a celebration of the town’s fiesta on 24 July 1892. A local resident was hurt by a firecracker that exploded in his hands. He squirmed in pain, but the local folks could not help him. An unknown Rizal came into the picture and treated his first patient. In a few months, the townfolk would call him “Dr. Rizal” and “greeted him with more reverence than they did the comandante and the parish priest.”[xi]

On 15 January 1895, Rizal wrote to Blumentritt that he was “overwhelmed with patients” who were “so numerous that I have to turn away some for not being able to attend to them.” He operated on “three or five patients a week. Many are poor but some pay.” In the same letter, he also told his friend about a good news: “I got operated my dear Mother of cataract. Thank God she is perfectly well now and can write and read with easy.”

As a surgeon, Rizal offered free services to the local people, but charged the visitors based on their capacity to pay. From his earnings, he helped the town by building a hospital, donating funds for public lighting, etc. But he was conscious of the difficulty he was facing as a physician. In his letter to Jose Basa on 18 December 1894, he said:

“This town of Dapitan is very good. I’m in good terms with everyone. I live peacefully, but the town is very poor, very poor. Life in it is not unpleasant to me because it is isolated and lonesome; but I am sorry to see so many twisted things and not be able to remedy them, for there is no money or means to buy instruments and medicine. Here a man fell from a coconut tree and perhaps I could have saved him if I had instruments and chloroform on hand. I perform operations with the little that I have. I treat lameless and hernias with reeds and canes. I do the funniest cures with the means available. I cannot order anything, for the patients cannot pay; at times I even give medicine gratis.”[xii]

Rizal as an Engineer

Dike of stone, brick and mortar

On 15 January 1895, Rizal wrote to Blumentritt that he was “going to build a water-tank on my land. I have 14 boys whom I teach languages, mathematics, and how to work, and as we have no work I have decided to construct a dike of stone, brick, and mortar so that they may learn.” On 20 November of the same year, he wrote that he “made a wooden machine for making bricks” and that he could “make at least 6,000 a day”. He eventually built an oven for the bricks.

Relief Map of Midanao in front of St. James Church
Outside his land, Rizal helped the town by developing its first park, with street lamps and a garden/flower relief map of the whole island of Mindanao. With support of the local authorities and the residents, he constructed Dapitan’s aqueduct with a length of several kilometers using clay tiles and lime. He also initiated plaza beautification and clean-up to improve health and sanitation.

Rizal as a Learner

Drawing of Rhacophorus rizali
On top of his professional occupation and other activities, Rizal continued his search for knowledge. He studied the Tagalog grammar, Malay and Bisaya, wrote an article on witchcraft in the Philippines, collected species that he sent to scientists abroad like A.B. Meyer (three species are named after Rizal)[xiii], read books and magazines like Scientific American and Saturday Review. He wrote poems and letters that reflected his brilliant mind and carried his pains and aspirations. The last two stanzas of Mi Retiro capture his sentiments:

You offer me, O illusions, the cup of consolation;
you come to reawaken the years of youthful mirth;
hurricane, I thank you; winds of heaven, I thank you
that in good hour suspended by uncertain flight
to bring me down to the bosom of my native earth.

Beside a spacious beach of fine and delicate sand
and at the foot of a mountain greener than a leaf,
I found in my land a refuge under a pleasant orchard,
and in its shadowy forests, serene tranquility,
repose to my intellect and silence to my grief.[xiv]

[i] Translated from the original Spanish by George Aseniero; cited in Walpole, P. (2011, May 11). Dapitan Most Beautiful. [Msg. 39]. Posted to ESSC –Environmental Science for Social Change, archived at
[ii] Rizal, J. (1964). Letters between Rizal and family members. Manila: National Heroes Commission, 356
[iii] Rizal, 1964, 358-359
[iv] Rizal, J. (1961a). The Rizal-Blumentritt correspondence, Volume II. Manila: Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission, 475
[v] Translated from the Spanish by Nick Joaquin; see
[vi] Rizal, 1961a, Vol. II, 344
[vii] Bantug, A. L. (2008). Lolo Jose: An intimate and illustrated portrait of Rizal (2nd ed.). Quezon City: Vidal Publishing House, 134
[viii] Rizal, 1964, 416-417
[ix] Rizal, 1964, 354
[x] Rizal, J. (1961b). Escritos de Jose Rizal, Tomo VII: Escritos Politicos e Historicos. Manila: Comision Nacional del Centenario de Jose Rizal, 328-330
[xi] Rizal, J. (1961b); Quibuyen, F. (December 2011). Rizal’s Legacy for the 21st Century: Progressive Education, Social Entrepreneurship and Community Development in Dapitan. Social Science Diliman, 7:2, 1-29 stated that the “firecracker incident is recounted in the unpublished memoirs written in Spanish of Jose Aseniero, Rizal’s star pupil in Dapitan, who eventually became governor of the province of Zamboanga (1925-1928) under American rule” based on personal communication.
[xii] Rizal, J. (1963). Rizal’s correspondence with fellow reformists, 1882-1896. Manila: National Heroes Commission, 717
[xiii] These species are Draco rizali (a small lizard, known as a flying dragon), Apogania rizali (rare kind of beetle with five horns) and Rhacophorus rizali (frog). See