The tough Rizalist…
Of the legend named Rafael Palma, historian Agoncillo has this to say:
His reputation rests on his integrity, scholarship, tolerance of unpopular thoughts, and on the growth of the liberal tradition in the University. He stood his ground when he thought he was right and fought like a wounded animal when confronted by forces he thought were inimical to the university and the country. He was one university president who never trembled in the presence of economic overlords, the powerful ecclesiastics, the wealthy, and the politically puissant. Yet his demeanor, with a baldhead, a baby face, and a toothless smile, covered the toughness of mind that characterized him as writer and thinker.
Toughness of mind as student, writer, lawyer, educator, thinker, statesman, and so on! This appears to be the dominant trait that the boy born in Tondo on October 24,1874 was to develop in the process of finding a niche for himself. It was this toughness of mind that he manifested in acquiring education in a Tondo public school, in Ateneo, and especially in UST, where he took up Law. It was this mental toughness, together with his confidence in his fluency in Spanish, that impelled him to join Antonio Luna’s La Independencia, the official newspaper of the Revolution, adopting the pen name Dapit Hapon, which became a byword in Spanish-speaking homes. It was this same tough, as well as persistent, mental set that spurred him, after La Independencia’s demise, to joinEl Nuevo Dia, the newspaper published in Cebu by his bosom friend, Sergio Osmeña, with whom he continued the fight for freedom under the American regime. The paper’s nationalistic stand, however, made the Americans to pressure the publisher and the staff and to cause its eventual closure. But the mentally tough journalist, Palma, pursued his vision of freedom and joined another nationalistic daily, El Renacimiento. It was during his stint with this paper that he, having met the publisher’s daughter, decided, if the platitude is pardonable, to “give up his freedom” for her. Ending his newspapering, he diverted his dedication to law practice.
Again his mental toughness, together with his integrity and scholarship, was responsible, for his success in lawyering. His fame as a lawyer spread rapidly. Thus, when he ran for Assemblyman of Cavite, he won over his rival with little difficulty. His victory enabled him to show his statesmanship, which his erstwhile colleague, Sergio Osmeña, took ready cognizance of. The two became closer friends than before. Another political stalwart, Manuel L. Quezon would later join them and the three would make up the triumvirate that worked for the absolute independence of the Philippines. Palma was later elevated to the Philippine Commission, which was considered the upper chamber of the legislative body at that time. Much later, he was appointed Secretary of Public Instruction.
In 1916, with the enactment of the Jones Law, Palma filed his candidacy for the fourth senatorial district comprising the City of Manila, Laguna, Rizal, and Bataan. Again, he won easily over his pro-American rival, Gregorio Araneta. Belonging to the minority, however, he did not find his political life smooth-a-sailing. His disillusionment with politics caused him to give it up in 1922 and to revert to the practice of Law. Then, in 1923, he was appointed acting president of the University of the Philippines and remained president until 1933 when Quezon’s threatened to cut the University’s appropriation due to Palma’s championing of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Law. Rather than endanger the existence of the University, he resigned from the presidency.
He ran once more for the Senate, but another political stalwart, Juan Sumulong defeated him. Nursing his defeat, he turned once more to the practice of Law. Later, Quezon appointed him Chairman of the National Board of Education.
Palma was initiated in Bagong Buhay Lodge No. 17 in 1907 and was passed and raised in the same Lodge in 1908. Later, he affiliated with Sinukuan Lodge No.16, where in 1914-15, he became the Master.
In the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Palma was a member of Lakandula Lodge of Perfection, Wise Master of the Chapter of Rose Croix, Manila (1919), a member of Malcampo Council, Knight of Kadosh, and member of Rizal Consistory. He was elected Knight Commander of the Court of Honor in October 1921 – about a year after his term as Grand Master of Masons in the Philippines.
Palma delighted and inspired his brother Masons with a large number of articles and messages. On January 30, 1931, for example, as Grand Orator, he delivered a lengthy but moving message, in which he showed mainly the place of Masonry in the world of ideas. He said, in part, the following:
The philosophy of Masonry has not lost faith in the goodness of human nature and considers liberty as an inestimable boon and every man’s birthright. It consequently endeavors to inculcate the doctrine that man must be educated to be free and to seek to know himself and develop his innate faculties and inclinations. This education involves the free exercise of reason, not only to think and reason for himself, untrammelled by readymade dogma or opinions consecrated by tradition or usage; but to follow a rule of conduct which he considers the most in accordance with prudence and wisdom, through it be in conflict with that which is generally accepted and approved. Reason is the noblest gift to man…It is the right nay, the duty of each and everyone of us to make our contribution be it ever so small, to the progress of the world, and it is not by waiving the free use of reason that we can add our grain of sand to that building, but by contributing a new thought, a new idea, a new mode of procedure or new rule of conduct. He who contents himself with taking all he needs from the accumulated wisdom of the ages without giving anything in return is a spendthrift, not a collaborator.
One can readily see from this quotation that even as Mason (or it is especially as Mason?). Palma advocated mental and volitional toughness, urging his Brethren to think for themselves and not to accept without discussion whatever had been taught, to contribute to the accumulated wisdom of the ages and therefore to the progress of mankind. Such a philosophy, he maintained in his writings, especially in his prize-winning biography of Jose Rizal, which has been considered to be the best, most compendious, and most faithful portrayal of the Filipino hero’s life and character. In this biography, Palma was Rizal’s “collaborator,” as he himself put it. Translated later into English by Justice Roman Ozaeta with the title “The Pride of the Malay Race,” the biography stirred the hornet’s nest and was banned as a reading material. In a sense, Palma, analytically presenting Rizal’s life and ideas, contributed a new thought, a new idea, and new mode of procedure.
A scholar par excellence, Palma was advanced in his ideas. He believed that, despite our imperfections, we should attain a degree of perfection, i.e., find the selves we were meant to be, and that this quest or search should start with an open and a tough mind. Listen to him once more:
Human life could not be better symbolized than by the Masonic pavement which covers the floor of our temples and is emblematic of how checkered our existence is with good and evil, grief and joy, suffering and happiness. The work of the Mason cannot be symbolized better than by the construction of a temple which was never finished, because whatever may be our wisdom and degree of skill, and however charitable our feelings may be towards our Brethren and fellows, we never attain perfection. The temple, which we are building, is ourselves. The materials, which we have to polish, adjust, and fit into place are passions and vices. There are, unfortunately, too many racial, religious, and political prejudices, which blind the intellect and prevent the heart from recognizing the truth, cementing brotherly love, and relieving distress. We have to rid ourselves of these prejudices. Masonry demands of each individual an open mind, quick sympathy, and disinterested charity, because only with these quoins and ashlars is it possible for us to construct the temple dedicated to the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man which are the strength and secret of our union.
The symbolic temple that Palma constructed became a shining monument to those who were in the dark at that time – and has become that to those who, up to today, although in another form, have continued to cling on to some kind of racial, religious, and political prejudices.
Palma lived a rich, full life – a life dedicated to the search for the truth, to the fearless articulation of the discovered truth aimed at liberating the minds of men from the bondage and shackles of ignorance, and to the pursuit, not of things mundane, but of what was thought to be the ideal or the bonum verum. Having lived such a life, Palma has become a part of history. Teodoro Agoncillo writes this of him:
“Palma’s last moments were painful. Bed-ridden, he had lost his sense of hearing and taste and his eyesight failing. He could hardly recognize even his friends. It is said that when a boyhood friend, a priest, visited him, Palma, poorly discerning the visitor, waived him aside and bade him to leave. His end came on May 24, 1939. He lived and died a poor man, never changing his simple lifestyle and never surrendering his freedom of thought and conscience. Up to the end, he remained a Mason. But he was a Mason who accompanied his wife to church, for he believed that religion was, and is, a deeply personal matter and should never be interfered with. Above all, Palma gave the University of the Philippines academic pride, freedom and decency. “
Yes, the Tondo-born boy developed into a multifaceted personality – a scholarly student; a steadfastly nationalistic journalist, a refined, accomplished statesman; an uprightly honest lawyer; a “proud academic administrator; a respecter and practitioner of the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; a spiritual-temple builder; a dedicated Mason and respected Grand Master of Masons in 1920; and a consistently poor rich man. That poor rich man has given the Masonic fraternity a sense of pride. Thus, even in death, Palma speaks to his Brethren, inspiring them to attain the palm of victory.