In 1898, upon the request of Jose Rizal’s sister, Narcisa, his remains were exhumed from the Paco cemetery and transferred to the custody of the Rizal family. December 20 of the same year, President Emilio Aguinaldo issued a proclamation declaring December 30 of that year, and every year thereafter, as a national day of mourning in honor of Rizal and the great Filipino patriots who fought against Spanish rule.

On September 28, 1901, the Philippine Assembly approved Act No. 243, providing for a portion of land to be set aside in Luneta Park, Manila—formerly known as Bagumbayan— for the construction of a monument to the Philippine National Hero.

The idea was to build a structure that would serve not just as a monument to the National Hero, but also as a mausoleum to house his remains. A committee, which included Rizal’s brother, Paciano,  was created to raise funds for the structure.

The design of the Rizal National Monument in Luneta came about due to a competition held after the passage of Act No. 243. The initial winning design was that of Professor Carlos Nicoli of Carrara, Italy. However, because of various reasons, such as his inability to post a 20,000-peso bond for the construction of the monument, his design was never used. Instead the design of the second placer, Dr. Richard Kissling of Zurich, Switzerland, was adapted.

In 1912, Jose Rizal’s remains were transferred from his family’s custody to the base of the monument, during which a ceremony was conducted. A year after the transfer, Rizal’s monument was unveiled. This was the 17th anniversary of his death.

The monument was thought to have been built on the very spot Rizal fell. However, a reappraisal during the 1930s determined that the actual execution spot was a few meters off, where a marker and a diorama stand today.

In 1961, the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission decided to increase the size of the obelisk from 12.7 meters to 30. 5 meters using steel reinforcement. The designer of the new obelisk was Juan F. Nakpil, who later became the country’s first national artist for architecture. Two years after the centennial celebrations, however, the 30.5-meter metal obelisk was removed, and the monument was restored to its original form (see photos above). The shrine also serves as a complimentary landmark for the Philippines’ kilometer zero roadmarker, located right in front of the monument.

Each year, on December 30, it has been a tradition for the current president to lay a wreath in honor of the martyrdom of Jose Rizal. It has also been as per tradition, although not required, for visiting dignitaries such as foreign heads of state to pay  respects to Rizal at the monument during their official visits to the Philippines.

This year is the 115th anniversary of Rizal’s martyrdom. On December 30, 2011, at 7:00 a.m., simultaneous celebrations will be held at the Rizal National Monument in Rizal Park, Manila; the Rizal Shrine in Calamba City, Laguna;  and the Rizal Shrine in Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte. The flag-raising and wreath-laying rites at the Rizal National Monument will be led by President Benigno S. Aquino III. [Ref.]

The Rizal National Monument consists of an obelisk and a bronze statue of the National Hero. Under the statue is a plaque on which is inscribed Rizal’s last poem, popularly known as “Mi Ultimo Adios” (My Last Farewell). The following is a recent translation to English of Rizal’s most famous poem:

Rizal’s Valedictory

Goodbye, beloved Land, beloved by the sun,
Pearl of the Orient Seas, our lost Eden!
Gladly I give you this, my sad life,
O that it were more brilliant, more fresh, more sweet,
Still I would give it, give it for your sake!

In field of battle, in delirious struggle
Others give their lives without doubt or pause;
It doesn’t matter if under cypress, lily, or laurel,
Gallows or meadow, combat or cruel martyrdom:
All death is equal when called for by country and home.

I shall die when I see the colors of the sky
Announcing, at last, the day at the end of night;
If you need more color with which to stain the dawn,
I would spill my blood, pour it upon the good hour
And gild even the sparkle of the newborn sun.

My dreams when I was this high, scarcely a man,
My dreams when young, brimming with vigor,
Were one day to see you, jewel of the Eastern Sea,
Eyes unmarred by tears, your brow lifted high,
Without frown or furrow, without blemish or shame.

My life’s enchantment, my sweet, ardent anguish:
To your health, my soul cries before it leaps!
To your health! How lovely it is to fall so you may fly,
To die so you may live, to die beneath your sky,
And upon your magical land lay eternity to sleep!

If someday upon my grave you see sprouting
Among tufts and herbs a humble bloom,
Bring it to your lips—so, too, you’ll kiss my soul;
And I shall feel upon my brow, under the tomb,
Your tender breath, your breath’s warm flame.

Let the moon watch over me, soft and serene;
Let the dawn wash over me with light resplendent;
Let the wind keen over me with fierce lament,
And should a bird alight upon my cross,
Suffer it to sing its canticle of peace.

Let the sun dissolve the rains in its fire
And burn and bear heavenward my cause,
Let some friend grieve over my untimely fate
And in the quiet evenings lift a prayer for me;
Pray too, O my Country, that in God I may repose.

Pray for all who have fallen, abandoned by fate,
For all who have suffered unmeasured pain,
For our poor mothers who sigh in bitterness;
For the orphans and widows, the tortured in prison,
And for yourself so at last you may be redeemed.

And when the dark night shrouds the graveyard
And only the dead keep their long vigil,
Do not disturb their peace, do not disturb their mystery;
And if you hear the strains of cither or psalter:
It is I, beloved Land, it is I singing to you!

And when my grave is all but forgotten,
With neither cross nor stone to mark the place,
Let the plow turn the soil, the hoe scatter it,
And let my ashes, before they vanish forever,
Become dust upon the carpet of the earth.

Then it matters not that I am tossed into oblivion:
Across your air, your space, your valleys my wraith
Shall pass—a chord, a limpid note in your ear;
A fragrance, a light, a color, a rumor, a song,
Constantly intoning the refrains of my faith.

Land adored, sorrow of my sorrows,
Beloved Filipinas, listen to my last adiós.
I leave you all—my kindred, my affections.
I go where no slaves are, nor butchers nor oppressors,
Where faith does not kill, where God reigns.

Goodbye, my parents, brothers—pieces of my soul;
Friends of my childhood in the house now lost,
Be thankful that I rest from the restless day.
Goodbye, sweet foreigner, my friend, my delight!
All that I love, farewell. To die is to rest.

Translation: Marne Kilates
November 24, 2011