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Retracing Rizal’s footsteps in Dapitan

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By Benjamin Layug

I HAVE retraced Rizal’s footsteps in many places associated with him in Manila and Laguna, and, to complete it, I joined my son Jandy, wife Grace, her boss Engr. Eulalio “Loy” Ganzon and her officemates in a three-day trip to Sindangan (where Loy studied) in Zamboanga del Norte. Upon landing in Dipolog City, we had lunch at Ariana Hotel, visited Onay Museum (housing the memorabilia of Gen. Alexander Yano, the first Mindanaoan to become AFP Chief of Staff) and proceeded to Dapitan City. It is the site of Rizal’s exile from July 17, 1892 to July 31, 1896.

Fittingly, we first visited the Punto del Desembarco de Rizal (Rizal Disembarkation Site) which marks the spot, on the beach in Santa Cruz, where Rizal landed, together with Delgras (captain of the steamer SS Cebu) and three artillery men, to begin his life in exile. Across the landing site is a 20-foot cross erected to symbolize the propagation of Christianity in the locality of Dapitan.

We next proceeded to the Rizal Park and Shrine, our National Hero’s place of exile. Near the shrine’s main gate is the Museo ni Jose Rizal. It houses Rizal’s personal writings (books, letters, poems, etc.); some of his personal wardrobe; periodicals; replicas of his artworks (including paintings of his wife Josephine Bracken); his tools for fishing; his original medical instruments; the original blackboard, table and chairs used for teaching his pupils; and other historical exhibits.

The park has a collection of five faithfully reconstructed houses of bamboo and nipa, originally built by José Rizal, as well as other auxiliary structures, all in their original location.

The Casa Residencia, the rectangular main house of Rizal and the biggest structure in the place, was where Jose and Josephine Bracken lived as husband and wife. Jose’s mother and sisters also stayed here during their visits. To the left of the main house is the Cocina (outdoor kitchen).

The Casa Cuadrada (Square House) doubled as a secondary dormitory for Rizal’s students. The area underneath the hut served as vocational workshop where Rizal taught his students. The octagonal Casa Redonda, on stilts, served as the pupil’s quarters. It was later converted to a clinic where Rizal operated on George Taufer, Josephine’s foster father. It was also here where he removed his mother’s cataracts. The hexagonal Casa Redonda Pequaña, on the right of the main house, served as a chicken house. The Casitas Hospitales (or Casitas de Salud), originally intended as tea houses, were later converted into clinics to accommodate patients from far-flung municipalities.

The aqueduct system or lagoon, cutting across the shrine, was built in 1895 by Rizal with the help of his pupils. The water system, feeding a water reservoir connected by bamboo tubes to the kitchen and lavatory, also provided adequate and year-round water supply for Rizal’s farm needs. The natural, heart-shaped Mi Retiro Rock, reclaimed from the sea and set in an artificial lagoon, is where Rizal scribbled the beautiful poem Mi Retiro (A Mi Madre) and the song “Himmne a Talisay” (Hymn to Talisay). This is also where he exchanged commitment vows with Josephine Bracken.

Rizal also spent many hours watching the sunset here. It is also called Batong Lumayag because it appears to be afloat during high tide.

Beyond Mi Retiro Rock is a 500-seat, semicircular and open-air amphitheater, built in 1978. Strategically located within the sprawling shrine are Julie Lluch’s beautiful life-size brass sculptures depicting José Rizal as traveler, Rizal and Pio Valenzuela in a huddle, and Josephine Bracken.

Our last destination was the Church of Saint James the Greater. A marker here marks the spot where Rizal stood when he heard Mass every Sunday during his exile. In front of the Dapitan Church is the Relief Map of Mindanao. With the help of Francisco Paula de Sanchez, his teacher in Ateneo, Rizal created the map during his first two months in Dapitan.

He intended it to be a teaching aid for geography and history lessons. On June 20, 2005, the Relief Map was declared by the National Museum as a National Cultural Treasure. Nearby is a marker on the site of the Casa Real where Rizal was presented to Don Ricardo Carnicero, the Spanish military governor of the district. He stayed here for eight months (July 17, 1892 to March 1893).