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The Birth of Jose Rizal

Some facts about the birth of Jose Rizal

Today, June 19, 2019, is the 158th birth anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal. A multi-talented illustrado, hero and martyr. As we commemorate his birth, let us look at some of the facts about his birth.

He has a bigger head disproportionate to his body

In his student memoirs, he wrote “I was born in Calamba on 19 June, 1861, between eleven and midnight, a few days before full moon. It was a Wednesday and my coming out in this vale of tears would have cost my mother her life had she not vowed to the Virgin of Antipolo to take me to her sanctuary by way of pilgrimage.” (Memoirs of A Student in Manila by P. Jacinto).

The difficulty was due to his big head. Dr. Mariano J. Garcia a retired professor of UPLB and UE said that a niece of barber Mang Ilyong Belan, named Aling Simeona vda. de Alibutud told him that Jose, his father Francisco Mercado Rizal, and elder brother Paciano used to have their haircut sessions with the popular barber at the Rizal ancestral house. It was during one of those haircut sessions that barber Tiyo Ilyong discovered that Jose Rizal has a bigger head that was disproportionate to the boy’s physique, prompting Paciano to advise Ute to do some workouts to gain body tone to match his big head. This prompted kuya Paciano to urge the young Rizal to do some workouts to gain body tone to match his big head. (

The Young Rizal. Google Images/

Rizal’s family belonged to the Principalia

Rizal’s parents were illustrados, “that is to say, they could read and write and figure, they took newspapers and went to court and sometimes travelled abroad; they were of the principalia (Guerero), the ruling elite class, a middle class family. This new breed of middle class families was due to the shift in world economy. The old practice of mercantilism where trade was dictated by the monarch and wealth flows toward the throne of Spain. This resulted to the monopoly like the Galleon Trade between Manila and Acapulco, which began in 1565. However by the 18th and 19th centuries, there was shift towards laissez faire or free market trade. Countries were able to participate in trade. Because of this shift, the Philippines was officially opened to foreign trade by 1834. Foreign trade brought forth wealth for more people. “Spain’s adoption of the laissez-faire policy affected the Philippines in several ways. The result of greater participation in trade created a new middle class in the colony. With the new-found wealth, middle class families were able to send their children to acquire higher education which gave them perspectives on Spain’s treatment of the Philippines. Rizal’s family was one of those middle class families.” (Garcia, De Viana & Cruz).

Image: Google Images. A photograph of a principalia family from Argao, Cebu from the ca. 1890’s (, The Nation As Project by Paul Arvisu Dumol and Clement C. Cqmposano)

Rizal’s father Don Francisco Mercado, was a learned man. He went to College de San Jose in Manila and took up Latin and Philosophy. Francisco’s family, the Mercados, “had been originally merchants, as their surname, which in Spanish means market” (Guerrero). They moved from the Parian settlement in Manila to Biñan where Francisco was born. His father became the gobernadorcilllo of Biñan, Laguna.

In Rizal’s student memoirs, he described his father as “a model of fathers” (Zaide & Zaide). His mother, Doña Teodora Alonzo was born in Manila and went to a well-known college for girls, the College of Santa Rosa. (Zaide & Zaide). In his letter to his Austrian friend Blumentritt, Rizal said, “My mother is a woman of more than average education… Her father [Lorenzo Alberto Alonso], who was a deputy for the Philippines in the Cortes, was her teacher; her brother [the cuckolded Jose] was educated in Europe and spoke German, English, Spanish and French ; he was also a knight in the Order of Isabel the Catholic.” (Guerrero)

Image: Google Images/ The family tree of Mercado Rizal family drawn by Rizal during his exile in Dapitan in 1896. (The Nation As Project by Paul Arvisu Dumol and Clement C. Camposano)

Calamba may not after all, a beautiful place

While the overall view of Calamba was picturesque due to the magnificent Mt. Makiling and Laguna de Bay, the place itself may be different. In his book, The First Filipino, Leon Ma. Guerrero talks about a certain John Foreman, an Englishman who lived in the Philippines at the time and in fact was often to talk about Rizal. According to him, “Kalamba is a very dreary town. The town hall was merely a sugar shed; the streets are always either muddy or dusty. There are three or four large houses of well- built exterior. The market, held on Fridays, is of considerable local importance, Filipinos coming there from great distances. The market-place is, however, always dirty and disorderly.”

Guerrero further states, “John Foreman might have thought Kalamba a very dreary town, its market-place “dirty and disorderly”, but the boy Jose was very happy there.”


Dumol, Paul Arvisu and Camposano, Clement C. The Nation As Project. A New Reading of Jose Rizal’s Life and Works. Quezon City, Philippines: Vibal Group, Inc., 2018.

Garcia, Carlito D., De Viana, Augusto V., Cruz, Cynthia B. Rizal and the Development of Filipino Nationalism. A Textbook on the Life, Works, and Writings of our National Hero. Mandaluyong City: Philippines: Books Atbp. Publishing Corp., 2015.

Guerrro, Leon Ma. The First Filipino. A Biography of Josė Rizal. Manila: National Historical Commission, 1974

Zaide, Gregorio F. & Zaide Sonia M. Jose Rizal. Life, Works, and Writings of a Genius, Writer, Scientist, and National Hero. Second Edition. Quezon City: Philippines, 2014.

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