Filipinos and Belgians gathered in Ghent, Belgium to celebrate the 130th publication anniversary of Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal’s “El Filibusterismo” on Saturday, September 25.
Leading the event were members of the Knights of Rizal (KOR), the sole order of knighthood legally recognized in the Philippines. According to its website, the order devotes itself to “commemorating in a fitting manner the execution and martyrdom of our foremost national hero, [Jose Rizal].”
The order currently has more than 25,000 members across the globe, with 131 active chapters in the Philippines and 61 worldwide. The event was in fulfillment of KOR’s objective “to organize and hold programs commemorative of Rizal’s and martyrdom.”
Also in attendance were Philippine Ambassador to Belgium Eduardo Jose De Vega, Philippine Ambassador to the Netherlands Eduardo Malaya, and Ghent Mayor Mathias de Clercq.
The program began with a flower offering ceremony at a building where Rizal was said to have stayed in 1891 while publishing his second revolutionary book, “El Filibusterismo.”
Nathan Gatpandan, a Multimedia Producer residing in Belgium, said that the event was “festive,” with a portion of the street even closed off from traffic for attendees to joyously wave Philippine flags.
The ceremony was followed by the book launch of De Filipijnen de Eilanden van het Westen (The Philippines – Islands of the West) by Peter de Bruyn at the Ghent City Hall. Both De Vega and Malaya spoke at the occasion, recognizing the strong ties between Filipinos and Belgians.
This was followed by an exhibit at the Monastery Poortackere Hotel where Filipina artist Antonette Borbes displayed her paintings about life in the Philippines. Also featured were collections of photos, memoirs, and articles about Rizal’s life.
A formal dinner served as the highlight of the day’s events that also celebrated the newly established Gomburza-Ghent Chapter of the KOR. Seven men from the Gomburza Chapter were granted knighthood at a solemn ceremony. This was followed by a lively program featuring Philippine songs and dances. Here, De Vega and Philippine Honorary Consul Ronny de Blaere were invited to dance the tinikling.
Home away from home
Gatpandan said that the event brought the Filipino community in Belgium together in celebrating the historical works of Rizal, and by extension, the Filipino culture as well.
“Just like how Pinoys celebrate festivities, it was also a family event for some. Parents brought their children along, probably to show them a small slice of Philippine history,” he said.
According to a brochure from the event, new members of the KOR joined to know more about their culture.
“[I want] to be a part of an organization that unites fellow Filipinos and Belgians to share my love for the Philippines and our culture, and still be able to feel [that] I am not so far away from the Philippines,” said Dexter Narciso, who hailed from Leyte and recently came to Belgium in May.
Edgar Allan Cueto who lived in Ghent since he was nine years old also said that he wanted to join the KOR to help the Filipino community, especially the younger generation, in sharing Filipino history and heritage.
A call to action
Gatpandan said that the event is a significant reminder for the youth to participate in driving change for the country.
“El Filibusterismo ended with a call to action for the youth of the country. There’s always a way of participating in the nation-building, wherever you find yourself and whatever you’re capable of,” he said.
Similarly, De Vega sees the book as “a call to continue to help and reform the country but not for selfish reasons.”
Malaya adds that the celebration was well-timed in line with the upcoming 2022 Philippine national elections.
“Our Filipino youth should ponder upon the things that Rizal had written about 130 years ago and open their minds and look at everything holistically. It is very important as we go into the election season next year and try to see who would be the next best leader of our country. Look at it from the prism of what Rizal had left for us,” he said.
De Vega said that optics on overseas voter registration in Belgium is rising but he also calls on eligible voters to register as the deadline for registrations ends.
The Commission on Elections has recently extended the deadline for overseas voters’ registration from October 1 to 14, 2021.
“A lot of the young Filipinos here in Europe are identifying with this book of Jose Rizal’s. It is like a coming together of Filipinos then and Filipinos now,” Malaya adds. DZUP