In 1887, Dr. Jose Rizal wrote Noli Me Tangere, the first of two books which would mark him an enemy of Spanish colonial rule.
Its main protagonist is Crisostomo Ibarra, an idealistic youth freshly returned from his studies in Spain and hoping to marry his childhood sweetheart, Maria Clara.
Yet it is not to be.
Theirs is a tragedy worse than Romeo and Juliet, though neither slay themselves out of grief. Instead, Crisostomo is left broken by the injustice and pettiness of the rule of friarocracy in Spanish Colonial Philippines, while Maria Clara would curse her own beauty. She attempts to escape an unwanted forced marriage into a convent, but she would find herself even more helpless against the priest who lusted for her body.
In Rizal’s second book, El Filibusterismo, Ibarra returns as the mysterious Simoun, a man who instead of seeking reform tempts the people in power into indulging in even more abuses to more speedily arouse the anger of the people, that they might rise up in revolt during the time of Spain’s weakness.
All the while, he tries to rescue Maria Clara. But it is too late. She has already broken.
And soon later so too would Simoun finally meet his end.
They would both die far apart, alone and unloved.
It is mandatory in the Philippine school system for students to study Rizal’s work and biography as a critical component of their country’s search for sovereignty. Many a high school student had read through the book and made to act out scenes of this historically important work.
That work gives no justice to any of the characters contained within. There is no happy ending, no payoff to any of their struggles. It is a depressing work, and it is that ring of truth in the text that woke up the people about the injustices they too suffered- they knew that they were not alone, and that these abuses cannot stand.
But then, suddenly, upon the eve of his arrival – he gains a revelation.
He is granted knowledge of what is in store for him, according to Rizal. He gains the proper context for the writings, and how it would lead into the world of the future. The social mores and cultural cues of the new millennium is woven into his personality, so that he may look beyond the box of his era for a solution.
Yet even this is not enough.
So, to his understanding, an Angel of the Lord descends upon him, carrying a cup flowing with the essence of human knowledge – all of humanity’s discoveries, its hopes, its fears, its lusts and its joys, and pours it into his mind. Knowledge is power.
And to keep this knowledge from driving him mad, he is provided an interface – a familiar one, easy to use. It allows him to comprehend a number so vast it approaches infinity, one followed by a hundred zeroes, the one called [Googol].
And then, the moment leaves, and he is left with only one certainty.
His is the dream of a nation, one that wishes to break through into tomorrow.
The understanding now etched into his soul must be put to good use, or it is wasted. It is not enough that he saves himself from the pitfalls that lie ahead; he must raise up his country to a brighter, less bloody future.
Juan Crisostomo Ibarra is a man with a mission. That happy ending long denied him, long denied all those who had studied the works of Rizal, those two books that captured the long suffering lament of a nation – it is there, it can be reached, but it is not guaranteed.
Even with this ‘cheat’, he must work for it. History can be changed. Maybe for the better.
For Maria Clara.