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Updated January 25, 2021

Rizal as a Scientist: Shifting Paradigms in the Mind of a Filipino

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Rizal as a Scientist: Shifting Paradigms in the Mind of a Filipino essay
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“Be the change you want to see.” It was probably even before this quotation became famous that Rizal focused his mind on being that tiny spark in the lives of every Filipino, thinking that he’ll be able to cause a wildfire throughout the nation. To most of us Filipinos, Rizal has always been that respected young man who was known for his great love for the country. However, records do testify that he was not only of notable passion in promoting nationalism and freedom in the country by means of writing but he also excelled in theory and in practice of other fields (Craig, 1913).

In this paper, we are to know Rizal in a different light i.e. Rizal in the field of Science, specifically in Biology. We will also know about Rizal’s contributions in this field by presenting and appreciating the discovered species of different plants and animals, and understand their importance to the present time. Lastly, this paper desires to compare Rizal to Filipinos in the current era, breaking the “racial inferiority” (Guillermo, 2011) binding the minds of Filipinos. Rizal, even in his young age, has always become a representation of us Filipinos, be it global or local. However, different colonizers have, if not instilled but enforced in the minds of Filipinos that we are “to lose his belief in himself, to accept an inferior role, to give up hope for himself and his nation” (Fisher, 1956).

I am writing this paper in hopes of breaking the very poor and hopeless mentality that we have been taught with. It is in hopes of being able to duplicate Rizal’s thinking on first resolving our identities as Filipinos that this paper is being written. As Fisher (1956) wrote, maybe at this moment we, Filipinos, have a distorted image of who we are that we “still feel a need for assurance for [his] worth”. Here, as we present Rizal in his glory in the field of Science, we will have to remember that we are directed from his genetic lineage and not of those mind-prisoning colonizers.

Hence, if Rizal was able to accomplish many things not just for himself but also for the country, how much more then to us youth of the present generation whom he always believed in when he said, “The youth is the hope of the nation”? Most of Rizal’s time when he was in exile in Dapitan was dedicated to practicing different applied sciences as Bantug (1961) presents in his book Rizal and the Progress of the Natural Science. The same will be discussed in the earlier part of his life as presented in Craig’s (1913) Lineage, Life and Works of Jose Rizal: Philippine Patriot. His science-related practices and contributions such as those animal species he named after him would be discussed in this paper. However, this paper will only focus on presenting Rizal in his contributions to the field of Biology, specifically Botany and Zoology, and not other branches of Natural Sciences.

Jose Rizal was always first introduced to us as the great writer of the revolutionary novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, and Philippine’s national hero due to his bravery in facing the death he knew would happen. Also, known to many is the honorific “Dr.” placed before his name as he was a physician by profession at that time. However, many of us just know little knowledge about Rizal’s contributions in the other fields of Natural Sciences, such as Botany and Zoology. For this reason, we are to explore the Rizal knowledgeable of these fields.

One of Rizal’s major contributions in the field of Botany is the reconstruction of a herbarium with the help of Father Francisco de Paula Sanchez (Bantug, 1961). They exhibited methods of preserving the plant specimens and collating them into a herbarium, which is of very great help to everyone studying plants especially in studying plants that are endemic to the Philippines. One problem I personally encounter as a Biology student in identifying plants is the lack of taxonomic identification keys for plants in the Philippines. For this reason, a herbarium is a vital resource to be able to tangibly compare plant specimens enabling faster identification of them. We were always introduced to use foreign materials for study saying that we lacked documented plant specimens (since the traditional classification of plants just determined the use of the plant and not the scientific name and taxonomic classification).

Rizal, though having completed only a few subjects in Botany, had no degree majoring in such and thus is really not a qualified botanist. However, we can see here that Rizal was able to come up with the idea of preserving. Maybe he didn’t know about how important his works are now in our generation; but if he did, he’d really prove himself a “conscious hero”. Other than establishing a herbarium, Rizal was also able to discover and utilize other natural resources such as resin from Agathis species and paste from a mangrove species Palaqium, both used for carpentry. Bantug (1961) also cites Rizal as a pioneer in the establishment of the knowledge leading to the discovery of plastics.

Due to Rizal’s very curious mind, he was able to re-create a “bakhaw” formula that may be formed to become a plastic material which is said to be waterproof, fireproof and of very lightweight. It is but as well notable that Bantug (1961) stated that Rizal also contributed in the field of Botany by discovering a new species of “ilang-ilang” plant—the Canangium odoratum. However, upon searching the scientific name of this plant, its history allows us to discover that the scientific name Canangium odoratum was just a synonym of Cananga odorata (Lam.) Hook.f. & Thomson.

A synonym by definition in the field of Taxonomy (the study of naming organisms) is the alternative name of a plant or animal species that is given by authors who have published about that certain species in a separate time from its discovery (Quicke, 2013). Taxonomists only recognize the plant based on their accepted names. Accepted names are those names given by the first to discover and publish (depend on the time) about the new species. A given scientific name is, however, declared a synonym when it is published in a different name but is the same plant species as one which was published earlier. Hence, Canangium odoratum (which was not even published under Rizal’s name but rather under de Lamarck’s) was not really first discovered by Rizal. It may be that Rizal was not able to publish this discovery due to lack of means to do so or if ever he did, the dates of its publishing will determine if it was first discovered by him or somebody else.

Rizal in his young age had so much love for animals that, as Craig (1913) states, if “his childish sympathies been respected the family would have been strictly vegetarian in their diet”. The young Rizal boy used to have a pony and a dog. He was also noted as a young defender of other animals in their neighborhood such as birds and even insects. He may still be lacking information in the field of Zoology at that time but I guess having interest in such would most likely cause the growth of a passion in such field. When Rizal started his schooling in Ateneo de Manila, records show that he has had an excellent standing in his Botany and Zoology classes (Craig, 1913). It is no doubt that when he was in exile in Dapitan, he had much knowledge of plants and animals.

A slightly similar case scenario took place in Rizal’s discovery of a specimen of tiny snails named as Oncomelania hupensis quadrasi (Fadul, —-). Rizal sent off a few snail samples contained in a vial to Otto Franz von Möllendorff (a renowned German malacologist who happens to be at Manila at that time). However, Möllendorff named the species after Don José Florencio Quadras and the species as published under his name. Rizal wouldn’t have known that this discovered species of his would be a very vital discovery as it was known that these snail species was an intermediate host or carrier of Schistosomiasis japonicum, which was a very deadly parasite plaguing areas in Eastern Visayas.

In 2010, a local scientist by the name Lourdes Jansuy Cruz was awarded among female scientists worldwide as one of the 2010 L’Oreal-UNESCO Awards in the Life Sciences for a noble discovery about a certain snail’s toxins called conotoxins. Dr. Cruz had been working on Conus snails since 1970 upon knowing from fishermen about snails that are deadly. She studied these snails and found out about the chemical make-up of the toxin and studied it in relation to its effects on the nervous system. Many became interested in the study of Dr. Cruz that she received many invitations for collaborations. Her study was able to flourish for quite some time as she was able to collaborate with a few researchers in Utah.

However, due to lack of support in financing this study, she was not able to sustain the intellectual ownership of the study. This became an opportunity for richer and more advanced countries to patent and pose rights to an idea that originally wasn’t theirs after all. So how are all these related to Rizal? I do think that seldom do we already think this way like Rizal did–unselfish, free, full of possibilities. Maybe we should learn from Rizal that we shouldn’t belittle ourselves in such things, especially in the field of science (just because we are in a “third-world country”) because honestly, it is in our genetic make-up that we are skillful people. We can do something for the reason that we are Filipinos. We are someone, not just anyone.

Rizal as a Scientist: Shifting Paradigms in the Mind of a Filipino essay

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Rizal as a Scientist: Shifting Paradigms in the Mind of a Filipino. (2021, Jan 25). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/rizal-as-a-scientist-shifting-paradigms-in-the-mind-of-a-filipino/

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