One of the Philippines' leading contemporary artists, Elmer Borlongan created Rizalpabeto using only the technology of an iPad. This exhibit is in celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal, Philippines' national hero. 

A collaboration between visual artist Elmer Borlongan and poet Vim Nadera, Rizalpabeto commemorates Jose Rizal’s life and works in celebration of the national hero’s 150th birth anniversary last 2011.

Dr. Jose Rizal defied Spanish authorities during his lifetime through his sharp tongue, intellect, and radical positions for Philippine sovereignty. His novels aim to liberate his fellowmen against Spanish colonialism. For this resistance, he was executed on December 30, 1896. Rizal was declared national hero on 1901 by Governor William Howard Taft.

Nadera’s poems about Rizal, one for every letter in the alphabet, are interpreted by Borlongan in the tradition of letras y figuras, a Filipino art form where the contours of plants, animals, and human figures shape each letter. In Rizalpabeto, Borlongan uses the iPad to sketch and paint each letter, each poem. What results is an interesting interplay between tradition and technology, literature and visual art.

In this exhibit, we define each letter in relation to Rizal's life and historical relevance. To access Nadera's poetry, download Rizalpabeto at

(Rhyme and Meter of Tagalog)

During his stay in Berlin, Dr. Jose Rizal got acquainted with European anthropologists and in fact, became an anthropologist himself. He wrote Tagalische Verkunst (Tagalog Metrical Art), a paper on poetry that was published on 1887. Rizal is the only Asian member of the Berlin Anthropological Society.


Dr. Jose Rizal was executed through firing squad at Bagumbayan on December 30, 1896 for his writings against the Spanish Government. He was only 35 years old. Bagumbayan is now popularly known as Luneta or Rizal Park.


José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda was born in Calamba, Laguna on June 19, 1861. The Rizals lived in a two-story Spanish-Colonial house. The original house was destroyed during World War II but was later reconstructed in 1950, and is now known as the Rizal Shrine.


Dr. Jose Rizal was exiled to Dapitan, Zamboanga, a remote province in Mindanao, from 1892 to 1896. During his four years in exile, Rizal continued to practice medicine and anthropology. He established a school for boys and engaged in farming. He also kept writing creative and literary works.

(The Subversive)

El Filibusterismo is Rizal's second novel and the sequel to Noli Me Tangere. He was able to fully publish this in September 1891 with the help of some European friends. Rizal dedicated his second novel to three priests executed in Bagumbayan: Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora (collectively known as GOMBURZA).


Francisco Engracio Rizal Mercado y Alejandra II is Dr. Jose Rizal’s beloved father. He was a descendant of Domingo Lam-co, a Chinese merchant who changed his surname to Mercado. Francisco Mercado later adopted the surname Rizal to comply with a policy issuance of the Spanish Government. He was a rich farmer and owned a hacienda granted by the Dominicans.


Three priests from University of Sto. Tomas, namely Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora, questioned and fought against Spanish religious dominance in the country. They championed the right of native priests to be assigned in parishes ahead of those friars who had just arrived from Spain. Because of their work, they were executed in 1872. Their deaths helped fuel the Philippine revolution against Spain.


Dr. Jose Rizal left Europe to travel to Hong Kong in 1891to be nearer to his family in the Philippines while leading the Propaganda Movement. While in Hong Kong, Rizal continued to practice medicine and write political documents. He returned to the Philippines a year later.


Indio is a derogatory, colonial term used by Spaniards to refer to native Filipinos. Rizal and other illustrados (middle-class intellectuals) like Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, and Antonio Luna, fought for reforms and equality across classes.


Josephine Bracken, an Irish girl, is the last of Rizal’s lovers. She is the adopted daughter of George Taufer, one of Rizal’s patients while in Dapitan. Their love affair was such a controversy as no priest wanted to give blessing to their union. Moreover, the Rizals did not approve of Josephine. Nevertheless, the two continued their relationship until Rizal’s death in 1896.


The Katipunan is the revolutionary movement founded by Andres Bonifacio on July 7, 1892. The goals of the movement include the following: to fight for Philippine independence from Spain, to revolt against religious fanaticism, and to defend the poor and the oppressed. Rizal, however, advised Bonifacio—through Dr. Pio Valenzuela—that the revolution would be premature without the support of the rich and influential, and advanced military tactics.


Back in Manila from Spain, Dr. Jose Rizal founded La Liga Filipina, a reformist organization on July 3, 1892. However, the Spanish government felt threatened of La Liga. They arrested Rizal and threw him in exile to Dapitan.

(After Mass)

Makamisa is Jose Rizal’s third but unfinished novel, supposedly a sequel to El Filibusterismo. Filipino historian Ambeth Ocampo found the manuscript while working at the National Library. Makamisa is said to be the most anti-clerical among his works. Rizal wrote this novel while on a trip from Europe to Hong Kong.

(Touch Me Not)

The first of his novels, Noli Me Tangere is a satire of the Spanish government and its corrupt secular affairs. Rizal exposed many inequalities in this novel causing him his freedom. It is now considered as one of the greatest novels to arise from Asia. Noli Me Tangere was originally published in 1887 in Spain.


Short for Señora, ñyora is a term for wealthy, old women during the Spanish period. Out of Rizal’s nine sisters, two were unmarried. Rizal’s sisters were all supportive of his patriotism. Some of them pawned their jewelry and peddled clothes to support Rizal’s life abroad. They also visited their brother while in exile and even after Rizal’s death, they ordered the search for his bones which were found at the Paco Cemetery.


Vim Nadera reflects on his life since the time he encountered Rizal in high school. He didn’t realize how important studying Rizal’s life and works is until he was in college. He asks himself, “In our world where the 99% are marginalized, why is it that our representatives are mostly ilustrados?” Nadera later on became a university professor and taught Rizal to his students.


An oracle is a priest or priestess that serves as a mediator between the gods and men. He or she brings prophecy to the world. Nadera fictionalizes a dream of Rizal in which he seeks answers from an oracle. When he woke up, he realized that the answer to the country’s problems is collective action from its people.


Paciano Rizal is our national hero’s older brother. He served as Rizal’s guardian while the latter was studying in Spain. Paciano was a huge influence to Rizal’s life. He would constantly send money to Spain and update his younger brother of the friars’ abuses in the Philippines through letters. He also supported the Katipunan and later on became one of the generals of its Revolutionary Army.


Quiroga is one of Rizal’s characters found on El Filibusterismo. He is a Chinese businessman who showered the rich and the influential with extravagant gifts. Quiroga wanted to have a Chinese consulate in the Philippines, thus his friendship with the novel’s general captain.


A Rizalista is a member of a sect that worships Dr. Jose Rizal as a divine being and savior. Rizalistas have found parallelisms with the national hero and Jesus Christ in the following aspects: both were healers and messiahs; both were ridiculed and put to trial for unjust charges; and finally, both were executed.


In 1892, Dr. Jose Rizal found out that the Sultan of Jolo leased Sabah (or Borneo) to the British North Borneo Company. He dreamt of relocating some 5,000 Filipinos (including his family and friends) to Sabah to start a new life and perhaps, to also prepare for a revolution.


Teodora Morales Alonzo Realonda de Rizal y Quintos is Dr. Jose Rizal’s disciplinarian but loving mother. She was well-educated and highly-cultured. She was also Rizal’s first mentor. Teodora was later persecuted and was even imprisoned under baseless and false pretenses.


Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a novel on the sufferings of black slaves in the hands of white Americans. Dr. Jose Rizal first read this novel while he was in Madrid and was immediately inspired to write his own novel. The result is his first and most iconic novel, Noli Me Tangere, which articulated Filipino discontent with Spanish rule.

Dr. Jose Rizal wrote Canto del Viajero, a poem about his travels, during his exile in Dapitan. Filipino writer Nick Joaquin later translated the poem in English.

Song of the Wanderer

Dry leaf that flies at random
till it's seized by a wind from above:
so lives on earth the wanderer,
without north, without soul,
without country or love!

Anxious, he seeks joy everywhere
and joy eludes him and flees,
a vain shadow that mocks his yearning
and for which he sails the seas.

Impelled by a hand invisible,
he shall wander from place to place;
memories shall keep him company
of loved ones, of happy days.

A tomb perhaps in the desert,
a sweet refuge, he shall discover,
by his country and the world forgotten
Rest quiet: the torment is over.

And they envy the hapless wanderer
as across the earth he persists!
Ah, they know not of the emptiness
in his soul, where no love exists.

The pilgrim shall return to his country,
shall return perhaps to his shore;
and shall find only ice and ruin,
perished loves, and gravesnothing more.

Begone, wanderer! In your own country,
a stranger now and alone!
Let the others sing of loving,
who are happybut you, begone!

Begone, wanderer!
Look not behind you
nor grieve as you leave again.

Begone, wanderer:
stifle your sorrows!
the world laughs at another's pain.


Aside from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Friedrich Schiller’s William Tell also fuelled the patriotism of Jose Rizal. William Tell is a Swiss hero that championed the rights of his countrymen. Rizal translated the novel to Filipino in the dreams of spreading awareness of the need of reforms in the country.


Nadera equates X (or ex-) to broken relationships found in Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere. Crisostomo Ibarra and Maria Clara were childhood sweethearts. However, fate ruined their future and Maria Clara was promised to another man. She later on went inside a nunnery thinking that Ibarra had already died. She allegedly killed herself after. Elias and Salome were also longtime lovers. However, civil guards were going after Elias because of a crime. He instructed Salome to leave her place and be with her family in a province. Elias was soon gone, and never came back.

(Went forth into the world)

Nadera dedicates this poem to Rizal’s education in the Philippines and abroad, his expeditions and realizations that resulted to rebellious novels and other writings, and his community work that eventually led to his arrest and execution on December 30, 1896. Now, this date is religiously commemorated as a noble man’s sacrificial death for his beloved country.


Kilometer Zero is a marker located at Luneta (also known as Rizal Park) which serves as the starting point when measuring the distance of all cities, provinces, and regions in the Philippines from Manila.

Digital Artworks by Elmer Borlongan
Credits: Story

Copyright by CANVAS, 2011
First published in hardcover, 2012

Printed in the Republic of the Philippines
Book and layout design by Daniel Palma Tayona with the assistance of Matthew Fernandez

Download Rizalpabeto at

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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