The women in the life of Rizal (Part 1)

“The women of my country please me very much. I don’t know why, but I find in them I know not what that enchants me and makes me dream.”

JOSE RIZAL wrote this passage in his diary while in Madrid in 1883. He was referring to Filipino women but he might as well have been referring to all the women he met in his short lifetime. Jose Baron Fernandez describes Rizal as a man susceptible to love. Like Fernandez, many authors are quick in calling as love Rizal’s liaisons with women.

First in Rizal’s long list of women was Segunda Katigbak. Rizal was 16 – a late bloomer by present standards – when he first met Segunda. The girl was only 14 at that time but she was already betrothed to her uncle. The admiration was mutual for Rizal, at this inexperienced age, could only admire from a distance.

Only after the girl made the first move did their relationship begin to progress. What followed was the usual story common to all lovers—flowers, visits, sweet talks, petty quarrels. All of these were later recorded by Rizal in his memoirs.

Segunda eventually broke her engagement from Luz giving Rizal the opportunity to propose formally. Rizal wrote: “But in the crucial moments of my life, I have always acted against my will, obeying different purposes and mighty doubts. I goaded my horse and took another road without choosing it exclaiming: This is ended thus.”

In short, he chickened out. At what? Perhaps at responsibility and commitment, the same reason men nowadays balk at the prospect of engagement and marriage.

This incident would later become a recurring pattern in Rizal’s lovelife. Whenever a girl’s rope was getting too tight around his neck, he fled and looked for another girl.

It is interesting to mention that while on his way to Laguna to see Segunda for the last time, he met another girl in the carriage he was in. He talked to her and tried to amuse her but the girl’s timidity turned him off. Obviously, Rizal was flirting (pumoporma). In the game of love, Rizal was a fast learner.

In the middle of 1882, Rizal left the Philippines for Spain. In a diary he kept during his trip, Rizal’s fascination with women was further revealed. The diary contained several entries about the women he had met casually or passed by while sight-seeing in the ship’s ports-of-call.

Rizal’s departure broke the heart of several young ladies. One of them was Leonor Rivera, Rizal’s cousin. Leonor’s love for Rizal was beyond doubt. She was eventually wedded to Henry Kipping but only because of the machination of her mother. Obviously, Leonor kept a torch burning for Rizal till her death in 1893, three years after her marriage.

The same cannot be said about Rizal. Before going to Spain, he was actually courting two Leonors at the same time. The other Leonor was Leonor Valenzuela. In jest, Rizal’s friends called him “Doble Leonor”. Both Leonors loved him dearly, but he left them both for a life in Europe.

Four months after arriving in Spain, Rizal met Consuelo Ortiga y Rey and he began seriously courting her. But, he lost her to Eduardo de Lete.

This incident by itself casts a shadow on Rizal’s loyalty to love. Why would he go chasing after a girl just a few months after he left Leonor? Either he never really loved Leonor or he was using Consuelo as a diversion from homesickness.

On his way back to Europe after his visit to the Philippines in 1887, Rizal made a side-trip to Japan. There he found another fleeting love – Usui-Seiko or O-Sei-San, as he called her.

Rizal went to London and boarded with the Becketts. There he had another affair with the eldest daughter, Gertrude. But before the affair became serious, Rizal left. He later explained to a friend that Gertrude was standing “in the way of his work and duties to the Philippines.”

(To be continued)