He recalls that in the early years of American occupation, there was a huge debate in the US Congress and among the American people as to whether it was wise for the US, as President William McKinley wanted to do as his “manifest destiny,” to colonize the group of islands in the Pacific so far away and populated by a people with a terrible reputation for barbarism and extreme backwardness (recall the ditty about the “monkeys without tails” in Zamboanga?). Congressman Henry Allen Cooper of Wisconsin, chair of the Committee on Insular Affairs, had sponsored the bill which was to extend to the Philippine Islands basic and fundamental constitutional rights and establish a popular assembly. Referred to popularly as the “Cooper Bill,” its formal name was to be the “Philippine Bill of 1902 and later the “Organic Act of the Philippine Islands.”
Cooper’s bill was meeting with congressional fire and brimstone, especially from constituencies where American fathers and mothers had lost sons in the far-away Filipino-American War. As Jaraula noted, the Anti-Imperialist League fanned the flames of opposition. Whereupon Cooper saw it fit to deliver before the US Congress the English version of Dr. Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios” and, as Jaraula narrated it, “at the end of the recital, and shaking with emotion,” the Wisconsin congressman rhetorically asked:
‘ “Pirates, Barbarians, Savages, Incapable of Civilization!” ‘ How many of the civilized slanderers of his race could ever be capable of thoughts like these…Search the long and bloody roll of the world’s martyred dead and where---of what soil, under what sky---did Tyranny ever claim a nobler victim...It has been said that if American institutions had done nothing else than furnish to the world the character of George Washington, that alone would entitle them to the respect of mankind. So, Sir, I say to all those who denounce the Filipinos indiscriminately as barbarians and savages, without possibility of a civilized future, that this despised race proved itself entitled to their respect and to the respect of mankind when it furnished to the world the character of Jose Rizal.”
In our radio program, Atty Jaruala asked Cecille Alvarez, the Magsaysay Awardee for Theater, to read that dramatic speech of Cooper praising Rizal's genius. I must confess that though it has been 108 years since the Wisconsin legislator recited that ode before his US colleagues, it was still music to our ears.
Dr. Nicolas Zafra pointed out in his “Jose Rizal: Historical Studies, 1977,” that the Cooper bill was approved on July 1, 1902. Doubtless the delicious lyricism of “Mi Ultimo Adios” proved to be a wise strategy for Rep. Cooper. As our country works its way to the second centenary of Dr. Rizal’s martyrdom, it behooves us Filipinos to nurture and maintain the respect of mankind that he so gloriously earned for us with his blood and his pen.
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