“Apunten, Fuego” these are the rumbling words that signaled us to kill Jose Rizal through firing squad. I was once a Spanish soldier in a stage play entitled “Huling Tagpo” when I was in Grade 5 at Rosario Central School, Rosario, La Union in the school year 1997-1998. Yes, I killed Rizal again and again because we competed many times until we became the Regional Champion in Region One Historical Event Stage Play held at RELC San Fernando City, La Union on October 30, 1997

As a grade schooler during that time, I have no choice in choosing my part. I was given a character of a Spanish soldier to play far from my desired role, which is Rizal.

Quarter a century has passed, I have returned to the school where I started to dream to be like the man that I killed many times. My name, together with the other names of the casts of the play are even immortalized in a marble stone which is placed below the flagpole of the school.

I returned to the school as an Educator after earning my Bachelor’s Degree at Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University, South La Union Campus with nine years of teaching experience as an adviser, winning coach in sports, literary, arts and journalism and a winning school paper adviser at Agoo Montessori Learning Center and High School Inc. I also represented La Union Schools Division two times in the search for the Most Outstanding School Paper Advisers in the Regional Schools Press Conference in 2014 and 2017.

Dr. Jose P. Rizal’s courage to defy all the odds has become one of my guiding principles in my vocation as a mentor and coach. I dedicated my youthful strength and wit and became effective, persuasive, a great contributor of ideas and in decision making, as a loving teacher and coach for 15 years now.

I was born in the 80’s and raised in the 90’s, an era where we are called Millennials because we’re the last generation before the creation of gadgets and we’re the first generation to use the beauty of technology. I was exposed to two different worlds, the old and the new and I definitely know the difference and uniqueness of the two.

High school and college life became my stage. Just like Rizal, I also became a student leader- the voice of my classmates, the strength of my class and the shield of my friends, I became a member of different school and national organizations such as Student Body Organization, Citizens’ Army Training,

Church Choir (and I am still a member for 22 years now), as Student Catechist, member of the school’s cheer dancing team, member of the University Student Council, as a Human Rights Youth Action Network advocate, facilitator and speaker, and a member of the Amnesty International- Pilipinas and Kabataang Liberal ng Pilipinas. Just like Rizal, the activist, who openly-express and talk about his ideals about different social, religious and political issues, my essential ideology during my college years also brought me to EDSA to join open-minded people who expresses their clamor about different issues to the government through rally.

Rizal’s works and idealism in equality, truth, politics, honor, patriotism, leadership, journalism, medicine, agriculture and religion is beyond compare. Truly, his ideals and principles in life during his time is incomparable but in my simple act of imitating him during my lifetime is an honor.

His books and writings are my favorites, the Noli and El Fili, the love letters for his loved ones and friends and his poems for the youth and women and his Last Farewell. His works made me realized how amusing he was, it made me think deeper to understand every situation and details in his works. I even welcome and open debates with my classmates and college professor during my college days in the subject: Life and Works of Rizal.

I graduated from college as a student leader, I only have limited capacity and resources to make a change in my community, but I have the fervent will to do the things I want to do for the sake of my community. I joined Non- Government Organizations in my town, we have active NGOs in our town, The TRLUKK or Taga-Rosario La Union Ka Kung and RDR or Rosas Del Rio, a Facebook- Based Organizations with SEC and Municipal recognition and registration. These organizations help those in need especially those who has financial and social problems and we meet physically if there are projects and programs to be implemented but most of the time we use the Facebook as our platform in our meetings just like Rizal who involved himself in organizations that aims to free our country from the Spanish rule.

As one of the officers of these organizations, we help our townmates bring their queries and needs to the right agency and government offices. We also help victims of domestic violence who are from our town. We report the incidents to the Office of the Mayor and Congressman, to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration or OWWA and to the famous Alagang Kapatid and Wanted sa Radyo of Raffy Tulfo in TV 5. With our partnership with the Overseas Filipino Workers who are from Rosario, we conducted different programs and activities. We give slippers to learners from different barrio schools in our district, we also conducted gift giving activities during Christmas season and school supplies giving to learners from SPED, Kindergarten and Grade 1 to Grade 6 and we assist schools during the time of pandemic by donating hundreds of reams of coupon bonds for the reproduction of modules.

I also joined the Rotary Club of Metro Rosario La Union, an International Organization who has an active membership in our town and I became an officer and director. Just like other NGOs, we have our own focus of Community Development. We managed to build hand-washing area for learners in Cadumanian Elementary School as our adopted school, we initiated feeding programs and I sponsored one, we conducted gift giving at Barangay Cadumanian as our adopted Barangay and I adopted three families as recipients of my simple Christmas gift for their Noche Buena.

I also participated in the annual tree planting activities, coastal and river clean-up drives, vegetable seedlings distribution for the farmers, medical supplies and food packs distribution to all front liners during the lockdown, humanitarian mission to Cagayan Valley after the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses in 2020 and deep-well construction at Barangay Poblacion East for the community.

Even though I got memberships in these organizations, I never neglected my responsibilities as a teacher. I served in the private school for nine years and six years of dedicated service in the public school. I make change and promote positive changes in my present school. I even awaken the deep slumber of the sleeping giant of La Union Schools Division (LUSD) my present school, Rosario Integrated School in the field of Campus Journalism and School Paper.

The pronouncement of Rizal that the Youth is the Hope of the Fatherland is very relevant to me, I testify this by discovering and honing the potentials of my learners, because I believe that all learners are unique and has talents and skills. Rizal became a journalist when he started writing articles for La Solidaridad newspaper. Just like Rizal, I initiated the revival and creation of two school papers of our school, the Rosebud, our English school paper which is our newsletter’s name when I was in the elementary and Ang Bagong Sibol, our newly-created official school paper in Filipino. I initiated also the creation of our District Newsletter, the District Gazette. I trained budding journalists become writers of News, Sports, Editorial, Feature and Headline articles and become Copyreaders, Photojournalists, Editorial Cartoonists, and Radio Broadcasters and Scriptwriters through a summer training and workshop which is done every vacation in May.

In working together as a team, through my leadership as the School Paper Adviser of RIS and as Journalism Coordinator of our District we brought the name of our schools and our district in the limelight during Division Schools Press Conference when we became the overall champion and first runner up in English and Filipino categories respectively in 2019. Our school paper garnered awards and distinctions too in every DSPC. Our team also represented the Division of La Union in the Regional Schools Press Conferences since 2016 to 2019 and in just a short period of time I have already produced one National Qualifier in Pagsulat ng Lathalain and the Feature Page of our school paper is also a national qualifier for the National Schools Press Conference held in Tuguegarao City, Cagayan Valley in 2020.

Living the ideals of Rizal is hard, slow is my transformation I must say, but this will surely lead me in my dream of moving this great nation to regain its faded glory in my own little way.

Now, I am already in my mid-30s, young I may seem but this is the same age when Rizal died for the Fatherland, the same age where he exerted his desire to free the land from the oppressors and the same age when he gave his all for the benefit of every Filipinos dream. Thanks to his martyrdom, it sparked the flame that lit up the light in every Filipino’s heart, a call for unity to end the imperialism of the Spanish rule.

The flame is still burning until this day. Rizal is still alive in every one of us and he is very much alive in me as a teacher especially during this time of pandemic. Rizal is the light during the dark night of the Philippines and we teachers became the light and strength of our families during the lockdown, we are also known of being flexible and resilient.

During the lockdown, I never stopped making myself productive. I volunteered on buying groceries and medical needs of my neighbors with comorbidity, senior citizens and with disabilities because only one per household are allowed to go out during that time. I also offered my services to our Parish and created the Social Communications Committee in our church. I am responsible in broadcasting the Holy Mass through Facebook live using my own gadget, equipment and load. Just like Rizal, a devout Catholic, I offered my time for the Lord but I don’t turn a blind eye if see any irregularities.

Being one of the administrators of five Facebook Pages I became a reliable source of informations. I have an informal partnership with the Office of the Mayor during those times because the Local Government Unit needs to reach the whole population of Rosario. I disseminate and announce relevant and important information and announcements in our town during the lockdown which includes the schedule of distribution of relief goods or ayuda, COVID-19 reported cases, lockdown announcements in every barangay with positive cases, health protocols and alert statuses. I also participated in the Community Pantry program of our barangay by sharing financial assistance.

The resilience of the teachers is once again tested when DepEd plans to continue the education process through different platforms. Our school chose to do the Modular Distance Learning. We need to report to school to prepare and reproduce modules and deliver it to the respective dropping areas like the barangay halls. As an obedient soldier, this has been our routine for two school years. I even bought a motorcycle to reach remote places and far-flung barangays under our catchment area.

During the distribution and retrieval and modules, I spend my whole morning waiting for the parents to fetch the SLMs of their children. I also spend my own money for the gasoline of my motorcycle: a little sacrifice for the success of the continuity of education in the time of new normal. Teachers like me became an instant writer of activity sheets, learning materials and modules. I managed to make video lessons through Power point presentations and Kinemaster. Teachers are unsung heroes of this modern time, unrecognized just like Rizal during his time but surely, we’ll be acknowledged when the right time comes.

The challenge of unlearning and relearning is also a test of our abilities. The new technology offers a variety of platforms to reach our learners in a safe manner. The Google Meet, Zoom, Google Forms and Google Classrooms are some of the platforms that we familiarized and use for our online classes. We thank God for giving us also the chance to meet our learners through the limited face-to-face classes. We are given the go signal to conduct face-to-face classes, this is a great opportunity to assess our learner’s ability and to diagnose and give interventions for their weaknesses.

I am not asking anything in return, I’ve done these things out of love and concern for others, I want to be like Rizal that gave a ray of hope to the country that is suffering from the wrath and threat brought by this pandemic. My siblings even asked me “Nagado laketdin ti araramidemon, apay madika a mabuteng?” I also asked them in return “No haanko nga aramiden, sino koma ngay ti mangaramid?” (if I am not going to do it, who will?)

Earthly recognition is just secondary to the primary purpose of my earthly mission. Just like Rizal who has already received his divine reward, I believe also that in the right place, and time I’ll receive mine utmost prayer from the Almighty.

I know that I won’t receive sparkling recognitions and cheerful applauses for all the unseen things that I have done but I believe that those little things are recorded in the book of my Creator. I will proudly answer His question of “What good have I done to the least, the lost and the last?”.

Rizal is the pride of our race, he is always flexible, the jack of all trades and has knowledge in many things. I may not be an ophthalmologist like him but I can open the eyes of my learners to see the beauty of life by discovering their full potentials, I may not be an scientist and agriculturist like him but I can plant seeds of knowledge and wisdom to my learners and they will live with it as they grow, I may not be a revolutionary man like him but I can make changes in my community that even it will not benefit all but it will surely benefit others and I may not die for the nation through firing squad like him but I am willing to share sadness as a coach and adviser when my learners fail and lost in their contests and battles.

Rizal’s ideals, principles, teachings, patriotism, nationalism and faith to God will never die, he is the great Malayan, a great Filipino Patriot, the great teacher, doctor, and scientist, a respectable friend and a loving son and brother. He is truly an inspiration to all until this day and his teachings are still echoing in the ears of every Filipino who are still fighting for a change for our beloved land. I believe that Rizal is happy now because his sacrifices has been paid off.

We are already living his hopes and dreams. We are the hope that he is mentioning during his time. We are now aware of our rights and we are already upholding our dignity and pride as a free nation. We strive making changes that this nation needs.

I am Rizal, we are Rizal: as nation builders, community leaders, as law- abiding people and as a good, loving and compassionate citizens.

Yes! I killed Rizal many times in our theater play but I am and will surely live like him for the rest of my life.

By: Ryan F. Gapuz, Rosario Integrated School (SDO La Union)