by Father Miguel A. Bernad, SJ
at Philippine Star, Jan. 23, 2006
A Powerful Novel
The characters of Rizal’s Noli me tangere have come to life again in a novel recently published in the United
States and reprinted in Manila, written by Roger Olivares. The original title was Hero. The reprint is entitled Noli Me Tangere 2: A Modern Sequel to Dr.
Jose P. Rizal’s Novel. In this reincarnation Crisostomo Ibarra (“Cris”) returns to the Philippines after his studies abroad and finds the country in a
terrible mess. As in the earlier novel, Cris tries to do something about it and dies in the attempt.
Maria Clara in this new novel is a physician working
among the people living in wretched conditions at the
garbage dump in Payatas, and depending for a living on
what they can salvage from the garbage. Unlike
Rizal’s Maria Clara who was the adopted daughter of a
wealthy Chinaman, the modern one was born to a
squatter family living near the railroad tracks.
Unable to support his family, her father in
desperation tries to kill them, and eventually seeks
employment abroad. So does the mother. The father
acquires a new family, the mother meets with tragedy,
the children left behind receive dollars from abroad
but (except Maria Clara) fall into moral degradation.
The modern Elias is an adviser to the President.
Unable to stand the corruption and ineptness around
him he quits his job and joins the underground.
The novel gives a vivid picture of the corruption in
the government, the wretchedness of the life of the
poor, the frivolity of the wealthy, including the
graduates of good Catholic schools who should know
Roger Olivares writes with anger about the degradation
of the Filipino people who must export one million
persons every year, because the leaders have neglected
to develop the agricultural and the industrial
resources which might have provided them with decent
jobs at home. A total of eight million Filipinos are
now abroad, most of them in menial jobs. On his
return trip to the Philippines Cris stops over at Hong
Kong and sees a shocking sight. In an open space
among the skyscrapers, “hundreds of men and women
squatted side by side, like modern slaves for sale
without the chains.” It is the Filipino domestic
servants enjoying their day off, not spending their
money on themselves in order to send it to their
families back home. But the worst thing is not what
happens to them abroad, but what happens to their
families left behind who “get dollars but not love”.
Growing up without their parents they are exposed to
Government officials gloat over the number of Overseas
Workers (OFW) and the amount of dollars coming in from
them – not realizing that this situation is an
indictment of their neglect: they should have been
doing something to improve the economy so that people
need not seek a better life abroad.
There is a chapter in which Cris visits his old
teacher at his old school and he blames the school for
not doing enough to instill a social conscience among
its graduates. “You taught us to read the classics,
but not to read the faces of the poor.”
It all seems hopeless, but the modern Crisostomo
Ibarra and the modern Maria Clara have the optimistic
vision that Father Florentino has in Rizal’s El
Literary critics will probably condemn this novel as
they condemned Rizal’s. But the ordinary reader will
have a different judgment. The blurb quotes former
Senator Jovito Salonga: “Is the Philippines worth
dying for? Philippines hopeless? Read this novel.
Extremely fascinating, relevant and thought-provoking,
a worthy sequel to (Rizal’s) Noli, written with
admirable skill.” Dr. Josefina Constantino (now a
Carmelite nun) calls it “a truly powerful book.” The
book is all that. We might add: It is an authentic
picture of the miserable state the Philippines is in
today, but also offers hope that the Filipinos can
Roger Olivares dedicates this book “to the eight
million Filipino overseas workers (OFW) scattered
around the world away from their families, and sadly
increasing by three thousand every day. -- You are
heroes to your families, but victims of greed,
corruption and incompetence. – We will be waiting for
you with yellow ribbons, when the day comes that we
can stand tall again among nations. – And that day
will come, we can promise you.”
Extremely fascinating, relevant, and thought provoking, this novel
is a worthy sequel to the first “Noli.”
Written with admirable skill, Roger Olivares has seen much and felt
the tragedy of the human predicament even more—the pathetic
conditions of the OFW’s in the Middle East, in Europe, and
Asia; the shameful, godforsaken misery of those who live and work
and die in Payatas; the horrible poverty of squatters along the
railroad tracks; the despicable corruption in government, the insatiable
greed and hypocrisy of the Filipino elite, and the redeeming patriotism
of a limited few – all these show that Philippine society
has not really changed much since the days of Rizal and Andres Bonifacio.
The questions Ninoy Aquino raised must be answered again: Is the
Filipino worth dying for? Is the Philippines hopeless. Read this
Senator Joker Arroyo
Roger P. Olivares ingeniously succeeds in provoking us to realize
that nothing truly changes in the lives of our society’s underclass,
whether under foreign rule or Filipino. You are up if you are up.
You are down if you are down. Rizal’s angst in his novel, “Noli
Me Tangere,” resonates in Olivares’ “Noli”
a century hence.
This is an excellent companion piece of the Rizal’s original,
a must and easy read for all.”
Father James B. Reuter, SJ
Like Jose Rizal, Roger Olivares is a Filipino who has lived for some
time outside of his own country. He has not grown numb with the long,
slow, deadening effect of prolonged poverty. He has not been blinded
by the greed and lust for power which has corrupted so many of our
local Filipino leaders.
Like Rizal, he now looks upon his people with anguish, aghast at their
suffering, their hardships, their misery. He is writing about his
own land, his own people, whom he loves. For those who do not know
the orient, it is a blessing to see the Philippines, through the eyes
of a Filipino. And for the Filipinos, rich and poor, it is a blessing
to see themselves through the mind and heart of a passionate, idealistic,
In this book,Roger Olivares is Don Quijote, drawing his sword against
the windmill. He is the Man of La Mancha, trying to bring the fallen
woman back to the dignity and beauty and joy of living. Like Jose
Rizal, he is trying to transform his own nation, to bring it back
to what it really should be – one of the loveliest and happiest
lands in all this world.
Senator Sonny Alvarez
Roger P. Olivares tries to do with today’s readers what our
national hero, Jose P. Rizal, tried to do with his generation. It
is a patriot's initiative through the pen. Olivares shocks us into
recognizing the cancers that now plague our modern society -- corruption,
drugs, prostitution, violence against women, lack of love of the country,
Taking off from some of Rizal's fictional characters, Olivares paints
a portrait--as Rizal did--of real people doing real things. Although
he follows Rizal's style of offering ideas through the speeches of
characters, Olivares uses a modern genre -- the cops and robbers story.
The cops and the robbers, however, belong to the same family -- and
that is how the tragic plot thickens.
Today's readers will undoubtedly be as inspired as those in Rizal's
time to transform our beloved nation into a fair and modern society."
Dr. Josefina D. Constantino, PhD
A truly powerful book, grippingly realistic. May the Sacred Heart
of Jesus stir into love, action, and conversion all who may read your
book. You have glorified Him who is Truth and Compassion.
Father Miguel Bernad, SJ
A very interesting experiment and in view of the national situation
a timely one. A good modern sequel to Noli Me Tangere, written from
perspective similar to Rizal’s own.
A Carmelite Sister
The characters in Roger Olivares’ book reflect the different
faces of our people. Anyone reading this book can find himself or
herself reflected and portrayed. This is where the power of this book
lies: that it mirrors to each Filipino himself or herself …
and makes him think. What am I doing to change these ills? There lies
the hope of our country.
There is that level of writing that I attribute to the quality of
the writer’s heart. Your novel is heart, Roger. And that, for
me, makes the difference between a book that I read and will eventually
forget, and a book that I read and will eventually appropriate as
a shaper of my heart.
Rudy Ordonez, Professor, Los Angeles
As an Ateneo alumnus, I concur with Roger that Ateneo (disguised as
Aguila University in this book) has to work harder in developing in
its alumni compassion for their fellowmen especially the poor. This
is probably the reason why many of it graduates are fairly passive
and inconsequential in the noble task of nation building. To be inconsequential
is a bitter pill to take for an Atenean, who is supposed to be trained
Cresenciano Bautista, Professor/Historian
Congratulations for a magnum opus, a masterpiece depicting the reality
of life in the country. As Cicero said in his opening defense against
Catalina, “Quosque tandem abutere, Catalina, patientia nostra.”
(How long would you endure our patience, Catalina.) Similarly, how
long shall we endure our patience to see real reforms in the country?
Fernando Umali, Alumnus of De La Salle University
This book highlights the inability of the elite educational institutions
to turn out enough servant leaders with sense of social responsibility.
With his memorable characterization and an extraordinary eye for details,
Roger Olivares captures the mood of the entire society today.