Wednesday, September 11, 2013



Hermano/Dr. Jose Rizal as Civil/Sanitary Engineer

Researched By: Dindo F. Mojica, C.E., M.Eng, 3°

When Hermano/Dr. Jose Rizal arrived in Dapitan, (Now City of Dapitan in Zamboanga del Norte, in Mindanao) as a prisoner in July, 1892, he found Dapitan as a sleepy little town; then he decided to improve it, to the best of his God-given talents, and to awaken the civic consciousness of its people.

Next Hermano Rizal acquired a piece of property at Talisay, a little bay close to Dapitan, and at once became interested in his farm. Soon he built a house and moved into it, gathering a number of boy assistants about him, and before long he had a school. A hospital also was put up for his patients and these in time became a source of revenue, as people from a distance came to the oculist for treatment and paid liberally.

One five-hundred-peso fee from a rich Englishman was devoted by Rizal to lighting the town, and the community benefited in this way by his charity in addition to the free treatment given its poor.

The little settlement at Talisay kept growing and those who lived there were constantly improving it. When Father Obach, the Jesuit priest, fell through the bamboo stairway in the principal house, Rizal and his boys burned shells, made mortar, and soon built a fine stone stairway. They also did another piece of masonry work in the shape of a dam for storing water that was piped to the houses and poultry yard; the overflow from the dam was made to fill a swimming tank.

Father Francisco Sanchez, Hermano Rizal's instructor in rhetoric in the Ateneo, made a long visit to Dapitan and brought with him some surveyor's instruments, which his former pupil was delighted to assist him in using. Together they ran the levels for a water system for the town, which was later, with the aid of the lay Jesuit, Brother Tildot, carried to completion. This same water system is now being restored and enlarged with artesian wells by the present insular, provincial and municipal governments jointly, as part of the memorial to Rizal in this place of his exile. [5]

He wrote to Fr. Pastells: “I want to do all I can do for this town." Aside from constructing the town’s first water system, he spent many months in draining the marshes in order to get rid of malaria that infested Dapitan. The P500 which an English patient paid him was used by him to equip the town with its lighting system which consist of coconut oil lamps placed in dark streets of Dapitan. Electric lighting was unknown then in the Philippines not until 1894 when Manila saw the first electric lights. The beautification and remodelling of the town plaza with the help of Father Sanchez enhances the beauty as jokingly remarked that it could "rival the best in Europe". In front of the church, Rizal and Fr. Sanchez made a huge relief map of Mindanao out of earth, stones, and grass. This map still adorns the town plaza of Dapitan. [4] [9]

As an engineer, Hermano Rizal applied his knowledge through the waterworks system he constructed in Dapitan. Going back to his academic life, Rizal obtained the title of expert surveyor (perito agrimensor) from the Ateneo Municipal. From his practical knowledge as agrimensor (surveyor), he widened his knowledge by reading engineering-related books. As a result, despite the inadequacy of tools at hand, he successfully provided a good water system in the province.

During his first school term in the University of Santo Tomas (1877-1878), Rizal also studied in the Ateneo. He took the vocational course leading to the title of perito agrimensor (expert surveyor). In these days, it should be remembered, the college for boys in Manila offered vocational courses in agriculture, commerce, mechanics and surveying.

Hermano Rizal, as usual, excelled in all subjects in the surveying course in Ateneo, with gold medals in agriculture and topography. At the age of 17, he passed the final examination in the surveying course, but he could not be granted the title of surveyor because he was below age. The title was issued to him on November 25, 1881. [9]

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Modern engineers marveled how Rizal could have built such a system of waterworks, for he had inadequate tools and meager materials, and his finances were very limited. Without any aid from the government, he succeeded in giving a good water system to Dapitan.

An American engineer, Mr. H.F. Cameron, praised Rizal's engineering feat in the following words:

Another famous and well-known water supply is that of Dapitan, Mindanao, designed and constructed by the Spanish authorities... This supply comes from a little mountain stream across the river from Dapitan and follows the contour of the country for the whole distance. When one considers that Doctor Rizal had no explosives with which to blast the hard rocks and no resources save his own ingenuity, one cannot help but honor a man, who against adverse conditions, had the courage and tenacity to construct the aqueduct which had for its bottom the fluted tiles from the house roofs, and was covered with concrete made from lime burned from the sea coral. The length of this aqueduct is several kilometers, and it winds in and out among the rocks and is carried across gullies in bamboo pipes upheld rocks and is carried across gullies in bamboo pipes upheld by rocks or brick piers to the distribution reservoir. [3] [9]

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Other Information:

Rizal’s positive contribution in the field of construction most especially in public health was undoubtedly the construction of a water works system of the gravity type. He manufactured bricks and even invented a machine that turned out 6000 pieces a day. To collect additional materials for his dam, he suspended a piece of wood on the branch of a mango tree and challenged his pupils, some 20 in number, to try their skill by striking it with a stone from a certain distance, and that hit the bull’s-eye were given prizes in the form of cigarettes which were not intended to be smoked but were exchanged with bullets which were used in their hunting expeditions. In this way, and without much urging, he secured the necessary materials for his dam, and for cement they burnt shells collected from the wide shores of Dapitan. The outflow served to fill a swimming tank. The water was conducted along open canals lined with fluted tiles from ruined house tops and piped to his house thru old empty terracotta gin bottles (with the necks off) and bamboo joints, and at a convenient distance from the Poblacion, he built an artistic public fountain, reminiscent of those put up in Manila in 1880, with a base of cemented bricks, the water flowing out from the open mouth of a lion’s head which Rizal had fashioned out of clay. Lack of civic-mindedness and little thought for the preservation of public monuments were greatly responsible for its destruction by mercenary hands years later.

References/Suggested Readings:

1.       The Life and Works of Rizal (Rizal as Engineer and Architect) -

2.       The Life and Works of Rizal (Rizal in Dapitan) -

3.       The Official Website of the City of Dipolog - 

4.       Rizal: Man and Martyr by Frank C. Laubach

5.       The Lineage, Life and Labors of Jose Rizal by Austin Craig (Project Guttenberg)

6.       Rizal’s bakhaw formula (Landscape by Gemma Cruz-Araneta)

7.       Bakhaw: Salt Water Dwelling Trees

8.       Bakhaw (in Bisaya)

9.       Zaide, Gregorio F. Jose Rizal: Life, Works and Writings. Manila: National Book Store, 1992.

Other Information (References)

    10.  Dr. Jose P. Bantug, Rizal: Scholar and Scientist, 1946 pp. 25-27

    11.  Carlos Quirino, The Great Malayan, 1940 pp.261

    12.  Dr. Jose P. Bantug, “Rizal, the Physician”, The Journal of History, Vol. V No. 1-2 (1957), pp. 47-48

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