Outstanding Filipina Mother
An outstanding Filipina mother, Doña Teodora was born in Meisik, Manila on November 9, 1827, to a distinguished and wealthy family. Her father, Lorenzo Alberto Alonso, a surveyor, was once a capitan municipal of Biñan, Laguna, a representative to the Spanish Cortes and a Knight of the Order of Isabela the Catholic. Her mother, Brigida de Quintos, was described as being unusually well educated. Doña Teodora was the second and the youngest daughter of the couple’s five children. Her youngest brother Jose, himself a Knight of the Order of Isabela the Catholic and also the Order of Carlos III, was described as the wealthiest in Biñan during his time. The Alonso family later adopted the surname Realonda in accordance with a decree issued by Governor Claveria in 1849.
Like her gifted mother, Doña Teodora was well educated and highly cultured. She graduated from the Colegio de Santa Rosa in Manila. With pride, Rizal wrote Blumentritt. “My mother is not a woman of extraordinary culture. She knows literature and speaks better than I do. She even corrected my poems and gave me wise advice when I was studying rhetoric. She is a mathematician and has read many books. Her father who was Philippine representative to the Cortes had been her teacher.”
It was on June 28, 1848, when she was then 20 years old, when she married Francisco Mercado of Biñan. They settled in Calamba and to them were born eleven children: Saturnina, Paciano, Narcisa, Olimpia, Lucia, Maria, Jose, Concepcion, Josefa, Trinidad and Soledad. She is said to have suffered the greatest pain in the delivery of her seventh child, the younger of her two sons, Jose. Her daughter Narcisa recalled: “I was nine years of age when my mother gave birth to Jose. I recall father vividly because my mother suffered great pain. She labored for a long time. Her pain was later attributed to the fact that Jose’s head was bigger than normal.” But this would not be the only pain that she would suffer on account of this son.
The Rizal family was primarily engaged in agriculture. In time, the family prospered. They were the first to own a large stone house in Calamba. Their good fortune was due not only to the couple’s industry but also, to Doña Teodora’s efficient management of domestic affairs and keen business sense. Aside from handling the family’s finances, she also helped in the management of their farm where corn, rice, and sugarcane were raised. They engaged in the textile business and operated sugar and flourmills and homemade hand press. As if these were not enough, Doña Teodora opened a small store on the ground floor of their house. With such resources they were able to send their children to distinguished colleges in Manila and to leading universities in Europe as well, as in the case of their gifted son, Jose.
Despite her involvement in the family’s business affairs, Doña Teodora or Doña Lolay, did not neglect her duties as a mother. As such she was devoted, loving, solicitous and self-sacrificing. But she was also a strict disciplinarian. She was so effective as her children’s first teacher that Rizal was led to remark years later: “The education that I received since my earliest infancy was perhaps what has shaped my habits.” But she would also be the first to object vigorously to her husband’s plan to let Jose pursue higher learning, as she feared that Jose will suffer a tragic fate, for inasmuch as Spanish officials frowned at learned Filipino.
A devout and religious woman, she impressed upon her children the love of God and loyalty to country. To her, the fulfillment of one’s “duties as a true Christian is sweeter than acquiring great knowledge which sometimes leads to greater dangers.” Jose admired and adored her because of her intelligence and her devotion to her family. She was a great influence on her son whose concern for her when her vision failed, made him decide to take up medicine and specialize in ophthalmology. Ever solicitous, Doña Teodora left Hong Kong in 1893 to keep house for him upon his exile to Dapitan. Rizal paid her the greatest tribute a man could give his mother when he exclaimed in his memoir: “Ah!
Without her what would have become of my education and what would have become of my education and what have been my fate? Oh, yes! After God the mother is everything to man.”
Doña Teodora was a good wife as well. She shared her husband’s joys, sorrows and problems. She was a veritable helpmate and a comfort in times of distress. Her devotion to her husband may be gleaned from Dr. Rizal’s letters to his friend, Blumentritt, while in Dapitan in 1895. In one, he wrote that his mother was leaving for Manila because his father, who was getting weaker, wanted to see her. And in another he wrote: “My father is well again and my old mother does not want to separate from him – like two friends in the last hours of farewell, knowing that they are going to separate, they do not like to be far from each other.” Doña Teodora outlived Don Francisco, who died on January 5, 1898, more than a year after his son’s martyrdom.
Among the members of the Rizal family, next to the great hero himself, Doña Teodora Teodora perhaps suffered the most from the Spanish tyranny. Twice, she was unjustly imprisoned on charges which were either preposterous or trifling. In 1871, she was accused of poisoning the wife of her brother Jose. The case was brought to the Supreme Court where she was defended by two of Manila’s most famous lawyers. She was subsequently acquitted, but she had already suffered imprisonment for two and half years.
In 1890, the Rizal family, together with other Filipino families was ejected from their lands in Calamba as a result of a controversy between the Filipino tenants and the Dominican Order, which owned the Calamba estates. Homeless, the Rizal family moved to Manila and lived there. But Spanish persecution followed them. In 1891, Doña Teodora was arrested. Regarding this, Rizal wrote bitterly: “From Manila they sent her to Sta. Cruz, Laguna Province, through mountains from town to town, because she did not call herself a Realonda de Rizal but simply Teodora Alonso! She has always been called Teodora Alonso! Imagine an old woman of 64 traveling through mountains and highways with her daughter under the custody of the civil guard. When my mother and sister, after four days of traveling, arrived at Sta. Cruz, the governor, deeply touched, released them.”
The endless persecution prompted them to join Rizal in Hong Kong in 1891. It was a contented Rizal who informed Blumentritt that his parents, sisters and brothers were living peacefully with him, “far from the persecutions they suffered in the Philippines.”
What greater sorrow could fill a mother’s heart than to see the day come when her beloved son would be sentenced to death after a mock trial. Already well advanced in years, Doña Teodora passionately appealed to the governor general for her son’s life. But it was in vain. On December 30,1896, Jose Rizal was martyred in Bagumbayan Field. Doña Teodora survived her son for 15 years. She died in Manila on August 16, 1911. Fitting honors were accorded to her funeral.
One incident in the life of Doña Teodora is worth remembering. In 1907, the Philippine Legislature offered her a lifetime pension as a token of gratitude. The offer was politely but firmly refused with dignity and conviction. So she replied: “My family has never been patriotic for money. If the government has plenty of funds and does not know what to do with them, better reduce the taxes.
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