Jose Paciano Rizal bore many titles in his short 35-year life. He was popularly known as a writer, an ophthalmologist, a multi-linguist and a reformist against the Spanish colonizers. But many accounts of his life say that Rizal engaged in many more activities beyond the arts and medicine. He was also reportedly into farming, trading and business.
Most of Rizal’s entrepreneurial activities happened during his four-year exile in Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte. In Jose Rizal: Life, Works, and Writings of a Genius, Writer, Scientist, and National Hero, authors Gregorio and Sonia Zaide recount the many businesses and industries Rizal engaged in during his stay in Dapitan.
According to the Zaides, Rizal’s most profitable business was in the trading of abaca or Manila hemp, a fiber used in sailing ships’ riggings because of its strength. The authors cite a letter Rizal wrote in 1894 to Ferdinand Blumentritt, one of his closest friends, where he shares how he “made a profit of Php200 in one stroke” by buying abaca in Dapitan and exporting it to Manila.
“At one time, he shipped 150 bales (bundles) of hemp to a foreign firm in Manila at huge profit for himself and his business partner,” wrote the Zaides. “He purchased hemp in Dapitan at Php7 and 4 reales (an old Philippine currency) per picul and sold it in Manila at Php10 and 4 reales, giving him a profit of Php3 per picul (a unit of measurement for a load a person can carry on their shoulders).”
The Zaides identified that business partner as Ramon Carreon, a Dapitan-based businessman who, apart from trading abaca, also engaged in the fishing, copra and lime-making ventures with Rizal.
They further added that Rizal wrote several letters expressing intent to empower both fishermen and farmers in Dapitan by introducing more modern methods of fishing and farming. With the latter, he went as far as establishing the Cooperative Association of Dapitan Farmers to help support the city’s farming industry. This cooperative aimed to improve the quality of the farmers’ products as well as to help manage their funds.
Farming was more than a business venture for Rizal, as he became engrossed in agriculture during his four-year exile. The Zaides wrote that Rizal bought 16 hectares of land in Talisay, a seaside barangay in Dapitan, which later expanded to 70 hectares that contained “6,000 hemp plants, 1,000 coconut trees, and numerous fruit trees, sugarcane, corn, coffee and cacao.”
Outside of his business pursuits, Rizal also contributed to improving the quality of life in Dapitan. He put up a school and a hospital where he taught and practiced medicine respectively, and the Zaides noted that many of these services were done for free. The biography also mentions that Rizal completed several public works projects for the community, the most notable of which is a water supply system that was able to provide fresh and clean water to the city.
Not much else has been written about Rizal’s business ventures, but he continues to be honored in Dapitan today through several shrines and landmarks. While he may not be remembered as a businessman as much as he is an author or a reformist, his ventures in Dapitan show that Rizal had an entrepreneurial spirit inside him, too.
Lorenzo Kyle Subido is a staff writer of Entrepreneur PH