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Rizal as an Engineer

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Rizal as an Engineer

Rizal was a licensed land surveyor before he took up medicine. This training enabled him to engage in civil engineering works. Among his achievements were the dam and waterworks he constructed in Dapitan in 1894 through the help of his pupils. The waterworks were built using stones, cast-off tiles, bamboo pipes, and mortar from burnt coral. He also invented a brick making machine, and a preparation of bakhaw paste, useful for roof construction because of its water resistance, fireproof and lightweight properties.

Through the help of his Jesuit teacher, Fr. Francisco de Paula Sanchez, Rizal set up a public plaza and street lighting, and constructed a huge relief map of Mindanao in front of the parish church, now declared a National Historical Landmark by the NHI and an important cultural property by the National Museum. In Talisay, he built three distinct bamboo and nipa houses — square, hexagonal, and octagonal in shapes, which served as family residence, chicken coop, and his pupils’ dormitory, respectively.

Rizal’s Bakhaw formula
You will probably agree that Jose Rizal’s most depressing poem is “Mi Retiro,” written shortly after he arrived in Dapitan, which must have seemed like a veritable hinterland after his sojourn in Western Europe. But Rizal never wasted time wallowing in his personal tragedies. He always embarked on projects that would redound to the good of his fellow Filipinos. In Dapitan, he left a legacy that Zamboanguenos cherish to this day. Aside from installing a waterworks system, a clinic and a school, he made a relief map of Mindanao at the public plaza which has become, Dapitan’s must see destination. Not many of us know that with the encouragement of his former Ateneo professor, Fr. Francisco de P. Sanchez, who was assigned to Dapitan, Rizal came up with a paste made of bakhaw ( bakawan) which could have been used for construction material suitable to these tropical climes. Noting Rizal’s interest in that mangrove plant, Fr. Sanchez lent him the “Historia de Filipinas,” authored by fellow Jesuit Juan Jose Delgado, where on page 589 mentioned that local carpenters make a pasty substance with the bakhaw fruit and use this to fill in and smoothen the imperfections of wood. Intrigued by what he had read, Rizal began to experiment with the bakhaw to see if it could become hard enough to carve and mold into particular shapes. According to Fr. Sanchez, after a few days, he received a rather triumphant note from his ex-pupil starting with “Eureka!,” claiming that he had discovered the formula for bakhaw paste.

This is how I did it, Rizal wrote, “with a knife I peeled the fruit and boiled the pulp until the water turned reddish and while it was still hot, I mashed the pulp, mixing it with a little lime water to make a water-resistant paste.” Significantly, at note, written with a pencil as he had ran out of ink, was dated 30 December 1892. In a report to his superiors, Fr. Sanchez said Rizal made several sculptural studies using the bakhaw paste. He molded figurines, frames, tiles and observed that the bakhaw paste or masilla had three properties that made it ideal for tile roofing; it’s water resistant, fireproof and very light in weight. Their next project was about potable water.

Using his money from the lottery, Rizal built modest properties in the Talisay area. Here, he built three houses made of bamboo, wood ,and nipa where he resided, taught students, and kept his chickens.

As an engineer

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, 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. COMMUNITY PROJECTS FOR DAPITAN When Rizal arrived in Dapitan, he decided to improve it to the best of his God-given talents and to awaken the civic consciousness of its people. Aside from constructing the town’s first water system, he spent many months draining the marshes in order to get rid of malaria that infested Dapitan. As a European-trained physician, he knew that malaria is spread by the mosquitoes which thrive in swampy places

The Dapitan waterworks

Water System for Dapitan
Rizal held the title of expert surveyor (perito agrimensor), which he obtained from Ateneo. He supplemented his training as a surveyor by reading engineering books. In Dapitan, he applied his knowledge in engineering by constructing a system of waterworks in order to furnish clean water to the townspeople. Without any aid from the government, he succeeded in giving 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 Dr. Rizal during his banishment in that municipality 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 block 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 limed 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 by rocks or brick piers to the distribution reservoir. Community Projects for Dapitan

When Rizal arrived in Dapitan, he decided to improve it, to the best of his God-given talents, and to awaken the civic consciousness of its people. He wrote to Fr. Pastells: ” I want todo all I can do for this town.”Aside from constructing the towns 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 remodeling 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.

*Rizal also invented an air compressed lighter for his friend Blumentritt. He called it the Sulpakan, as seen in the letter.

Letter to Ferdinand Blumentritt. Kalamba, 26 September 1887

Calamba, 26 September 1887

Dear Friend,

I am sending you a little box, the same one you sent me to Vienna; it then contained my pin. Now it contains 6 cigarettes, sampaguitas and cinnamon and kamuning flowers as well as a Tagalog lighter.1 Its mechanism is based on the principle of compressed air.

The tinder is placed at the extreme of the stick “a.” This tinder is held in “d.” Afterwards the stick is inserted in the hole “c;” it is pushed in vigorously and withdrawn immediately, and now you have the fire. In order that it may slip in more smoothly the stick is greased (e). The lighter is called sulpakan, from the root sulpak, meaning to insert a stick through a hole.

I received your letter with the picture of the good Dr. Czepelack. It gave me much joy. Please give him some cigarettes. I cannot send you many because the Austrian customs is very strict. Thanks for the photograph.

I cannot write you much because we have just suffered a great misfortune. One of my sisters, perhaps the best and the most unaffected, mother of two boys, has just died.2 She had a difficult childbirth and she lost so much blood that she died in less than thirteen hours. For this reason, I cannot leave my family this year.

The poor little orphans do not realize their misfortune and they are always waiting to see their mother again. They say: “Tomorrow Mama is coming back; God will cure her.” Yesterday we visited the grave. The boys called their mother telling her: “Let’s go home now; come as soon as you are well!” I believe that if there exists a soul that hears and thinks, the mother ought to have heard also the innocent voice of her sons. I console myself saying that it was the will of God and what He does must be the best. Now we have pasiam. My sister Olimpia died last Thursday.

The older and the more used the lighter is the better it will kindle and the stick “a” will slide better. Please greet on my behalf my good friends Czepelack and Klutschack. I will try to write them by the next mail. Greetings to the family.

I embrace you.

Faithfully yours, Rizal

You will also receive a gold coin. They have just found a large number of them buried in a clay jar. It is believed that they were the coins used by the ancient Tagalogs.

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