Knights of Rizal welcomes new ‘sirs’ as worries over finances loom

Blindfolds for knights-in-waiting. Photos by Jujo Conol

Blindfolds for knights-in-waiting. Photos by Jujo Conol

By Jujo Conol & Cristina DC Pastor

Since becoming chapter commander of the Order of the Knights of Rizal (KOR) of New Jersey about six months ago, Sir Paul Verzosa found out how seriously his organization was cash-strapped.

While membership dues are collected yearly, all of that goes toward the maintenance of the Jose Rizal Monument in Jersey City instead of funding the projects of the KOR.

“Every year, we pay $2K in annual maintenance fees, such as mowing the lawn and other costs,” he disclosed in an interview with The FilAm. “The amount also covers insurance costs in the event someone gets hurt an accident while close to the statue.”

Turns out the Rizal monument, according to him, sits on private property owned by NJ Transit. If the statue was erected on public land, KOR would not have this “problem.” Verzosa said this matter has burdened the KOR for many years, but this time they would like to have this settled.

“Matagal na ito pero gusto na namin tapusin,” he said.

Sir Paul Verzosa

Sir Paul Verzosa

Verzosa’s unit, the KOR New Jersey, has 95 members each paying $50 a year in membership dues. That amount is split between the unit and the KOR head office in the Philippines, he said. But the amount that is supposed to go to the order instead goes toward paying for the statue’s maintenance.

“Ubos ang pera namin, kulang pa,” he lamented.

He outlined a couple of options his organization is seriously studying. One, uprooting the current Rizal statue and relocating it to a public land. Two, commissioning a new statue in the Philippines and transporting it to the U.S. for relocation to a public land. They have identified two possible locations in Jersey City — Mallory Avenue and Westside Avenue – where the statue may be transferred.

Verzosa said there are suggestions that community organizations in New Jersey, such as the Pan American Concerned Citizens Action League, Inc. (PACCAL) or the Philippine-American Friendship Committee, Inc. (PAFCOM), share in the cost of the statue’s maintenance. He did not say how those organizations feel about the idea.

“Dapat magtulungan tayo,” he said. “This is everyone’s park.”

As the KOR grapples with the state of its finances, eight gentlemen, including young politicians, pledging to “emulate” the examples of Rizal were knighted at a January 31 fellowship ceremony.

The newly inducted “brothers” were entrepreneur Jason Purino, financial service professional Francis Belza, logistics and warehouse associate John Sohn, health care employee Carlos Gutierrez, beverage company employee Arnold Castillo, Jersey City resident Ruel Casino, Council members Jonathan Wong of Mahwah, New Jersey and Peter Mendonez Jr. of West Windsor.

The fellowship ceremony was held at the Loyalty Lodge #33 in Union. It is no coincidence that the location was a Masonic house, said Verzosa. “Rizal was a Mason.”

The Order of the Knights of Rizal is a civic, patriotic, cultural, non-partisan, non-sectarian, and non-profit organization, according to Verzosa. “The objective is to study the teachings of Dr. Jose Rizal and to propagate and inculcate said teachings in the minds of the Filipino people and other citizens of the world and, by word and deed, exhort them to emulate and practice the examples he set.”

Any Filipino male of legal age, good moral character and who adheres to Rizalist philosophy is eligible for membership. He needs the endorsements of two KOR brothers. Verzosa said KOR has been inviting younger members. Currently, the youngest at 23 years old is Council Member Jonathan Wong, and the oldest are brothers in their 70s to 80s.

As part of the knighting ceremony, the eight recruits were led to a private room removed from their family and friends. Each was blindfolded and given a lighted candle. A brother welcomes them with these words: “You have been deprived temporarily of the light to symbolize the political darkness in which our people lived at the time Rizal was marched to the field of Bagumbayan on the fateful morning of December 30, 1896.”

During this time, they are asked to reflect on the life and sacrifice of Rizal which led to his death and ultimate act of patriotism.

Newly knighted Council Member Mendonez said he is “blessed” to be a part of the KOR brotherhood.

He said, “I was once told that being a Knight of Rizal was just like being knighted by the Queen of England. Truly, I’m blessed to be a part of such a brotherhood.”

The Jose Rizal statue in Jersey City: $2K to maintain

The Jose Rizal statue in Jersey City: $2K to maintain. Photo by Paul Verzosa

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