Maria Clara at Ibarra: An intriguing teleserye turn

Rizal’s novels get a contemporary touch—and a post-‘Fili’ sequel

Maria Clara at Ibarra
Maria Clara at Ibarra official poster

I just finished reading Jose Rizal’s second novel El Filibusterismo, spurred by the teleserye Maria Clara at Ibarra, which started streaming October 2022 on GMA. I earlier read Noli Me Tangere, also because of the fantasy series.

In the Noli teleserye, present-day Maria Clara “Klay” Infantes found herself on the “pages” of the Noli and got entangled in the problems of Maria Clara and Ibarra, who became her friends, even as she tried to understand the social restrictions the women and the Indios faced in 1840s. She was transported through time by her professor Mr. Torres, so she could learn from the characters of the Noli and find the answer to her question, “Anong kinalaman ng Noli sa nursing course ko? (What does the Noli have to do with my nursing course?)” This was her reply to Mr. Torres’ complaint that today’s youth neither cares about nor values our history.

In the teleserye, it took almost  four months of weekly episodes to do the Noli, but only half the time to “translate” Fili. The first two episodes of the Fili sequel just showed Klay reading sadly. Indeed, the Fili is a tragedy. Knowing this, Klay wanted to go back and “save” her friends, if she could. Without her professor’s knowledge, she found a way to enter the world of El Filibusterismo.

This time, or 13 years later, the law-abiding and gentle Ibarra had transformed into the scheming and seeming Indio-hater Simoun. Basilio, the young sacristan and Sisa’s son, was now a medical student, who was in love with Juli.

The dramatic rape scene of Maria Clara and her death did not happen in the book. The death of Maria Clara was just told to Simoun, who was so devastated that he failed to signal the uprising.

Basilio was another tragic character. He was jailed, the only one left out of 26 students who were rounded up for being “subversives,” after holding a satirical party for the demise of their appeal on the teaching of Spanish.

As in today’s justice system, those without padrinos  or money for bail rot in jail. Simoun bailed him out.

The teleserye showed Klay “rescuing” Juli from jumping to her death. Unfortunately this was not the case in  Rizal’s Fili. It was in jail that Basilio learned of Juli’s suicide. In her attempt to free him from jail, she asked Padre Camorra for help and ended up a victim. The priest was hurriedly transferred to another parish, and nothing more was heard of Juli.

As in today’s justice system, those without ‘padrinos’ or money for bail—like Basilio—rot in jail

Basilio also had nothing to live for without Juli. He joined Simoun who gained new fervor for the revolution after losing his resolve in the wake of Maria Clara’s mournful death. This was what Simoun was pushing all along—to create an atmosphere of chaos so he could open the doors of the nunnery and rescue Maria Clara. Maria Clara thought Ibarra was dead, her reason for entering the convent instead of marrying someone else.

The next big scene was the wedding party of Paulita Gomez, ward of Dona Victorina and the love of Isagani, a bright and articulate student and an activist. Although Paulita had feelings for Isagani, she did not see a safe future with him. She learned the lesson of Maria Clara and Ibarra. If Maria Clara only listened to her father and married someone else, she would not have ended up in the nunnery and wasted away.

Simoun had fiery plans for the wedding reception, to be held in Maria Clara’s old house. A wedding gift, a lamp loaded with nitroglycerine (dynamite), would explode, killing all the guests which included the friars and Spanish officials. Again, his plans were thwarted. The explosion should have triggered the uprising, but it was not to be.

Basilio saw Isagani lingering outside the house to have a last glimpse of his beloved Paulita, the bride. Basilio told him to leave, as something will explode. He did mention the lamp. In the book, Isagani leapt up the stairs, grabbed the lamp, and threw it into the river to save Paulita’s life.

In the teleserye, he shouted that the lamp would explode and asked everyone to leave. Simoun was left with the lamp, but apparently had drunk the poison. He died, sorrowful at what he had become because he couldn’t bear a life without Maria Clara.

In the book, he took the poison before the authorities could capture him, after they found guns and ammunition in his house. Were these parts in the novel—planning an uprising which failed twice—the reason behind Rizal’s death sentence?

Or this? The  Fili, published in 1891 in Belgium, was dedicated to GomBurZa. They were the Filipino priests Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora, who were sentenced to death by garrote. This was a slow painful death by strangulation. They were accused of leading the Cavite uprising of 1872.

Reading Fili, I can imagine Rizal speaking through Isagani so eloquently. His debate with Fr. Fernandez, a Dominican professor who marveled at Filipino students “who slander us behind our back” but “kiss our hand” when we stand face to face. Isagani countered, “The fault is in those who taught them to be hypocrites…Here, every independent thought, every word which is not an echo of the will of the powerful, is called subversion.” (Sounds familiar?)

‘Here, every independent thought, every word which is not an echo of the will of the powerful, is called subversion,’ says Isagani. (Sounds familiar?)

“No morality, you say? I do not want to analyze now…to what extent morality is affected by education, and I agree…we have our failings. Who is to blame for them? You, who have had our education in your hands for three and half centuries, or we who have submitted to everything?”

How different is today’s education system? Inez Ponce de Leon, an Ateneo professor, in her April 5 column (“Question the Box,”, said that students “have been educated in a mold of obedience all their lives…”

If students of today are not taught critical thinking, to question and voice out what they see, we are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past. One need not go back in time to see society’s hypocrisy. One sees it every election. A whole political party moves and sides with whoever is in power, whether the incumbent stands for the common good or not. (Rizal must be turning in his grave.) “Without a critical look at society, they are part of society’s problems,” adds Ponce de Leon.

Klay had to say goodbye to her friends in the Noli and Fili,  enter the “portal” to go back to her world, and share the lessons she learned with her class. Speaking in Taglish, she said, “Yes may connection ang pag-aaral ng Philippine history and culture sa (nursing) course natin. To be honest, natutunan ko ang tunay na meaning ng pagmamahal…” A “witness to history,” Klay learned to love her country and its people.

Tayo ang bida sa sariling kwento. Tayo ang may kapit sa kapalaran natin. Kahit magpapalit-palit pa ang nakaupo sa pwesto, o pag-distort ng kasaysayan, dapat mailabas mo ang katotohanan…sa pagnanais na itama ang mali (We are the protagonist in our own story, holding our own destiny. Despite the continuous relay of rulers or distortion of history, we need to bring out the truth in our desire to right the wrong.)”

Elias no longer appeared in the book, but was still a major character in the teleserye, dedicated to the cause of justice and freedom for the Filipinos. Same with Fidel, the love interest of Klay, both fictitious characters in the TV series.

As graduation gift, Mr. Torres gave Klay a scholarship for higher studies in a US university. While there was an  exodus of Filipino nurses going abroad for better pay, Klay came back after her studies. She looked for Mr. Torres, who had since retired. She found his nephew Ibarra Torres (Dennis Trillo, who played Crisostomo Ibarra and Simoun) and his wife, Maria Clara or Claire” (Julie San Jose, who played Maria Clara in the teleserye). Happy coincidence? I think the writers did this for a feel-good ending. Klay sighed and said to herself, “At least they ended up together in another time.”

The teleserye ended with an intriguing scene—Fidel emerging from the portal into the modern world of Klay. Abangan.

Maria Clara at Ibarra is streaming on Netflix.

About author


She is a freelance writer and editor, a former columnist, occasional poet, and frustrated cook and plantita. She writes about her grandchildren, women's issues and seniors coping with the pandemic. She is a reluctant "catwoman" (the cat chose her).

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