President Rodrigo Duterte greets Vice President Leni Robredo upon his arrival at the Rizal Park in Manila for his attendance to the 121st anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal's martyrdom on Dec. 30, 2017. Also in the photo is former president and incumbent Manila City Mayor Joseph Estrada. (Photo by Rey Baniquet/Presidential Photo)

MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte led the national commemoration of the 121st anniversary of the martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal at the Rizal National Monument in Rizal Park, Manila on Saturday, Dec. 30.

Held simultaneously at the Rizal Park, the Rizal Shrine in Calamba City, Laguna, and the Rizal Shrine in Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte, the event was spearheaded by the President starting with an early morning flag-raising rites as well as wreath-laying ceremonies at the Rizal Park.

The President, who was accorded with full military honors upon his arrival, also met the descendants of Rizal after the event.

In his official message for the annual celebration, President Duterte called on the nation to reflect on the patriotism of the country’s national hero.

“More than a century ago, Rizal inspired a movement that gave rise to the Filipino national identity. During that dark chapter in our nation’s history, his writings served as the light that guided our forebears in the fight for genuine equality and independence,” he recalled.

“As an author and as a scholar, he denounced the corruption, greed, and other social ills that up to this day continue to plague our society. Even in death, he imparted upon us his aspirations for a nation that is free from the scourge of injustice, tyranny, and suffering,” he added.

“May we take this occasion as an opportunity to recognize Rizal’s ultimate sacrifice for the sake of our country. Let us reflect on his patriotism as we strive to continue his work of building a more united, peaceful and prosperous Philippines,” he further said.

Other officials who joined the President during the ceremony were Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Special Assistant to the President Christopher Lawrence Go, National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) Chair Rene Escalante, Acting Exec. Dir. Ludovico D. Badoy, and AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero.

Manila Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada and other officials from various government agencies were also present.

This year’s theme is “Rizal 2017: Mabuting Kaisipan, Susi sa Kaunlaran.”

Born in Calamba, Laguna, on June 19, 1861, Rizal was part of a group of Filipino Ilustrados who called for peaceful reform of Spain's colonial rule in the Philippines.

While in Europe, Rizal wrote about the discrimination that accompanied Spain's colonial rule of his country.

He returned to the Philippines in 1892, but was exiled to Dapitan by Spanish authorities. He was convicted of sedition and was eventually executed on December 30, 1896, at age 35.

Rizal became an icon for the nationalist movement in the Philippines after his execution in 1896.  (PND)