The message of the novel is clear: the present system of governing the Philippines through corrupt and self-seeking officials, dominated by the friars and being submissive to their interests in one fashion or another, can only lead to disaster for Spain. By its nature and operation the system without doubt drives all intelligent, generous, hard-working, courageous, and loyal citizens, even those most devoted to Spain, into opposition, crime, and subversion. The government is subjective, cruel, completely lacking in a sense of justice or of responsibility, and without interest or trust in the people it governs. The friars are painted in even harsher colors than in the Noli: they abuse their power to satisfy vile lusts; to rob men of their lands; to preserve their monopoly of education; always seeking their own interests rather than those of the country, or even of Spain.
Yet in this harsh picture there are bright spots: the high official who opposes the governor-general over his subjective proceedings, and who sympathizes with and defends the Filipino people; and the open-minded Dominican, Father Fernandez, who favors the petition of the students for a Spanish academy, and is willing to discuss with the student Isagani on equal terms what the students expect from the friars.
Rizal sees little hope that Spain will rule on the basis of justice rather than prestige, and though he must record the rays of hope that still remain, he is essentially pessimistic.
Along with his warning to Spain, Rizal conveys to his countrymen the action to be taken if Spain does not heed his warning. If Rizal is ruthless in denouncing Spanish corruption, greed, exploitation, and injustice, he is no less hard in condemning Filipino corruption, greed, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and cowardice, which share in, or permit Spanish abuses. The Filipina, Doņa Victorina, ashamed of her race; the cowardly, time-serving Filipino lawyer, Seņor Pasta; the brutalized civil guard, cruelest of all of their own countrymen; the corrupt municipal officials --- to name a few.
Moreover, he criticized weak-willed students who lack self-respect and courage to fight a dampening system of education; the silliness of Paulita, who chooses the cowardly but wealthy braggart Pelaez over Isagani whose bravery and patriotism have gotten him into trouble with the authorities; the superstition and fanaticism of the women of San Diego.
He proclaims the unstable and presumably irreversible status of Spanish sovereignty in the Philippines. Yet he never urges revolution. Not only does he condemn an independence won by immoral means, like Simoun's; he does not even want immediate independence, which could only mean a new slavery. The task for the Filipinos is to prepare themselves, to make themselves worthy of freedom, and then God will grant the means, be it revolution or peaceful separation from Spain.
Education, decent lives, and willingness to sacrifice for one's convictions, even to suffer martyrdom - this is the road to freedom that Rizal would have his countrymen travel.
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[noli me tangere]