Duterte: Let's continue Rizal's work of building a more united country

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 30) — This Rizal Day, President Rodrigo Duterte urges Filipinos to not just commemorate the national hero's patriotism, but to continue what he did a century ago.

"Let us reflect on his patriotism as we strive to continue his work of building a more united, peaceful and prosperous Philippines," Duterte said in his message marking the 121st death anniversary of Jose Rizal.

The "corruption, greed, and other social ills" that Rizal had denounced continue to plague the country today, Duterte said.

The President led a celebration in Rizal Park early morning Saturday, contrary to his usual schedules which start in the afternoon, as he had admitted he is not a morning person.

Vice President Leni Robredo also attended the event along with former President and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and Education Secretary Leonor Briones.

Gemma Cruz-Araneta, a descendant of Rizal, said the President offered to host a reunion for Rizal's kin in Malacañang. Duterte said they can talk about the past and the present - what Rizal did and what the Duterte government is doing now.

She said she's happy the government continues to pay tribute to Rizal.

"He left us a masterplan of how to build the nation. All we have to do is study what he left us. Study his teachings and his works especially his life in Dapitan. All the answers are there," she said.

Rizal lived in exile in Dapitan in Zamboanga del Norte from 1892 to 1896, when he practiced medicine and pursued artistic and literary life.

Another Rizal descendant, Gerardo Castillo - who is also the uncle of hazing death victim Horacio "Atio" Castillo - said the President promised the case will be resolved soon.

"He assured the family that the resolution would come out very soon. Actually, Atio is the great-great-grandson of Jose Rizal," the elder Castillo said.

December 30 is a regular holiday in the country to commemorate Rizal's patriotism. It was this day in 1896 that Rizal was shot dead by a firing squad for fighting the Spaniards who occupied the country then. His death sparked a full-blown revolution against Spain.

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario and Eimor P. Santos contributed to this report.