Last Aug. 21, our nation celebrated Ninoy Aquino Day, a national holiday in honor of a modern-day Filipino hero who famously said, “The Filipino is worth dying for.” His words turned out prophetic, and his murder by government agents triggered a series of events which ultimately led to the downfall of a homegrown dictator and the restoration of democracy in our country.
Tomorrow, Aug. 31, we will celebrate National Heroes’ Day “to honor the bravery of all Filipino heroes who struggled for the nation’s freedom, including those who vanished in anonymity.” (officeholidays.com)
Who are our national heroes?
According to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, there is no law or executive order officially proclaiming any Filipino historical figure a national hero, but there have been laws and proclamations enacted honoring certain individuals who have played significant roles in the process of nation building.
In 1993, President Fidel Ramos issued Executive Order No. 75 creating the National Heroes Committee, tasked with evaluating and recommending Filipino national personages/heroes to recognize their achievements for our country.
The committee came up with the following criteria for meriting the title of national hero, i.e. those who: have a concept of nation and thereafter aspire and struggle for the nation’s freedom; define and contribute to a system or life of freedom and order for a nation; contribute to the quality of life and destiny of a nation; are part of the people’s expression; think of the future, especially the future generations.
Nine Filipinos made the shortlist, but no further action was taken thereafter.
As expected, Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio led the list. Also included were Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino and Gabriela Silang.
Author Pauline Miranda asks, “So who exactly do we celebrate on National Heroes’ Day? As it is said time and again, it’s not only the valiant fighters in the past chapters of our country’s story that we remember—it’s also the figures in the present, both ordinary and extraordinary, who like our forefathers, dream of a better nation.” (nolisoli.ph)
Who are the unnamed heroes that we celebrate?
It is the Katipuneros who fought with bolos against the rifles and cannons of the Spaniards. It is the guerillas who took to the hills and continued the fight against the Japanese invaders after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor. More recently, it is the martial law martyrs and those who persevered in the struggle against the dictatorship until democracy was restored in our land—some of whose names are enshrined on the Wall of Remembrance at Bantayog ng mga Bayani monument in Quezon City.
What all these famous and anonymous heroes fought and died for is summed up in the words of Ninoy Aquino: “My friends, do not forget that your readiness to suffer will light the torch of freedom which can never be put out…”
That torch of freedom our heroes struggled mightily to light in their own lifetimes is flickering today, and they must be turning restlessly in their graves.
Are we up to the task of keeping it alive?
As of this writing, leaders of the Sangguniang Kabataan and other youth groups throughout the country have shown the involvement of our young citizens by filing the 29th case against the recently approved Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, asking the Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional.
But even when it was still a bill in Congress, rights advocates and legal experts here and abroad were already pointing out specific provisions they deemed illegal and subject to abuse. The Supreme Court is presently consolidating the arguments of the various petitioners and will supposedly schedule oral hearings next month.
But the point is, how did such a highly controversial law get so easily passed by Congress? Since when did expeditious apprehension and prolonged detention of suspected terrorists take precedence over the protection of the rights and freedoms of citizens guaranteed by our Constitution and existing laws?
Another example to make any hero turn in his grave: President Duterte’s so-called “independent foreign policy” and subsequent pivot to China, and our seeming helplessness against Chinese incursions into Philippine territory, has spawned numerous jokes that the Philippines has become a province of China.
What started out as a joke is now apparently being taken seriously by some Chinese nationals who have brazenly labeled their locally distributed products with “Manila Province, P.R. China.”
On Aug. 20, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno ordered the closure of several outlets selling these mislabeled products. Although Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque was dismissive, saying no one would believe what was on the label, no one would also dare make such an absurd claim under normal circumstances.
But when statements such as “Inutil ako” (“I am useless”) are made by our country’s highest leader, referring to helplessness in the face of China’s superior military might, presumptuous behavior like this is encouraged. Obviously, if a leader’s mindset is limited to a military solution, a feeling of helplessness is the result. But as the statesmen and diplomats of other militarily weaker countries know very well, there are a host of effective measures aside from violent confrontation. Defeatism is not an option.
And lastly, while we fervently wish our country’s leader to remain in good health, especially in these times of easy new coronavirus disease transmission, it is quite unsettling to be told by his official spokesperson that he is at home in “perpetual isolation.”
Perhaps it’s the choice of words, but the term has an ominous ring of permanence to it. This despite the assurance of the President’s senator Man Friday that he continues to work hard “like a carabao for his fellow Filipinos” from his faraway home in Davao.
But in the unlikely event that our leader becomes incapacitated or feels he is no longer up to the task, and despite his past speculations on who is or who is not competent to succeed him, we hope that he will dutifully observe the line of succession mandated by the Constitution. The last thing we want to see is our national heroes not only turning in, but rising from their graves.
A meaningful National Heroes’ Day to all! —CONTRIBUTED