The pandemic put to light a new batch of heroes—or what we are, by now, accustomed to call “front-liners.”
During the early days of the lockdown, when the government had come to its senses, it laid out the framework on how to deal with the virus. It was a marching order to a charging cavalry: This was a war with an unseen virus that needed to be defeated by all means.
Suddenly, the streets were empty. In stark contrast, hospitals were overflowing with patients infected with COVID-19. It was a race with time inside wards, intensive care units and even in parking lots converted into isolation facilities. These were scenes we only see in apocalyptic movies or tales of wars we read in history books.
Health-care and essential workers were hailed as heroes overnight. Countless stories of their sacrifices have been told, written and captured both in mainstream and social media.
Health-care workers have been the face of the fight against the virus. But that, too, is misleading since we cannot even see their faces, as they endure long hours of duty in personal protective equipment. Most of them skip meals. They have been away from loved ones for fear of infecting others.
Remember, too, the stories of health-care workers at the receiving end of the stigma of carrying the virus. Some were driven out of their homes or publicly shamed. But the nail on the coffin was the tongue-lashing they received after being accused of staging a revolution when all they wanted was a breather.
Apart from them are those whose jobs are essential to the day-to-day living. Labeled as heroes were drivers, farmers, fisherfolk, vendors, security guards, bankers, journalists, government employees in the lower rungs, and many more whose jobs entail exposing themselves to risks, to deliver the goods and services needed to sustain the population.
Some were even dubbed as “back-liners” as they perform tasks beyond the reach of public lenses. Remember their battle cry, only to be abused by unashamed politicians who think they are of the same caliber as the front-liners: “We went to work for you. Stay at home for us.”
The pandemic made us revisit the definition of heroes we learned from grade school textbooks.
Heroes, as defined then, were persons wielding bolo knives and rifles, writing propaganda messages, waving flags and tearing pieces of paper that remind them of their colonial masters.
Now, heroes are persons who are doing their jobs selflessly so that others would not have to. As tokens of gratitude, messages of support and just compensations poured in for front-liners. Antidiscrimination ordinances were crafted and implemented to shield them from harassment. In the early days of the lockdown, people at home were encouraged to clap their hands from their balconies to show support for front-liners.
But are these enough?
We are a country whose many influences force us to find the silver lining in every tragedy—even if there is too little to scavenge. We have a penchant for framing heroes and worshipping them on every occasion possible.
The idea of resilience is commodified and bloated out of proportion that the portrayal always seems to depart from the very reason heroism was necessary in the first place. It is dismaying that the unfortunate events that led to the current state of affairs we now face, are deemed as blinding eye-openers and blessings in disguise. They are but appalling excuses not to address the problems to their roots.
As if contractualization and labor exploitation were not a problem prepandemic. As if the plight of health-care workers was not miserable before the pandemic. As if social safety nets were not accessible to the poor and marginalized long before the pandemic.
The heroes of the revolution are, first and foremost, humans. They may have lived in a different time and with different circumstances, but they are more or less the same flesh as we are today. We put our front-liners on the pedestal as a way to show we honor them. We recognize their sacrifices—but only just. While we allow the cycle that perpetuates the conditions that necessitate heroes to be hailed and glorified, we will remain a struggling nation bereft of national identity. While we do nothing to change the status quo, we will continue to search for heroes—or messiahs—with the faint hope that one day we will emerge from the doom and gloom that is our quandary.
If we do not change the way how effective governance should be, we will remain begging at the mercy of unscrupulous politicians and pretentious leaders. If only for vanity and hollow words, this country will continue to produce heroes so that we may draw an example of who does good for the country and who does not as if it is not the duty of every single Filipino to do and think what is best for the nation. We are too obsessed with heroes.
Do we need more heroes when we eliminate the reasons for martyrdom and heroism to be inevitable, much less to exist? Probably not so.
I have a faint dream that one day, the Philippines would need fewer heroes. —CONTRIBUTED INQ
The author is a graduate student at University of the Philippines Diliman.