‘Become everyday heroes, not bystanders’

Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - August 31, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - As the nation commemorated the sacrifices of heroes yesterday, President Aquino challenged Filipinos to stop being bystanders and strive to become everyday heroes in their own right.

“Today, we express our gratitude for our fellow Filipinos who wholeheartedly face peril to fight for what is right and just; those whose responsibilities were tested and their convictions tried – but did not fail; they who faced a crossroads and chose to put the interest of the many above their own,” the President said in a speech at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City where he led the wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of the commemoration of National Heroes’ Day.

“Whether or not a memorial stands in their honor; whether their names are written in the pages of history – with heads held high, we recognize the contributions of each hero, who laid and strengthened the foundations of the peace and progress we enjoy,” he said.

National Heroes Day honors all Filipinos who have shown gallantry or selflessness in serving the country.

Aquino noted writer Cynthia Ozick’s observation that the Holocaust or the systematic killing of Jews by the Nazis had three “participants” – bystanders, murderers and victims.

“Imagination demands a choosing. Which, of this entangled trio, are we? Which are we most likely to become? When a whole population takes on the status of bystander, the victims are without allies; the criminals, unchecked, are strengthened; and only then do we need to speak of heroes,” Aquino said, quoting Ozick.

“When a field is filled from end to end with sheep, a stag stands out. When a continent is filled end to end with the compliant, we learn what heroism is. And alas for the society that requires heroes,” Aquino said, further quoting Ozick.

He said the “courage of the heroic few becomes clear” in situations where some people remain untouched in the midst of violence and oppression.

He said one may only be adding to the problem if he chooses to stand on the sidelines and watch, or follow the dictates of the status quo, or simply complain without putting forward a solution to the problem.

“On the other hand, if even one person takes a stand and faces them, in order to say, ‘what you are doing is wrong. I will not allow you to take advantage of the Filipino people,’ then I am certain that the vicious cycle of abuse and impunity, and lack of justice, will be ended,” he added.

Aquino said his father, the late senator Benigno Jr. or Ninoy, had exhorted Filipinos not to depend on one man but “on all of us.”

“In the name of each Filipino hero: together, as one nation, let us join hands. I have every confidence that, now that we have begun something so extraordinary, we will continue to journey to our desired destination; the Filipino people will indeed realize our collective aspirations of a better and brighter future for our beloved Philippines,” he said.

Throughout the nation’s history, Filipinos have shown their capability to bring about meaningful change.

“We can uplift and spur our country to greater progress. The only thing that is needed: that we link arms, act and work together as one nation; in that way, the heavy burdens we carry as a country need not be carried by a few shoulders alone,” he said.

“Instead, each one will bring a lighter load, and in so doing, we will avoid passing the problems of the present to succeeding generations,” Aquino said.

“This must be why the word ‘bayan’ or ‘nation’ forms part of our term for ‘hero,’ or ‘bayani.’ Each one of us possesses the ability to go beyond ourselves for our countrymen and our flag,” he said.

As part of yesterday’s commemoration of National Heroes Day, Aquino received the first copy of a book entitled “Ang Mamatay ng Dahil Sa ‘Yo (To Die for You)” from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines to honor the country’s martyrs and the many Filipino heroes who rose against the dictatorship during martial law from 1972 to 1986.

“They are among those we thank and recognize today. Allow me to quote what the philosopher George Santayana once said: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ And indeed, this book is something worthy to be passed on to this generation and even to those that will follow, to inform them so that they may avoid the errors of the past and to serve as guide to building a better future,” Aquino said.

In Zamboanga City, Marine troopers wounded in an encounter with the Abu Sayyaf last Friday received special recognition yesterday from the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) as part of the commemoration of National Heroes Day.

Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, Westmincom chief, personally pinned wounded personnel medals on the 10 soldiers in recognition of their bravery.

The wounded troopers were part of the Marines’ Special Operations Platoon 2 (SOP) that encountered the Abu Sayyaf in the jungles of Barangay Latih, Patikul town, Sulu.

“It is only appropriate that the donning of the medals is held on this day for our soldiers whom we consider as our heroes,” Guerrero said briefly during his visit Monday at Camp Navarro General Hospital (CNGH).

Sgt. Rey Addatu, team leader of the special operations platoon, said they surprised the militants while the latter were fetching water and preparing for the day. The encounter left three terrorists killed and an undetermined number of their comrades wounded. – Roel Pareño

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