Duterte to Pinoys: Emulate heroes amid pandemic
President Duterte salutes during a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument of Marcelo and Gregorio del Pilar at the provincial capitol in Malolos, Bulacan yesterday. The President honored the two sons of Bulacan during the celebration of the 123rd Philippine Independence Day.

Duterte to Pinoys: Emulate heroes amid pandemic

Christina Mendez, Edith Regalado (The Philippine Star) - June 13, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — After driving away Spanish colonizers 123 years ago, the Philippines is again struggling to gain freedom this time from COVID-19 against which Filipinos should unite, President Duterte said yesterday.

“Each of us has been called upon to be heroes in our own right – in fighting for our survival and in devoting ourselves to the common good, just as our heroes did more than a century ago,” Duterte said in his pre-recorded Independence Day message.

COVID-19 has killed over 22,500 of the 1.3 million Filipinos infected.

“The challenges of the past year have tested our character as a nation,” he said.

Vice President Leni Robredo, in her message, also called for unity in tackling present challenges, especially the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the face of the powerful, it seems impossible to break free. Ever since, this has been what the enemies of freedom have wanted us to believe: That we are weak, that we are divided, that we are alone and that we should focus more on individual interest than on the collective goal,” she said.

“But we showed then to the Spaniards, and to all those who tried to oppress our country: Even if the battle seems to be one-sided, as long as we draw strength from each other, we can succeed,” she added.

Filipinos have had to endure the longest lockdown since the outbreak of the pandemic more than a year ago. The government’s vaccination program has so far covered only a small percentage of the population. Many of those who have sacrificed their lives were health care workers.

In his remarks, Duterte said Filipinos should draw inspiration from heroes – known and unknown – in the struggle against colonialism.

“With their noble example inspiring us, we look forward to a brighter future filled with hope that we will overcome the challenges brought by this pandemic. May the patriotic fervor continue to burn in our hearts,” he said.

Del Pilars honored

Duterte later in the day visited Bulacan to pay tribute to two of its most prominent sons – Gen. Gregorio del Pilar and his uncle propagandist Marcelo del Pilar.

“It is just fitting that, more than a century since their exploits, these two sons of Bulacan continue to inspire succeeding generations of Filipinos to cherish the liberties and freedoms that they bled and fought for,” Duterte said in his speech.

“I therefore consider it a great honor to bestow upon them – through their kin who are with us today – the Order of Lapu-Lapu, in recognition of their extraordinary acts of heroism that served as the foundation of this nation,” he added.

“More than a century ago, our heroes fought valiantly to liberate our country from the yoke of foreign oppression. The province of Bulacan is proud to call two of these heroes as their own – General Gregorio S. del Pilar and Marcelo H. del Pilar,” he said.

Duterte described Marcelo H. del Pilar “a genius in the realm of arts and letters. Under the pen name ‘Plaridel,’ he wrote fiery editorials that exposed the atrocities and injustices of the colonizers.”

“Gen. Gregorio del Pilar, on the other hand, was hailed as the ‘Hero of Tirad Pass’ – a true patriot who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our young republic,” he said.

“The Philippines has indeed come a long way since the time of the heroes we honor today. We are now a nation that is modern, progressive and ever thriving,” he said.

“However, our continued progress will only be possible if we have a strong understanding and appreciation of the liberties that we enjoy today. Let us move forward in solidarity and give greater meaning to the freedom that our forebears achieved for us 123 years ago,” Duterte said.

Presidential Communications Operations Office chief Sec. Martin Andanar also echoed Duterte’s call for a united front against the pandemic.

“Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, may we collectively rise and recover from the challenges and difficulties it has brought to our nation,” Andanar said.

“It is when all of us play our part in this collective fight, by following all the health protocols and participating in the national vaccination program of the government, that we can be dutiful and steadfast citizens, as expected of us by our ancestors,” he added.

Tribute to health workers

National Task Force against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. said the 123rd year of Independence was an opportunity to pay tribute to health workers, doctors and other frontliners, including the police.

“They are the epitome of courage, determination and selflessness – the very same qualities of our heroes who more than a hundred years ago sacrificed their lives for our nation’s independence,” Galvez said in his Independence Day message.

“This is the only way we can regain our freedom from this health crisis, put an end to this pandemic and bring back a greater sense of normalcy to our lives,” Galvez said.

For Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Independence Day should highlight the need to secure the country from external and internal threats.

“Securing our country on all fronts, from the outside and from within, is the essence of our existence,” he said after leading the flag ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco also called for unity in the fight against COVID-19.

“To win against COVID-19, we need to work together and build on our strengths, just like what our forefathers did almost a century and a quarter ago. Together, there are no challenges we can’t overcome,” the Marinduque congressman stressed.

“While we continue to navigate the challenges brought by the pandemic, may we be reminded of the immense sacrifices our ancestors made and what they had to pay for the freedom we enjoy. We, too, have to take up the fight to free our country from COVID-19,” he pointed out.

Velasco lamented the impact of the pandemic on Filipinos. “Many of us are unable to go to work, schools remain closed, millions have lost their jobs and livelihoods and a lot of people can’t avail of medical care because hospitals are filled with COVID-19 patients. Indeed, some of our basic rights have been momentarily taken away due to the coronavirus,” he said.

But he stressed that the weapon to win the war is already available. “We are fortunate enough that more than one year after the pandemic started, we now have the most important weapon to fight back against the coronavirus: the life-saving vaccine. We only have to make sure that we get as many Filipinos as possible vaccinated to achieve herd immunity and bring this health crisis to a decisive end,” he stressed.

Soul searching

For former Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio Jr., the commemoration of Independence Day is a good day to assess honestly if Filipinos have done their part in safeguarding the independence won over 100 years ago.

Citing remarks previously made by the President regarding Chinese incursion in Philippine territory, Carpio said Duterte has given up the country’s maritime zones and natural resources for fear of triggering a war with China.

“This is not how an independent sovereign state should act. This is how a vassal state acts,” he said.

“By forming an alliance with China and Russia against the rest of the world, President Duterte is joining the authoritarian states against the liberal democracies of the world,” he added.

The retired magistrate said the Filipino people should assert the country’s sovereignty and not be cowed by a foreign power.

“We must protect our territorial integrity and maritime areas against foreign invasion. We must not allow our national leaders to give away any part of our national territory or maritime entitlements,” said Carpio.

“This moment in our history requires every patriotic Filipino to oppose vigorously the defeatist and appeasement policies of President Duterte – policies that gravely prejudice our sovereign independence, sovereign territory and sovereign rights. This day is a reminder to all patriotic Filipinos that Independence Day means renewing our vow to safeguard our territory and maritime zones from foreign invasion,” he added.

For its part, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) urged the government to recognize the basic rights of every Filipino, calling it the essence and foundation of freedom.

“Despite the efforts of many Filipinos, many are still bound by poverty, injustice, discrimination and other issues that hinder their ability to live freely and with dignity,” it said in Filipino.

“Many continue to suffer due to unemployment, food shortages, difficulty in accessing health services, violence and killings and other issues that affect the rights, especially of vulnerable sectors,” it added.

The government, it said, should ensure that every Filipino enjoys basic rights to health, employment, food, justice and security.

“Let us remember that our freedom is not complete as long as there are Filipinos deprived of their rights and dignity,” the CHR said. – Janvic Mateo, Romina Cabrera, Jose Rodel Clapano, Edu Punay, Ramon Efren Lazaro

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