Is Jose Rizal a national hero?

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman - The Philippine Star

I truly believe that our government must set the record straight and inform all of us the truth that Jose Rizal has never been proclaimed a national hero. Administrations have come and gone and up to this day, they have neglected the educational value of teaching our youth and our people the historical and cultural facts about our country. No wonder we are a confused lot.

Our country has been conditioned to look up to Jose Rizal whose execution by the Spaniards on December 30, 1896 was commemorated yesterday. In school, we are required to read his great novels: Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. In fact, others have even memorized his farewell address to the country: Mi Ultimo Adios. And because of this, we have forgotten and neglected the other unsung heroes who have fought and died for our country.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that Rizal is a hero in our hearts and minds but according to the publication of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, aside from the Philippine flag, the anthem, the coat-of-arms and other heraldic devices, the Philippines has only five national symbols declared by law.

One: Narra was declared the national tree by Governor General Frank Murphy during the Commonwealth Era in 1934 through Proclamation No. 652. The name narra is actually a Hispanic corruption of the native term naga, which is how the tree should be called and after which Naga City was named. This tree is valued for its wood which is used in making furniture and houses. Its leaves and bark are used in traditional medicines by several ethnic groups in the country.

Two: Sampaguita was declared the national flower also at the same time as narra by Governor General Frank Murphy in 1934 through the same proclamation. This flower is also known as Arabian Jasmine in English. It is a small shrub or vine that bears small, sweet-smelling, white flowers used in making perfumes and tea in other parts of the world. Sampaguita flowers are made into garlands and leis and are used to welcome visitors and as offering to religious icons. The sampaguita symbolizes purity, simplicity, humility and strength.

Three: The Philippine Eagle, formerly known as the monkey-eating eagle was proclaimed the national bird by President Fidel V. Ramos in 1995 through Proclamation No. 615. He said that the eagle’s uniqueness, strength, power, and love for freedom exemplify the Filipino people. This bird is endemic in the forests of the country. However, it has become endangered for extinction because its habitat is increasingly being destroyed.

Four: The South Sea Pearl was declared the national gem also by President Ramos on October 15, 1996 through Proclamation No. 905. The pearl is a distinctive part of our socio-economic and cultural tradition and the local pearl industry as among the world’s leading pearl producers. As a matter of fact, we have produced the world’s largest pearl, known as the Pearl of Allah or as the Pearl of Lao Tze.

Five: Arnis was declared as the national sport and martial arts in 2009 by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo through Republic Act 9850. This is played by using two sticks, usually made of yantok or kamagong, as weapons or extensions of the arms. Arnis began even before the Spaniards came and is also called eskrima, kali and garrote. In other Philippine dialects it is called pananandata in Tagalog,; pagkalikali in Ibanag; kabaraon and kalirongan in Pangasinan; and didja in Ilocano.

Aside from Jose Rizal, there are other Philippine icons (or things) that are commonly mistaken for national symbols which are taught in schools, written in many textbooks and are present in the net or social media: like the anahaw as national leaf, cariñosa or tinikling as national dance, carabao as national animal for land, bangus as national fish, mango as national fruit, barong tagalog and baro’t saya as national costume, lechon as national dish, nipa hut as national house, maya as national bird, bakya as national footwear, sipa as national game and would you believe — Juan de la Cruz as representation of the Filipino people.

These are all cultural icons and cannot be called national symbols because they have no official status and have not been established by law.

As a matter of fact, research shows that there is no Filipino historical figure who has been officially declared as a national hero through law or executive order. What we have are laws and proclamations honoring Filipino heroes. It was only on November 15, 1995, that the Technical Committee of the National Heroes Committee created through Executive Order No. 5 by then President Fidel V. Ramos, recommended nine Filipino historical figures to be National Heroes: Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino and Gabriela Silang. I learned that this is still a pending issue because up to now no action has been taken on these recommendations. Susmariosep! I hope that the National Historical Commission can persuade the President to do something about this.

The Philippines has always been in search of its identity. We have a beautiful country with loving and very likeable people. We have a distinct heritage and a very colorful culture. It is time we straighten up our historical data in order to strengthen our national identity before we get lost in the greater depths of humanity.

As we usher in the New Year we bring with us a renewal of spirit and hope. Let us clear out the cobwebs in our lives and start anew. It is never too late as we are given the chance to do so every New Year.

I’d like to end this column with a quote from William Arthur Ward, a dedicated scholar, author, editor, pastor and teacher: “Another fresh new year is here. Another year to live! To banish worry, doubt, and fear, to love and laugh and give! This bright new year is given me. To live each day with zest. To daily grow and try to be my highest and my best! I have the opportunity once more to right some wrongs. To pray for peace, to plant a tree. And sing more joyful songs!”

Happy New Year!













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