We need a hero(ine)

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

National Heroes Day is a celebration of Filipino heroes and heroines whose lives are not celebrated on any special date. It is also a day to celebrate the thousands of unknown heroes in Philippine history. There have been attempts, in the past, to name our national heroes. In 1995, a historical committee was formed to name our heroes. Aside from Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio, there are no other heroes where there has been a consensus. Only three heroes have a special date marked for celebrating their heroism – Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Ninoy Aquino.

In ancient times, hero was a term designated for military people or soldiers of different types. Even today, that is the most common meaning. It has now become obvious that many heroes are not necessarily soldiers. In fact, our national hero – Jose Rizal – was a writer and an intellectual. Ninoy Aquino was a political leader who appealed to the conscience of the people. However, he also advocated nonviolence in the struggle to restore democracy. Many of the greatest heroes of modern history were not soldiers and were advocates of nonviolence like Mahatma Gandha, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

The historical committee arrived at nine names that they proposed to list as heroes to be celebrated during this holiday, National Heroes Day. Aside from Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio, the other seven names included: Emilio Aguinaldo, revolutionary leader and first president of the Republic of the Philippines; Apolinario Mabini, the first prime minister and considered the “brains” of the Philippine Revolution; Marcelo H. del Pilar, writer lawyer and journalist, influential in the Philippine independence movement; Muhammad Kudarat, seventh sultan of Maguindanao who fought against foreign conquest; Juan Luna, painter, sculptor and political activist during the Philippine Revolution; Melchora Aquino, Filipina revolutionary known as the “grand woman of the revolution” who tended to and counseled sick and injured revolutionaries as well as holding meetings of the Katipuneros in her house; and Gabriela Silang, leader of an early nationalist movement against Spanish rule.

The suggested list was submitted by the committee to the Department of Education, Culture and Sports; no official action was taken on the proposal. There was no explanation, but the most probable reason was that the list would cause a lot of debates and disagreements, especially names that were not included.

For example, I would have included the names of General Antonio Luna, the supreme military commander of the Filipino forces against the Spaniards and the Americans. I would also have included the names of Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora who were executed by the Spaniards for activities considered as sedition. Then there was Malvar, the last Filipino general to surrender to the Americans, and Sakay continued the guerrilla war against the Americans after every one else had been captured or given up the fight.

The history of the celebration of a National Heroes Day is slightly complicated. I am not sure if I have all the historical facts. Here is what I know.

During the Commonwealth period, Nov. 30 was a holiday celebrating two separate events. It was Andres Bonifacio Day to commemorate the hero Bonifacio and then the commemoration of unknown heroes already termed as National Heroes Day. In 1942, President Laurel set the date for National Heroes Day on Nov. 30.

The holiday was also supposed to commemorate Cry of Pugad Lawin, an event that formally marked the beginning of the Philippine Revolution. The official date of this event is Aug. 26, 1896. However, other historians have given other dates. Pio Valenzuela, a close associate of Bonifacio, and historian Teodoro Agoncillo both said it happened on Aug. 23. Historian Gregorio Zaide and other historians maintain that it happened on Aug. 26.

In 1954, President Elpidio Quirino set the date for the celebration of National Heroes to the last Sunday of August. President Corazon Aquino made the date on the last Sunday of August and made it a regular holiday. It was President Gloria Arroyo who then changed the date to the last Monday of August as part of her “holiday economics” program. The idea was that a long weekend holiday would encourage domestic tourism and help boost the economy.

I believe that this holiday was set during the last week of August in order to make this also a celebration of all the known and unknown heroes of the Philippine Revolution and other major events in Philippine history.

During the struggle against the Marcos martial law dictatorship, there was a song whose lyrics were so meaningful and it ended up being sung in many rallies. The chorus for the song goes:

I need a hero, I’m holding out for a hero

Till the morning light

He [or she] has got to be sure

And it’s gotta be soon

And he [she] has got to be larger than life.

The greatest contribution of a hero is saving the soul of a nation. Throughout our history, every time the Filipino people needed a hero, one eventually surfaced.

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Write Things guests in September, its eighth anniversary month: Danton Remoto, Ambeth Ocampo, Susan Lara, Nikki Alfar, a star-studded roster. More details to come!

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