Cowards and losers don’t shape a nation

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

Today is National Heroes Day. Fiction or non-fiction, a hero is one who is idealized, admired and honored. Our Filipino youth look up to heroes, past and present. But who are they now? Leaders nowadays come and go, wasting the opportunity of showing exemplary service and qualities to the young. Sadly, many who should be heroes have wasted away.

In a column entitled “Four Lessons from Quezon for the New Republic” my late father Maximo V. Soliven wrote: “The Chinese have an old proverb that if a man wishes to achieve immortality, he must do one of three things: he must plant a tree, he must write a book or he must father a son. Manuel L. Quezon did all three. He planted many trees. He wrote a book, The Good Fight. And had a son. And yet, even if he had accomplished none of these, his name would still be written indelibly in the hearts of his countrymen.

“For Quezon represented to all Filipinos what was best and worst in them. He was diminutive in size, but in his deeds he always seemed to be larger than life. He was ruthless (as when he dealt with his political foes), and he was compassionate (as when he retrieved these same fallen enemies’ misfortune). He was selfish when opposed, and he was generous when victorious. He was proud, he was humble. But above all else, he loved his country – if not always wisely, at least always well.”

My father was too young to have witnessed Quezon’s greatness but curiosity made him understand the person through the eyes of the son, Manuel Quezon, Jr. – who people called “Nonong.” He was 18 years old when his father died. He lived in Washington D.C. In an interview with my late father, he said his father taught him four things.

The first lesson he learned from MLQ was to be completely honest – never tell a lie. The second was not to be vindictive. Nonong said, “When my father was fighting a man, he fought him uncompromisingly and with every weapon at his command. But when the fight was over, and he had won or lost, he would always remark that a man should never bear a grudge.

“The third lesson was that a man should be grateful. He should always be loyal to his friends, and never forget what they had done for him. But he also publicly drew the line on loyalty when he declared: My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins! And, finally, he should be proud to be a Filipino. Pride of race was what my father always stressed.”

As we celebrate National Heroes Day that parallels our celebration of Buwan Ng Wika, we should go back to our history, reflect on our heritage and look into our soul as Filipinos. Who are we? What happened to our leaders? Why have we stagnated over time?

My father once told me about the Legend of the Golden Years. The legend explains what we have lost today. He said, “During the pre-war days, the Filipino was far more noble, self-sacrificing and wise than the Filipino of today. In those days, we recall with awe, the National Assembly was composed of men of dignity and integrity – a legislature free from the wheeling and dealing, arrant corruption and uncouth invective so characteristic of today’s politics. It appears there were no scandals involving cronies or kickbacks, graft and corruption were minimal or virtually non-existent, and our leaders were endowed with a sense of duty and decorum not found in this generation.

“In contrast, we appear to have shrunk into a lesser breed of mortals, deceived by clever and materialistic men, mesmerized by false promises, cowed, wallowing in cynicism and a climate of defeat – our corporations, banks and financial institutions tottering from the dark manipulations of the unscrupulous.

“We owe it to Quezon and the men of his time, as well as to ourselves, to retrace this historical ground of impartial eye of the scholar and discover how far we have been instrumental in deceiving ourselves. In the record of the petty squabbles that plagued even the giants – Quezon, Osmeña, Manuel A. Roxas, Rafael Palma, Jose Yulo, Juan Sumulong, Claro M. Recto, Jose P. Laurel and the others – brilliant though all of them were, we may be able to gaze into a mirror image of the foibles of our day.

“This is not to debunk our Founding Fathers, however, or detract from their glory, but to understand how they, like ourselves, were prey to the distractions, contending ambitions, temptations and inconsistencies of the modern – yes, the “New Filipino.” But the difference – their greatness – lies in the fact that the pre-war leadership, characterized by Quezon and his breed, was able to rise above all these and forge a free republic out of a vision that transformed their combined weaknesses into a collective strength.

“What we have lost today, it seems, is that sense of destiny, that sense of nationhood that characterized the Quezon generation. And those four lessons that MLQ taught his son. The crisis that faces the Filipino nation today is not one of economics, but one of self-confidence. It is a question of morale rather than of money. What has been devalued most disastrously is not the peso, but our self-esteem.”

This is what the youth of today have never experienced. A true hero who like Ninoy Aquino they have never witnessed but so admiringly and even so desperately exult his memory. The heroes of the fabled Golden Yesteryears – a symbol of the Filipino’s pride, of what was “lost” and must be regained.

*      *      *

By the way, the President must immediately respond to the cry of the health workers for the release of their COVID-19 benefits like the meal, transportation and accommodation allowances, special risk alllowance (SRA) and active hazard duty pay. The government’s COVID-19 hazard pay covers public health workers, while the special risk allowance is for health workers in both public and private facilities. These are additional benefits on top of existing hazard pay grants, such as the ones under the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers and Joint Circular No. 1, series of 2016, of the health and budget departments.

We must prioritize the welfare of our health workers. They are the frontliners and are our modern-day heroes. Stop pointing fingers or dilly dallying. Show your genuine, outright and full support.


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