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Opinion

Valor

TOWARDS JUSTICE - Emmeline Aglipay-Villar - The Philippine Star

The fact that we celebrate “Araw ng Kagitingan” or our “Day of Valor” on the day that Bataan fell says a lot about what we think “Kagitingan” means. The day that over 75,000 Filipino and American troops (mostly Filipinos) surrendered to the invading Japanese forces has gone down in history as the largest army under American command to ever surrender, and the fact that it was a propaganda win for the defenders to have held out for over a hundred days, it’s hard to see the fall of Bataan as anything but a catastrophic defeat, especially in light of the Death March that followed.

And yet, for us, it is in exactly this type of catastrophe that valor is found. It is when we are faced with the prospect of unbearable loss that we find the parts of ourselves that are unshakeable, see clearly the lines we will not cross and the values that we will not surrender.

My maternal grandfather, General Manuel T. Yan, was one of the soldiers who courageously endured the atrocities that transpired during Death March. He was then a new Lieutenant, after having graduated at the top of his class in the Philippine Military Academy in 1941. I remember he would tell us stories of being tortured during the Death March, of walking under the scorching heat and of not being able to have anything to eat or drink except for the boiled egg yolks that the Japanese soldiers would throw away. He and the other Filipinos would get the egg yolks and share it.

My grandfather chose to stay and defend Bataan, rather than to flee and desert. He and the other soldiers who stayed in Bataan made a decision that committed their lives to something they believed was of utmost importance. If they made their decision freely, then they chose what they were willing to fight for.

There were likely soldiers that did not surrender, that threw themselves against the enemy to die rather than surrender, and those that did so consciously made a choice about their values. If they made their decision freely, they chose what they would die for.

The soldiers of Bataan that did surrender gave up their bodies, but not their minds or principles. Those that went through the grueling ordeal, that persevered in the face of such abundant death, did so because each of them believed that they ought to live, that they had a reason to choose suffering over death. If they made their decision freely, they chose what they would live for.

Valor is most often associated with bravery in the face of danger, especially in battle. But our celebration of valor on the day that Bataan fell allows us to grapple with the complicated nature of such bravery. Counter-intuitively it allows us, by virtue of linking the concept of valor to this particular battle, to unlink valor from battle itself.

Valor isn’t always the willingness to fight. It isn’t always displayed by the raised weapon or the closed fist. There can be valor in the decision to fight, of course, to defend our homes and to stand up for those that cannot defend themselves. But there can also be valor in choosing not to fight, in choosing to disobey clearly unjust orders, as some Russian soldiers are reported to be doing in the Ukraine.

There can be valor in choosing to die for a cause, of course – many of the people we now revere as our heroes did just that, paying what for many seems to be the ultimate price because of their loyalty to their God, or their country, or their principles. But there can also be valor in choosing to live, even if it means swallowing our pride, even if it means suffering so much that death seems like a mercy.

Valor is not about violence, and it is not about strength – at least not the kind of strength that imposes its will upon others, strength as a form of power. Even when we are at our most powerless to influence the actions of others, even when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable, we can display valor.

Valor is power over ourselves. Valor is knowing what we value the most, and making the conscious decision to protect those, whatever the cost. Valor is knowing which of our principles are non-negotiable, and making the conscious decision to adhere to them, whatever the cost.

And there is always a cost, when things matter to us. Even before what we value is threatened, because of the importance of these things or principles, we will organize our lives around them, and take steps to ensure their safety. Think of the lengths parents go to prepare a better future for their children, even before the children are born. Think of the training artists undertake to improve their art, what they deny themselves in pursuit of their craft.

Valor is not only about bravery in a time of war. It’s about holding on to the most important parts of our selves in the face of a world that, sometimes, almost seems tailor made to force or entice us from our chosen path. To know what you will and what you won’t compromise for – that is valor. To dedicate your life to something, even if you know that this choice means that some doors will forever be closed to you, that is valor.

I write this column on the eve of the 9th, but it will be published in the midst of Holy Week. For those that observe this, alongside your prayers in memory of the passion and death of Christ – where he displayed His own valor – it may be an opportune time to reflect on what is important to us.

What would you fight for?

What would you die for?

What would you live for?

May all of us be aware of what is truly important, may all of us have the will to make choices around what is important, and may all of us have the valor to stand by those choices to the very end.

ARAW NG KAGITINGAN

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