Is our patriotism and heroism enough?

PERCEPTIONS - Ariel Nepomuceno - The Philippine Star

Our history has countless narratives of heroism by Filipinos who were able to overcome enemies with more superior capabilities. One of these was the bravery and superior skills displayed by Col. Jesus Villamor and his 6th Pursuit Squadron in defeating the Japanese in an air battle during World War II.

The invaders had 54 planes composed of the more advanced Mitsubishi G4M Bombers and the agile “zeros” who greatly outnumbered the three Filipino Boeing P26 Peashooters that were fit for the museum. Seven Japanese “zeroes” attacked the group of Captain Villamor.

In the end, four Japanese planes were shot down and the bombers were scattered. Two of the destroyed Japanese planes were credited to then Cap. Villamor. For his gallantry and leadership, he was given the Distinguished Service Cross medal by no other than Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Later, he joined the defenders of Bataan and fought along with other soldiers in an epic tragedy that claimed at least 10,000 Filipino and American casualties, and more than 20,000 wounded.

After the war, he was awarded the Medal of Valor, the first in our military, for his extraordinary bravery in leading his men. Such a great feat for a man who had his humble beginnings in Bangued, Abra where he was born on Nov. 7, 1914, more than a hundred years ago today.

Series of invasions that have subjugated our country created heroes amongst us. During the Spanish colonization of our country for more than 300 years, we witnessed the armed uprising of Andres Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini, Emilio Aguinaldo, Antonio Luna and many more who were more than willing to die for the motherland. The Katipunan had been the clandestine home for all those who understood the urgency of risking one’s life to protect and defend the greater interest of the entire country.

The same heroic anecdotes were recorded during the 1899-1902 revolution against the Americans who took over from the conquistadores. And in our recent history, from 1941-1945, we did not rest in fighting the Japanese who, under the banner of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, launched their deadly campaign to occupy the Philippines and our neighbors.

As if not getting tired of military conflicts and overcoming the horrors of wars, we sent more than 7,400 Filipino soldiers to help the beleaguered democratic South Korea in 1950 against the communist north aided by the Chinese.

Ours is a race of proven heroes. Yes, there’s no doubt that many of us will answer the call for the extreme mission of saving the liberty of our people. This has been proven many times over. Our proud history has a hall of fame that portray many names that will not be forgotten by an indebted nation that recognizes the sacrifice given for our freedom and right to exist as an independent country.

However, why do we seem to still be trapped in a vicious cycle of economic poverty and political backwardness? At least 20 million Filipinos live in extreme material hardship. At least 10 million agricultural workers are confronted with the uncertainty of having a stable income in spite of their important role of feeding the nation. Around two million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) choose to take their chances in foreign lands where they can be possibly abused or, as in the present situation in Israel and Gaza, be in harm’s way.

What went wrong? If we, Filipinos, are naturally devoted to the well-being of our countrymen and to the best interest of our country, why are we lagging behind other countries in our region?

Politically, we have even become callous and ironically thankful that there were “only 19” casualties in the recent barangay and SK elections. This is not the fault of Comelec. The agency did an exemplary job under the leadership of Chairman George Garcia. What’s alarming is our pathetic acceptance of having deaths as a natural part of our political exercise.

Patriotism and heroism must be embraced by everyone – from the masses of our desperate people, up to the echelons of our higher political and business leaders. Everyone must be in unison in protecting the survival and progress of the country.

Revisit our Constitution and re-engineer our economic and political frameworks. As I always whine about, doing the same thing and expecting a different result is foolish. Why are we hoping for better outcomes from the same political system and essentially the same business environment that dampens real competition?

We have to first accept the existence of our collective problem. That we clearly have to pursue strategic changes that will usher in new and better results in our political and economic processes.

Patriotism and heroism are enough only if everyone, especially our leaders, will truly put the interest of the country first. And these must be coupled with the necessary adjustments, or drastic changes, in our fundamental laws.

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