Our damaged culture

On National Heroes Day last Monday President Duterte urged Filipinos to emulate the men and women who laid the nation’s foundations. “Their courage, leadership and wisdom paved the way for us to enjoy the blessings of freedom, independence and democracy,” he said.

Like the law on National Heroes Day, the President did not refer to the heroes by name. But we generally regard as heroes those after whom provinces, cities, towns, roads, streets and schools have been named, and for whom monuments and memorials have been erected. They are so honored because they are supposed to have laid the nation’s foundations or paved the way for the blessings of freedom, independence and democracy.


There are thoroughfares and/or schools named after Andres Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini, Teodoro M. Kalaw and Rafael Palma, as well as streets named after Pedro Paterno, Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, Cayetano Arellano, Florentino Torres and Benito Legarda. But while Bonifacio, Mabini, Kalaw and Palma were laying the foundations of an independent nation, Paterno, Pardo de Tavera, Arellano, Torres and Legarda were campaigning for the annexation of the Philippines by the United States.

There are streets, schools, even a town named after Jose Abad Santos as there are streets named after Jose P. Laurel, Claro M. Recto and Quintin Paredes. Two towns are named Laurel. But while Abad Santos chose to be executed rather than serve in the Japanese occupation government, Laurel, Recto and Paredes occupied high positions in that Japanese occupation government.


There is a boulevard in Manila and an avenue in Davao City named Ramon Magsaysay. The Ramon Magsaysay Award, which is given every Aug. 31 to Asian individuals for achieving excellence in their respective fields, is named after President Magsaysay—“to perpetuate his example of integrity in governance, courageous service to the people, and pragmatic idealism within a democratic society.”

A whole province, a town, a congressional district, streets, and schools are named after President Elpidio Quirino. The grandstand where presidents are inaugurated is named Quirino Grandstand. On the 100th anniversary of his birth government stations referred to him as one of the greatest presidents. Yet in 1953, when he ran for reelection, he was defeated ignominiously by Magsaysay. That was because the people were so enraged by him.

Quirino was elected president in 1949 in what is considered the dirtiest and bloodiest elections in Philippine political annals.  As president, he brought the Philippine economy to the brink of collapse. He gave rise to political lords. He was the first president to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and to order the arrest of political enemies. That is why when Magsaysay ran against him in 1953, Magsaysay’s campaign jingle went: “Our democracy will die kung wala si (if there is no) Magsaysay.”

Monday last week, Aug. 21, was a national public holiday, in honor of Ninoy Aquino who sacrificed his life to free Filipinos from the shackles of the Marcos dictatorship. When he was declared a national hero in 1993, the dictator’s son and namesake said on television: “If Senator Aquino has a right to become a hero, then my father also has a right. So, I will file a bill that President Marcos should also be considered a hero.” The remains of the man who deprived thousands of Filipinos of their right to life and the blessings of democracy and who is generally believed to have been responsible for the assassination of Aquino was, at the instance of President Duterte, recently buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

Among the images flashed on television on National Heroes Day were those of Bonifacio, Antonio Luna and Emilio Aguinaldo. How strange that their images were in the same collage when Aguinaldo had Bonifacio and Luna executed.

But President Duterte urges us to emulate all these personages. Thirty years ago, there appeared in the magazine The Atlantic an article written by James Fallows.  Titled “A Damaged Culture,” it offered a dark view of our nation. National Heroes Day is a sharp reflection of our damaged culture.

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Oscar P. Lagman Jr. has been an observer of Philippine politics since the 1950s.

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TAGS: Inquirer Commentary, National Heroes Day, Oscar P. Lagman Jr., Philippine culture, Rodrigo Duterte
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