‘Freedom does not come cheap and easy’
Almost nine decades since the Philippines first commemorated National Heroes Day in 1931, there has been no formal designation as to which heroes do belong to the venerated pantheon for every generation to honor and emulate.
A National Heroes Committee created in 1993 proposed that Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini, Marcelo del Pilar, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino, Gabriela Silang and Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat be officially proclaimed as the country’s national heroes.
But the proposal was not acted upon, and up to now, as the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines noted, the law creating this annual commemoration specified no single hero — not even the preeminent Jose Rizal, who was executed to immortality by the Spanish colonizers, or Andres Bonifacio, the Father of the Philippine Revolution, even though they have specific holidays commemorated in their honor.
“And this lack of specifics offers an opportunity to celebrate the bravery of not one, not a few, but all Filipino heroes who have braved death or persecution for home, nation, justice and freedom,” according to the Official Gazette.
National heroes, President Laurel said in a National Heroes Day speech in 1943, are those “who knew how to sacrifice the interests of self and the rich pleasures of living for the sake of the dignity and welfare of the greatest number.”
Indeed, the absence of a formal register of national heroes should not diminish the definitive standing of the country’s many heroes, much less the valor and bravery they waged to pave the road to independence and nationhood for their countrymen. In fact, long after the lifetimes of these heroic forebears, the fight that they started for liberty remains constant—eternal vigilance being, as it’s been said, its price. And that’s why National Heroes Day should be an occasion for celebrating—and drawing fire from—such examples of fundamental patriotic duty.
Now, for instance, at no other time since the dark period of the Marcos dictatorship, the country is being tested on its commitment to its hard-won republican and democratic ideals. Today’s broad campaign by the government to quash dissent and rule by fear — by, among others, moving to revive the antisubversion law, expand terrorism laws, bring back the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, put police or military personnel in schools and universities, red-tag activist teachers and organizations — is a sad commentary on not learning from the lessons of history. Jailing and intimidating the political opposition, undermining democratic institutions and going after independent media are all tricks as well from the dictator’s discredited playbook.
The antisubversion law whose resurrection is now being pushed, for one, was in draconian effect during martial law, along with an entire system of repression and violent subjugation — to no avail in the end.
As this paper noted in an editorial: “Ferdinand Marcos used the communist insurgency, then only a few years old, as his main excuse to declare martial law… In 1972, the strength of the New People’s Army was estimated at 1,028 rebels; by the time he was People-Powered out of Malacañang Palace in 1986, the NPA had grown to over 22,500 armed regulars. By Marcos’ own standard, then, martial law was — as kids say these days — an epic fail.”
The takeaway from that seems clear: Repress more, govern more brutally and unjustly, and you only produce more freedom fighters and latter-day heroes from among ordinary citizens who will find it in their guts and hearts to flail away at the poverty, social inequity, oppression, indignity — and government inaction or culpability in all these — that are at the root of society’s yearning for change.
In the same month of August are two holidays to commemorate heroism — the Aug. 21 martyrdom of Benigno Aquino Jr., and National Heroes Day on the last Monday of the month.
Aquino’s contemporary heroism, and those of the many thousands of others who laid down their lives not too long ago for the freedom struggle, arose from the same environment of “native despotism,” as Aquino put it, that seems disturbingly back in vogue today.
“May the Filipinos who survive this native despotism take to heart the lessons that it teaches,” exhorted Aquino — “that freedom does not come cheap and easy, that dissent is most despised when most needed; that the enemy within is to be feared and could even be more evil and destructive than any foe from the outside.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.