Revolutionaries and other heroes
Scoundrels in high places have so dominated these parts, shamelessly promoting themselves, ripping off taxpayer money, or doing havoc to public lives, so that the women and men we should be honoring today in commemoration of National Heroes Day stand out in stark dimensions.
Filipino schoolchildren learn that Aug. 31 officially marks the anniversary of the 1896 Cry of Pugad Lawin (or Balintawak — historians disagree on the location), the beginning of the Philippine Revolution against Spanish colonial rule.
The virtues of the Katipunan supremo Andres Bonifacio and the intellectual Jose Rizal and of the major and minor lights of the Revolution routinely emerge from the mouths of babes, committed to memory from the well-worn annals.
It is supremely important that children not only know but also understand their history — including the circumstances that led to the Cry, when the revolutionaries gathered to firm up their plan of action and tore up their cedulas (tax certificates) in defiance of parish officials — for them, the children, to grow up into responsible adults capable of taking their future into their own hands.
But this day is set aside as well for other Filipinos, past and present, with whom children and even their elders should be acquainted beyond often bigoted (because orchestrated) presentations in social media — such as, say, the startling bashing of Vice President Leni Robredo for her looks after her speech rallying Filipinos to take courage in their capabilities despite rudderless leadership.
In the formulation of the National Heroes Committee organized in the 1990s during President Fidel V. Ramos’ term, heroes are those who define and contribute to the freedom, order, quality of life, and destiny of the nation. Per the Official Gazette, the “lack of specifics” in the commemoration of National Heroes Day “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.”
It requires no prodding then to light candles for the heroes whose names are etched on the Wall of Remembrance at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, which bears witness to the brutality of Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship and to the enduring impunity and absence of remorse with which his heirs claim space in the democratic project.
Also in the present day, if being a hero means taking up the cudgels for others, then heroes are those at the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, daily risking their lives for or contributing in various ways to the common good; those teaching our children and guiding them in the ways of good citizenship; those toiling abroad in hostile conditions and devastating loneliness to keep family and country afloat; and those engaged in wrenching their fellow Filipinos from the grip of poverty and, necessarily, fighting to keep the democratic space from being wiped out — a struggle so arduous, so harsh, that many have been killed for it.
They all deserve recognition and honor, as well as encouragement and other manifestations of support. Yet it is in this very aspect that the administration has been lacking, whether in word or in deed, as shown in the glaring matter of wages so low (for health care workers, for teachers, indeed for those driven to work overseas) as to disallow the recipients and their families to live, and to live with dignity.
The administration certainly needs all the help it can get. But quite often, despite the huge resources at its disposal, despite the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases that has been officiously calling the shots since Day One of the pandemic, the administration has seemingly welshed on its obligations, allowing the lumbering bureaucracy to get the better of it to the extent of surrendering the initiative to private citizens.
Like the actor Angel Locsin and her colleagues, whose efforts put them front and center in assistance to Filipinos laid low by the coronavirus. Operating on the (correct) idea that many people wanted to help but did not quite know how, Locsin et al. managed to raise funds that gave them leeway to quickly come to the aid of, for example, jeepney drivers for whom hunger became a grim reality in the course of the long lockdown, and to whom the administration couldn’t even give the time of day.
One doesn’t need a reason to help others, Locsin recently told the Inquirer’s Marinel Cruz. It’s “actually our obligation as a human being, as a citizen of this country, as a Filipino,” she said.
Similar instances of humanity, of heroism, have been demonstrated by activists who sought to banish the ignorance blinding many impoverished Filipinos to the root causes of their condition. For showing what is, as well as what can and should be, they paid the ultimate price. Remember Randall Echanis. Remember Zara Alvarez. Remember Nelly Bagasala and many others. Remember.
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