‘The Unknown Soldier’
Some of the greatest events in the history of our nation took place during the month of August.
Only last week, we marked the 31st anniversary of the martyrdom of Benigno S. Aquino Jr. He was gunned down at the Manila International Airport upon his arrival from Taipei on a China Airlines flight, and his death would trigger widespread anger and unrest among the people that would lead to the eventual overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship in February 1986.
One of the most touching lines from Ninoy’s letter to his son Noynoy, written on Aug. 25, 1973, reads:
“Forgive me for passing on to your young shoulders the great responsibility for our family. I trust you will love your mother and your sisters and lavish them with the care and protection I would have given them…
“You are my only son. You carry my name and the name of my father. I have no material wealth to leave you. I never had time to make money while I was in the hire of our people. For this, I am very sorry.”
In his last letter to President Cory written on his journey back to Manila in August 1983, he also talks about money and love:
“Early on I knew I was not meant to make money—so I won’t be able to leave anything for the children. I did what I thought I could do best, which is public service, and I hope our people in time will appreciate my sacrifices. This would be my legacy to the children. I may not bequeath them material wealth but I leave them a tradition which can be priceless. I realize I’ve been very stingy with praise and appreciation for all your efforts—but though unsaid—you know that as far as I’m concerned, you are the best. That’s why we’ve lasted this long. There will only be one thing in the world I will never accept—that you love me more than I love you—because my love for you though unarticulated will never be equaled.”
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Today is National Heroes Day. Araw ng mga Bayani was initially celebrated on Nov. 30, the birthday of Andres Bonifacio. Later, the day was moved to the fourth Monday of August to mark the Cry of Balintawak.
It was on a Sunday, Aug. 23, 1896, that hundreds of Filipino rebels belonging to the Katipunan secret society, gathered in the Balintawak home of Melchora Aquino, known today as Tandang Sora.
“Supremo: The Story of Andres Bonifacio” by Sylvia Mendez Ventura, tells us what happened in Balintawak the following day:
“The men who gathered in Tandang Sora’s yard hailed from different localities and were eager to meet the Supremo (Andres Bonifacio) and offer him their arms. More Katipuneros arrived on Monday morning, Aug. 24, swelling the rebel group to more than a thousand. The Supremo called a meeting at 10 a.m.
“The subject of the meeting was the date of the revolution: Should they begin on August 29? A few wanted to delay the revolt because they lacked arms and ammunition. They argued that because rice was not ready for harvest, the rebels would starve. To the majority, however, hunger and lack of arms were minor problems; they were ready for battle at any time. And so the date was set. The revolution would commence midnight of Saturday, August 29.
“The Supremo mounted a platform and shouted: ‘Brothers, we agreed to continue with the plan to revolt. Do you swear to repudiate the government that oppresses us?’ The unanimous answer from the rebels was ‘Yes, sir!’ The Supremo yelled: ‘Then bring out your cedulas and tear them to pieces!’”
“Instantly, Tandang Sora’s yard was littered with torn residence certificates, symbols of the Filipinos’ submission to the colonial government. The rebels had tears in their eyes as they shouted: ‘Long live the Philippines! Long live the sons of the people!’ Historians would immortalize the occasion as ‘The Cry of Balintawak.’”
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There are many monuments all over the world honoring the memory of the “Unknown Soldier” who died fighting for his country. In the case of many of these soldiers, their remains were never fully identified. It was after World War I that efforts were made to honor the Unknown Dead with a symbolic tomb in remembrance of all who served the nation but are “known only to God.”
In the United Kingdom, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior is located at Westminster Abbey in London, while in France a similar monument was built at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Inscribed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC, are the words: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”
At the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City, and at the Shrine of Valor in Mount Samat, Bataan, we also honor the memory of the Filipino Unknown Soldier who died fighting for the nation.
As we continue to pay homage to those who have passed away, let us not forget that there are thousands of our soldiers who rely on the meager help from government to get themselves through difficult times.
During the last few weeks, health problems have not allowed me to keep up with my regular game of golf. And so I resorted to walking around the parade ground at Camp Aguinaldo as a form of exercise. There are lots of people with the same idea and the Aguinaldo location is quite favorable, what with less pollution and less vehicular traffic to be concerned about.
One morning, an old man supported by a single crutch under his left arm came up to me and introduced himself. He said he was a retired veteran who joined the military as a young boy. He mentioned that all his children had migrated to the United States but he opted to remain here even though life could probably be a bit more comfortable abroad. But he did not wish to be a burden to his children and, besides, he preferred the warm weather that we have rather than the cold winds of the United States.
From the way he looked, I felt he could use a little more assistance and I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps while it was good to honor the dead, it was just as important to make sure that our veterans are treated in a manner worthy of their services and sacrifices for the nation.
The Unknown Soldier may still be alive and living under difficult conditions. It is our duty to ensure that life is somehow a bit more comfortable for those who gave some of their best years in the service of country and people.
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