The heroes of the past and the heroes of today
NATIONAL Heroes Day 2016 was a welcome holiday for many of us who were caught in horrendous traffic last Thursday and Friday. While I did not participate in the early morning commemoration at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, I took the day off reflecting on the question of heroes.
Ongoing at the Supreme Court is a hearing of oral arguments for and against the transfer of Ferdinand Marcos’ mortal remains from display in Batac, Ilocos Norte, to burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
While the National Historical Commission of the Philippines has issued a strongly worded study on Marcos’ war-record (or lack of it), concluding that he is not a hero, the regulations governing the Libingan state that anyone who has served as president of the Philippines is entitled to be buried there. Soldiers dishonorably discharged are not eligible, but there is no such qualification for presidents, even one who was overthrown by the people in 1986 amid accusations of human rights abuses and plunder during his rule.
However, the republic act that created the Libingan states that those buried there must be worthy of emulation by our generation and the next. But the Libingan is not reserved exclusively for human beings; in 1992, “Shadow,” a bomb-sniffing dog on the security detail of President Corazon C. Aquino, died of stomach illness; it was buried in the Libingan, its coffin draped with a flag and accorded simple military honors.
A question of heroes came to mind last Monday, making me wonder if millennials still find heroes relevant, and whether their criteria for heroes are different from those of the generation earlier.
In a 2011 SWS survey on heroes (Pulse Asia did their own survey but the data is not available on their website), respondents were asked in Filipino: “Sino-sino po ang mga taong kinikilala ninyong tunay na bayaning Pilipino? Maaari po kayong magbanggit ng hanggang limang tao.” [Who are the persons whom you consider genuine Filipino heroes? You can name up to five persons.]
The top ten were: Jose Rizal (75 percent), Andres Bonifacio (34 percent), Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. (20 percent), Cory Aquino (14 percent), Apolinario Mabini (14 percent), Emilio Aguinaldo (11 percent), Ferdinand Marcos (5.1 percent), Ramon Magsaysay (4.3 percent), Manuel L. Quezon (3.8 percent), and Lapu-Lapu (3.7 percent). I looked at the names and wondered if the respondents remembered them because they are in history textbooks, monuments, markers and even paper bills and coins.
The next 10 on the list are quite interesting because it includes the “Pambansang Kamao” as well as two show biz characters: Melchora Aquino (3.2 percent), Marcelo H. del Pilar (3 percent), Noynoy Aquino (2.9 percent), Emilio Jacinto (2.8 percent), Manny Pacquiao (2.6 percent), Gabriela Silang (2.6 percent), Gregorio Del Pilar (2.2 percent), Juan Luna (1.9 percent), Manuel Roxas (1.8 percent), Joseph Estrada (1.8 percent), Diosdado Macapagal (1.6 percent), and Fernando Poe Jr. (1.6 percent). That Rizal and Bonifacio topped the SWS list was not surprising.
However, to the question “Who is the National Hero of the Philippines, which the rival Pulse Asia survey asked, the respondents had Rizal at the top (81.9 percent), followed by Manny Pacquiao (2.8 percent) and Andres Bonifacio (1.9 percent).
And how could this happen? Ninoy Aquino and his son Noynoy both garnered 1.7 percent as compared to Corazon Aquino’s and Emilio Aguinaldo’s 1 percent each.
And I am surprised that 2.1 percent claimed they did not know who the national hero is!
Pulse Asia also asked the respondents who they considered a hero comparable to Rizal and the results were: Ninoy Aquino (10.8 percent), Ferdinand Marcos (5.4 percent), Manny Pacquiao (4.8 percent), Cory Aquino (4 percent), Andres Bonifacio (3.1 percent), Noynoy Aquino (3 percent). Tied at 0.9 percent were Joseph Estrada, Ramon Magsaysay and Jejomar Binay, followed by “unspecified” Marcos (0.8 percent), Chiz Escudero (0.7 percent), and Apolinario Mabini (0.5 percent).
I cannot believe that 0.4 percent of the respondents were “not aware of Dr. Jose Rizal”!
Johnnie Walker has launched a campaign to ask Filipinos the question on heroes again: What are heroes to our times? From the above list, it can be gleaned that “official” heroes are those we read about in textbooks, whose images we see in monuments, whose faces we see on postcards, teaching aids, paper money and—for a time in the past—in coins.
It is interesting to see how millennials see their heroes as expressed in Twitter feeds on Rappler which gave some definitions like “Heroes are those who make this country a better place for our children,” a quote from the late Jose W. Diokno. Another posted: “We need to make heroes of the ordinary people. We need to make heroes of ourselves.”
Rappler proposed Environmental Heroes and Heroes in Public Service. So it seems our definitions of heroes and heroines are fast changing.
When you look at old lists of heroes you notice that they are all old, male, lived long ago—and dead. Do we have to be dead to become heroes today? Do we need to wear a costume or a cape to be a hero? Worse, do we need to wear our underwear over our pants to become a superhero? What is a hero or heroine for the 21st-century Filipino?
Since we make heroes in our image and likeness, our choices and definitions say a lot not about history and the past, but the present we live in.
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