Civilized societies create time to remember and honor their heroes. As several others and I have said, celebrating anniversaries or milestones in a person’s, organization’s or country’s life is a deliberate and noble struggle against forgetting. And so it is with our National Heroes Day.
Even as we mark and should be inspired by the heroic acts of those who came before us at different times in our history, there seems to be a pervading sense that the Filipino is hopeless and even ungovernable.
People say that we seem to have a penchant for solving problems that in turn create other, more serious problems. Our favorite examples are the perverse subsidies that were so popular during the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos. At this time, Marcos and members of his family were the accusers, prosecutors, and judges all rolled into one. Recall that Congress had been abolished, the judiciary had been castrated, and media were literally in Marcos’s pocket even if all he had to do was simply to strike fear in the hearts of some recalcitrant members of media.
Because of the absence of checks and balances, critical decisions were made either without or with minimal consultation. Worse, some consultations were mere acts of tokenism.
The perverse subsidy came, for example, in the form of lower diesel prices for fishermen so that their costs of production would be subsidized and the benefit of such lower costs would eventually trickle down to Filipino consumers. Well and good; this was something that all governments should be doing.
The problem was that no one or very few monitored the fishermen, who either resold the subsidized diesel or, because of the lower fuel prices, overfished, thus denying succeeding generations of the same resources.
The sense of hopelessness has resulted in some kind of detachment exhibited by some sectors of society. This detachment is even expressed through statements such as only a bloody revolution or iron-fisted rule will solve the Filipinos’ many problems, from the Metro Manila traffic to the extremists and terrorists.
Such attitudes ignore the fact that all our official and unsung heroes whom we honor fought all forms of dictatorship, one-man rule, corruption, and abuse of human rights precisely so that succeeding generations would have better chances of living better lives.
All over the world, societies recall the role that their forefathers played in building their nations and keeping their countries whole. It is therefore rather unfortunate that the most powerful country in the world, often regarded as the model for equality of opportunity, has a leader who has made it his mission to divide the United States of America through simple tasks like saving basketball players from jail terms in a foreign land to feigning tribute to American soldiers of color.
In contrast, local government executives and plain citizens came together in different parts of the country yesterday to observe Filipino heroism. To be sure, the celebrations and their intensity varied from one community to another. Others may even have treated National Heroes Day like any other day.
For the millions of us who took part in the Edsa People Power Revolution, we understood how it felt to be heroic even in the most modest way. It was a Revolution because the upheaval came from the people after they had figured out that enough was enough; sobra na, tama na. It wasn’t a war against those whom government said was the enemy. It was a Revolution because as some wise men said, the people had empowered themselves and had concluded that the Marcos government was the enemy.
We mark National Heroes Day by affirming, despite the pessimism and skepticism, what the executed Ninoy Aquino said: “The Filipino is worth dying for.”
During these times, it’s worth reflecting on heroism and being thankful to those who shed their blood so that we can make our choices, the essence of democracy.
Philip Ella Juico teaches in the Doctor of Business Administration program of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He was Secretary of Agrarian Reform during the administration of President Corazon C. Aquino.