Wednesday, November 25, 2009

National Heroes are National Symbols…We Have None!

Jose Rizal was born on June 19, 1861 in Calamba, Laguna, Philippines, to Francisco Engracio Rizal Mercado y Alejandra II (1818-1898) and Teodora Morales Alonso Realonda y Quintos (1827-1911). His parents were prosperous farmers granted lease of a hacienda and an accompanying rice farm by the Dominicans. Jose was the seventh of eleven siblings. His early years of study was under the tutelage of Justiniano Aquino Cruz in Biñan, Laguna. He was one of nine outstanding students when he completed his degree in land surveying and assessor's degree from Ateneo Municipal de Manila while also studying Philosophy and Letters from the University of Santo Tomas. It was in Santo Tomas Faculty of Medicine and Surgery did Rizal pursue his study of medicine specializing in ophthalmology. His desire to complete this specialization was driven by the fact that his mother was going blind.

Substantial studies of Rizal reveal him to be a polymath with the ability to master various skills and subjects. He was a sculptor, painter, farmer, playwright, poet, historian, journalist, educator, and ophthalmologist. He has expertise in architecture, cartography, ethnology, sociology, anthropology, economics, dramatics, fencing, pistol shooting and marital arts.

If historian's are to be believed, Rizal would turn out to be the first advocate of peaceful change. Rizal's biographer and writer Benedict Anderson believed that Rizal gave the Philippine Revolution a genuinely national character; and that Rizal's patriotism and his standing as one of Asia's first intellectuals have inspired others to the importance of a national identity to nation-building.

In June 1901, the Taft Commission renamed the district of Morong into the Province of Rizal through Act 137 and subsequently passing Act 346 authorizing the installation of a national monument in Rizal's honor. In 1956, the Philippine legislature pass Republic Act 1425 requiring the teaching of the life, work and writings of Rizal in all high school and college curricula. These actions were to honor the hero believed to have ignited the flames of revolution.

Along with Rizal were others who were also honored with holidays and monuments such as Apolinario Mabini, Gabriela Silang, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Melchora Aquino, etc. Our heroes are part of our national symbols. They represent the best of who we are as people. It shows to the world our greatest achievement, our strongest character, our values, our hope, and our vision.

Each generation of government leaders enacted laws to honor our heroes.

  • The Decree of December 20, 1898 by General Emilio Aguinaldo declared December 30 of every year a day of national mourning in honor of Rizal and other martyrs of the Philippine Revolution.
  • Act No. 137 of the Taft Commission renamed the district of Morong to the Province of Rizal in honor of Rizal.
  • Act No. 2760 issued on February 23, 1918 provided for the erection of a monument to the memory of Andres Bonifacio.
  • Act No. 2946 enacted by the Philippine Legislature in 16 February 1921 declared November 30 of each year as a legal holiday to commemorate the birth of Andres Bonifacio.
  • Act No. 3827 was enacted by the Philippine Legislature on 28 October 1931 declaring the last Sunday of August of every year as National Heroes Day.
  • On November 30, 1994, President Fidel V. Ramos issued Proclamation No. 510 declaring year 1996 as the Year of Filipino Heroes as "a tribute to all Filipinos who, directly and indirectly, gave meaning and impetus to the cause of freedom, justice, Philippine independence and nationhood."
  • Republic Act No. 9070 passed into law April 8, 2001, declared the eighteenth of December of every year as a special working public holiday throughout the country to be known as the Graciano Lopez-Jaena Day.

We have extolled the achievements of our heroes, proclaimed national holidays in their name, erected sculptures and monuments, named streets, cities and provinces after them, but not a single man or woman had been declared a national hero, not one, not even Jose Rizal.

Our national leaders however still have to proclaim by law a national hero.

On March 28, 1993 , President Fidel V. Ramos issued Executive Order No.75 entitled “Creating the National Heroes Committee Under the Office of the President”. This Committee is to study, evaluate and recommend Filipino national personages or heroes in due recognition of their sterling character and remarkable achievements for the country. In compliance with Executive Order No. 75, a Technical Committee of the National Heroes Committee was created. This committee was composed of the following:

  • Dr. Onofre D. Corpuz
  • Samuel K. Tan
  • Marcelino Foronda
  • Alfredo Lagmay
  • Bernardita R. Churchill
  • Serafin D. Quiason
  • Ambeth Ocampo (Dom Ignacio Maria)
  • Prof. Minerva Gonzales
  • Mrs. Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil

The Committee organized and attended a series of meetings as follows: June 3, 1993, August 19, 1994, September 12, 1994, and November 15, 1995. These meetings defined, discussed and deliberated on the merits of the various definitions and criteria of a hero.

The Committee came up with a set of criteria to guide historical researchers in determining who among the great Filipinos of past will be officially proclaimed as national heroes and thereupon become national symbols.

The Committee agreed that the following should determine who should become a national hero:

  1. Heroes are those who have a concept of nation and thereafter aspire and struggle for the nation’s freedom. Our own struggle for freedom was begun by Bonifacio and finished by Aguinaldo, the latter formally declaring the revolution’s success. In reality, however, a revolution has no end. Revolutions are only the beginning. One cannot aspire to be free only to sink back into bondage.
  2. Heroes are those who define and contribute to a system or life of freedom and order for a nation. Freedom without order will only lead to anarchy. Therefore, heroes are those who make the nation’s constitution and laws, such as Mabini and Recto. To the latter, constitutions are only the beginning, for it is the people living under the constitution that truly constitute a nation.
  3. Heroes are those who contribute to the quality of life and destiny of a nation.
  4. A hero is part of the people’s expression. But the process of a people’s internalization of a hero’s life and works takes time, with the youth forming a part of the internalization.
  5. A hero thinks of the future, especially the future generations.
  6. The choice of a hero involves not only the recounting of an episode or events in history, but of the entire process that made this particular person a hero.

On November 15, 1995, the Technical Committee came up with a list of nine (9) names of Filipino historical figures to be recommended as National Heroes:

  1. Jose Rizal
  2. Andres Bonifacio
  3. Emilio Aguinaldo
  4. Apolinario Mabini
  5. Marcelo H. del Pilar
  6. Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat
  7. Juan Luna
  8. Melchora Aquino
  9. Gabriela Silang

These report and recommendations were submitted by the National Heroes Committee to then Secretary Ricardo T. Gloria of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports on November 22, 1995.

No action was taken on these recommendations.

Speculations abound that proclamations of national heroes might trigger a flood of requests for such declarations and that proclamations can trigger bitter debates about the historical controversies involving the endorsed heroes. In a way, this is much a reflection of the political will (or lack thereof) of leaders past as it is of the current political leadership.

The nation glorify the names of recognized heroes. The country fully integrated the story of these heroes in the teachings of its history and social sciences but it has not fully embraced these heroes as part of its national symbol by declaring them as such. National heroes are symbols telling a great story of a great people.

The Philippines is a courageous nation about to be robbed of its national symbols--Its heroes. It is unfortunate that a colorful history of the Great Pearl of the Orient was not enough to inspire our leaders to proclaim its national heroes.

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