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No official national heroes.

Executive Order 292, enacted by President Corazon C. Aquino, provided for a list of regular holidays and national special days, and set National Heroes Day as a regular holiday celebrated on the last Sunday of August. This was amended by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who signed into law Republic Act 9492 on July 24, 2007, which transferred the celebration to the last Monday of August, in line with her 'Holiday Economics' program allowing for long weekends aimed at encouraging domestic tourism and leisure. But neither Executive Order 292 and RA 9492, nor any president has ever proclaimed any Filipino as official national hero-not even the likes of Jose Rizal or Andres Bonifacio who are commonly referred to as our National Heroes in the history books we read while we were in grace school. The debate continues, to date, on who is the 'better' hero between the two.

President Fidel Ramos on March 28, 1993, created the National Heroes Committee, which was tasked to recommend Filipino nationals as heroes 'in recognition of their sterling character and remarkable achievement for the country,' according to the National Committee for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). It took a technical committee three years to short-list nine Filipino '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 and (9) Gabriela Silang.

Members of this National Heroes Committee included historians Onofre D. Corpuz, Marcelino Foronda and Bernadette R. Churchill; authors Samuel K. Tan, Ambeth Ocampo and Carmen Guerero-Nakpil, psychologist Alfredo Lagmay, former National Library Director Serafin D. Quiason and Prof. Minerva Gonzales. None of the nine named heroes in the short list got officially proclaimed by President Ramos or by any president. The reason allegedly was because of the apprehension that proclaiming the nine individuals as national heroes would have triggered more requests for proclamations. Another possibility, according to the NCCA, is that any proclamation could trigger bitter debates involving historical controversies. This notwithstanding, two of these heroes are celebrated on their own national holidays-Jose Rizal every December 30 and Andres Bonifacio every November 30, his birthday.

What is useful to note is that the Committee at least defined the 'qualifications'/criteria to be a national hero:

'1. Heroes are those who have a concept of nation and thereafter aspire and struggle for the nation's freedom;'

'2. Heroes are those who define and contribute to a system or life of freedom and order for a nation. Heroes are those who make the nation's constitution and laws;'

'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 work takes time with the youth forming part of the internationalization.'

'5. A hero thinks of the future, especially the future generations;' and

'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.' (

Despite the fact that no Filipino national has been officially proclaimed as a National Hero, the lack of presidential proclamation nor legislation by Congress proclaiming them as such should not deter us from celebrating and honoring their bravery, nationalism and contribution to the country.

I had the opportunity to watch recently a 'steampunk musical,' Mabining Mandirigma, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Liberetto by Nicanor Tiongson, Music by Joed Balsamo, directed by Chris Millado-with Monique Wilson as Apolinario Mabini and David Ezra as Emilio Aguinaldo. Apolinario Mabini y Maranan was a Filipino revolutionary leader, educator, lawyer and statesman who served first as legal and constitutional adviser to the Revolutionary Government, and then as the first Prime Minister of the Philippines upon the establishment of the First Philippine Republic.

Mabini was born on July 23, 1864, in Manila to very poor parents-the father was a peasant farmer and his mother was a vendor at a local market. His intelligence and studiousness earned him scholarships, which enabled him to get a law degree and be admitted to the lawyer's bar in 1895. In 1896, Mabini contracted polio, which left his legs paralyzed. Mabini is remembered among others, for his 'The True Decalogue' where he speaks about love of God, country and fellowmen. Relevant then as it still is these days.

Like fellow revolutionaries Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio, Mabini did not live to see his 40th birthday. Despite his untimely death in 1903, his works and thoughts shaped the country's fight for independence over the next century.

If we internalize Mabini's Decalogue, as well as the teachings of all Filipino heroes who have braved death or persecution for home, nation, justice and freedom, and act accordingly, I think we can all be modern day heroes-even absent any official proclamation. This lack of specifics offers an opportunity to celebrate the bravery of not one, not a few, but all who, by their pen or by their sword, lived and died so that we may enjoy a regime of justice, peace and prosperity.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Sep 2, 2019
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