August 28, 2022 | 12:00 am
José Rizal, Andrés Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini, Marcelo J. del Pilar, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino, Gabriela Silang, Lapu Lapu, Fr. José Burgos, Fr. Mariano Gomez, Fr. Jacinto Zamora, Emilio Jacinto and José Abad Santos.
These are universally recognized Filipino heroes whose lives are celebrated. The only contemporary celebrated and recognized hero is Nina Aquino.
There are many different definitions of a hero. The dictionary defines a hero as “a person of outstanding courage or ability who is admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities”. Another classic definition of a hero is “a person dedicated to helping others, whoever or whatever they may be. Heroism is the very thought of helping others for nothing.” This is similar to another definition: “one who sacrifices himself at great risk for the greater good of others.”
Heroes must possess eight basic traits: smart, strong, resilient, selfless, caring, charismatic, reliable, and inspiring.
It would seem that with such clear definitions of heroism and a list of officially recognized heroes, there should be no debate about who the real heroes of the Philippines are. However, there are disputes around the list of real heroes in the history of our country. One of the biggest questions, if not the most important, concerns Emilio Aguinaldo. There is no doubt that he was the first President of the Republic of the Philippines. He was also one of the initiators of the Philippine Revolution. However, he was accused of plotting to kill his nemesis Andrés Bonifacio. This heinous incident included the rape of Bonifacio’s wife.
Another major scandal was the assassination of General Antonio Luna, then commander-in-chief of the Philippine army, when he was killed by mutinous soldiers in a square in Cabanatuan. This was believed to have been directly or indirectly ordered by then-president Emilio Aguinaldo.
Even declaring José Rizal a national hero was at one time the subject of a bit of controversy. Some believe that it was the American colonialists who pushed Rizal to be declared a national hero in order to prevent Andres Bonifacio from being recognized as a true national hero. The reason was that the American colonial masters favored Rizal, who advocated peaceful reforms, over Bonifacio, who championed the cause of violent revolution against foreign conquerors.
Perhaps all our heroes are imperfect in some way; but that should not prevent us from recognizing that they were also heroes who often gave their lives for their people. This concept of an imperfect hero is relevant not only to Philippine history, but also to the history of many other countries.
Take, for example, the United States. From 1861 to 1865, there was violent conflict or civil war between the northern states and the southern states. Millions of lives, both military and civilian, have been lost in this conflict. In the history of the United States, the most respected generals considered military geniuses were Generals Robert E. Lee and General Stonewall Johnson. Monuments and books commemorating their heroism have been popular throughout much of American history.
Today, their statues are forcibly taken down, because it seems that they really fought to preserve slavery. From a southern perspective, they were fighting for the “lost cause” that was the independence of the southern states of the US, which they called the Confederation of the United States. Stonewall Johnson died in one of the great battles of the Civil War.
Roughly 150 years after the end of the American Civil War, there is a great debate about whether Lee and Jackson were heroes or villains fighting to preserve slavery.
France celebrates the fall of the Bastille as a national holiday marking the birth of the French Republic. It was a time when the national population rebelled against a corrupt and cruel monarchy. It was a truly great event when such intellectual heroes as Voltaire appeared. It was said that the ideas of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity gave rise to the idea of democracy and the rule of the people.
However, people forget that this was the same era when the guillotine became widely known, as hundreds of people, mostly from the nobility, were executed by decapitation. So while the French Revolution produced many heroes, it also produced acts of brutality.
One of the most controversial names in the history of the Chinese people is the name of Chiang Kai-shek. To the communists, he was the head of a corrupt regime driven out of mainland China by the People’s Army led by Mao Zedong. To the Nationalists, he was the successor to Sun Yat-sen, who successfully led the Nationalist army out of mainland China and into the island of Taiwan. The state he founded on the island of Taiwan is today one of the most progressive and democratic territories in the world.
When I look at all the characters, I conclude that they all have flaws. On the other hand, they have similar traits of striving to achieve great goals for their people. Perhaps, like our modern-day hero Ninoy Aquino, the only value all heroes share is their conviction that their people are worth dying for.
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