WE are a people who place so much emphasis on monuments for heroes who we remember in exalted grounds that house their graves.
Yet we have to search deep in our consciousness if such fixation on monuments to edify and graveyards to commemorate them are matched by a deep appreciation of what they have actually done that made them the heroes that they have become.
The debate created by that eyesore that threatened to mar the landscape that served as the backdrop to the
monument of Jose Rizal has only dramatized how fiercely our guardians of culture and history would protect the integrity of our monuments.
And then we have the issue of the Marcos burial in a grave that the anti-Marcos section of our society believes he does not deserve, threatening to disrupt our body politic.
There appears to be so much symbolic power attached to monuments and graves. It can whip up a protest that could even reach the highest court of the land, which ruled to halt the construction of the eyesore but allowed the offending burial to proceed.
But the question is what we do as a people to honor our heroes in ordinary times, when there are no
architectural eyesores and offending burials.
How organic the culture of monuments and graves is to our ways of honoring the fallen and the dead?
Undoubtedly, this is a Western construct that was brought to us by our colonizers, where urban planning became focused on landmarks that bear the imprint of state power not only in halls and palaces that house the kings, but also of those that have to be remembered for their contribution to the process of state-building, the heroes. They are remembered through monuments and in graveyards. Separate and apart from these are the other edifices that embody the power of the Christian God, where images of saints and angels find an exclusive niche. Heroes are found in monuments and in graveyards, but not in cathedrals and churches.
If one examines our indigenous worldviews, one will find that this architectural bifurcation between the secular celebration of heroism and the religious celebration of the divine is not as defined. In fact, heroes become godlike in our indigenous representations. Heroes end up being worshipped and deified, their monuments become revered as icons fit fordemigods and their graveyards become holy ground.
Our heroes are edified in monuments which the Western colonizers have told us are secular representations. Their burial grounds are not in any way sacred, and are in fact considered as mere places for reverence.
This representation has secularized our constructs of heroes, even as deep inside we long to deify them.
Thus, to a legalistic secular culture, a burial place is simply a piece of ground where the mortal remains of a person are reposed. The law allowed a Marcos burial. It does not make him a hero, and it does not make him a saint, even if he is buried in a cemetery whose symbolic power carries with it the attribution as a place reserved for heroes.
On the other hand, the DMCI controversy was resolved in favor of cultural heritage, but not premised on the fact that the monument of Rizal needs the reverence, but was decided on the basis of building codes and urban planning requisites.
The highly charged emotions that have been created by the DMCI controversy and the Marcos burial debate reveals how deep our deistic constructs are in how we deal with the monuments and graves of our heroes.
however, the value that we place on heroism appears to be reduced to forms and rites, and not informed by a deep understanding of what heroism entails. We remain a country in constant search for heroes. We deem those who make sacrifices and leave their families to work abroad as modern-day heroes. Even our boxers, singers and beauty queens are treated as if they are heroes.
We go beyond hero worship and turn our heroes into demi-gods. Rizal is considered a god by a sect in Laguna. Mount Banahaw is said to be sacred not only because of its niche in folk Catholicism, but in the role that it played in the revolution. Corazon Aquinohas been floated by some as one who can be nominated for sainthood.
Joan of Arc is an icon where heroism and the divine meet. Her monument in Paris is in the middle of a busy section of the city but the buildings around it are not seen as eyesores. Her ashes are merely stored in a museum. Yet this does not diminish her being a hero to the French and a saint to the Catholics.
Our metaphors between heroes and saints, between the heroic and the divine, seem to have uncertain boundaries, even as our bases for who becomes a hero remain shaky to a point that we end up focusing on monuments and graves, and lost are their narratives and acts of heroism.