The ‘unofficial’ list of the Philippines’ revered patriots
Held on the last Monday of every August, Filipinos celebrate National Heroes’ Day to honor the sacrifices of our ancestors who bravely fought for the nation’s freedom.
The chosen date further marks the “Cry of Pugad Lawin” in 1896, which is recorded in history as the first act of insurrection by what was then a secret Filipino revolutionary movement called the Katipunan against the 333-year rule of Spanish colonizers.
Traditionally, local governments across the country mount various activities to commemorate the nation’s heroes, and more often than not, the likes of Dr. Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo are the historical names that immediately come to mind on this occasion.
As such, in preparing this issue, while The Sunday Times Magazine had planned to draw attention both to the most famous and “lesser known” heroes in the Philippine history via an official list, it turns out that there is strictly and technically, nothing of the sort to go by.
Based on the “Selection and Proclamation of National Heroes and Laws Honoring Filipino Historical Figures” of
the 2002 Executive Summary Report—submitted by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) to Reference and Research Bureau Legislative Research Service of the House of Congress—no law, executive order or proclamation has been enacted or issued to officially declare a freedom fighter or patriot a national hero. Instead, because of their significant roles in the process of nation building and contributions to history, proclamations had been issued to honor Filipino historical figures as a national hero.
Augusto de Viana, Former Chief of the Research, Publications and Heraldry Division of then National Historical Institute (NHI), indicated in his article “In Search of National Heroes” in The Manila Times (August 25, 2002) that even Jose Rizal, considered the most important among Filipino heroes, was not explicitly proclaimed as a national hero. Rather, Rizal’s prominence in Philippine history is a tribute to the continued veneration or acclamation of the people in recognition of his contributions to the significant social transformations which led the country to independence.
Who then, you may ask, should be commemorated on National Heroes Day?
On November 15, 1995, guided by certain criteria, the Technical Committee of the National Heroes Committee had recommended nine Filipino historical figures who they believe should be honored for their allegiance and sacrifices for country. These are Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini, Marcelo del Pilar, Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino and Gabriela Silang.
Today, The Sunday Times Magazine recalls their most significant deeds of patriotism, which led to the birth of generations upon generation of free and proud Filipinos.
Jose Rizal (1861-1896):
Rizal was a national hero who exposed the corruptions and wrongdoings of the Spanish colonial government through his writings. He founded the progressive organization “La Liga Filipina,” which was considered a threat by the Spanish authorities and ultimately led to his arrest.
Tributes and trivia: The Rizal Monument now stands near the place where Rizal was fallen at the Luneta in Bagumbayan, known to all as Rizal Park. The Taft Commission of June 1901 further approved Act 137 renaming the District of Morong into the Province of Rizal. Today, the wide acceptance of Rizal as the country’s national heroes is evidenced by the countless towns, streets, and numerous parks in the Philippines named in his honor. Moreover, Rizal’s literary works continue to be immortalized through cinematic depiction and plays.
Andres Bonifacio (1863-1897):
Bonifacio founded the Katipunan, a secret society which spearheaded the uprising against the oppressive Spanish rule. It was the groundwork for the first Philippine Republic. He faced a trial for acts inimical to the existence of the new government, and was sentenced to death by a military tribunal.
Tributes and trivia: Besides Rizal, the only other hero given an implied recognition as a national hero is Bonifacio whose date of birth on November 30 had officially been proclaimed as a national holiday. Monuments of Bonificio, like Rizal, are common across the nation; and again, like his compatriot, this inspiring hero’s life has been immortalized on film and television, such as 2014’s Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo (starring Robin Padilla), 2013’s TV series Katipunan and 2014’s Ilustrado (both starring Sid Lucero).
Emilio Aguinaldo (1869-1964):
Aguinaldo is a revolutionary, politician, and military leader who is officially recognized as the First President of the Philippines. After the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1941, he cooperated with the new forces, and appealed on radio for American and Filipino soldiers to surrender in Bataan. He was arrested as a collaborator upon the return of the Americans but was later freed on general amnesty.
Tributes and trivia: In 1931, an American Pre-Code documentary titled Around the World in 80 Minutes with Douglas Fairbanks, showed host Fairbanks in an interview with former Philippine president Emilio Aguinaldo.
Aguinaldo has also been portrayed in various films centered on the revolution, with such actors as Mon Confiado in Heneral Luna, and Jericho Ejercito and E.R. Ejercito in El Presidente highlighting his controversial life.
Juan Luna (1857-1899):
Luna was a painter, sculptor and a political activist of the Philippine Revolution during the late 19th century. He is also considered a master Philippine artist for paintings, which often depicted his his sentiments for country.
Tributes and trivia: Luna’s most revered artwork, “The Spolarium” is held in prominent display at the National Museum. Of his sought after masterpieces, “¿A Do…Va la Nave?” sold for P46.8 million at a Makati auction.
In film, the brilliant Luna had been portrayed by Bryan Benedict in Ilustrado; and Allan Paule Heneral Luna.
Marcelo del Pilar (1850-1896):
Del Pilar was a Philippine revolutionary propagandist and satirist. He tried to marshal the nationalist sentiment of the Filipino ilustrados or bourgeoisie, against Spanish imperialism. He founded the newspaper Diariong Tagalog to propagate democratic liberal ideas among farmers and peasants.
Tributes and trivia: For his 150 essays and 66 editorials, mostly published in La Solidaridad and various anti-friar pamphlets, del Pilar has long been regarded as the “Father of Philippine Journalism.”
As such Samahang Plaridel, an organization of veteran journalists and communicators, was founded in October 2003 to honor his ideals. The group further promotes cooperation and understanding among Filipino journalists in service of the nation.
In the 1998 film, José Rizal, del Pilar was portrayed by actor Dennis Marasigan.
Melchora Aquino (1812-1919):
One of two females among the nine historical figures for recommendation as heroes, Aquino operated a store, which became a refuge for sick and wounded revolutionaries. She fed and provided medical attention to the revolutionaries, while encouraging them with motherly advice in pursuing their battles, and offering prayers.
Secret meetings of the Katipuneros were also held in her home, thus earning Aquino the titles “Woman of Revolution”, “Mother of Balintawak”, “Mother of the Philippine Revolution”, and more famously “Tandang Sora.”
Tributes and trivia: As a token of gratitude, a district and road expanse in Quezon City had been named after Tandang Sora. She was also commemorated in the five-centavo coin, which existed from 1967 to 1992; and is considered the very first Filipina to be featured on Philippine peso banknote, in this case, a 100-peso bill from the English Series (1951 to 1966).
Further from home, Aquino’s legacy is honored via Tandang Sora Street in San Francisco, USA.
Apolinario Mabini (1864-1903):
Mabini was the “brains” of the revolution. He served first as a 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 performed all his revolutionary and governmental activities despite having lost the use of both his legs to polio shortly before the Philippine Revolution of 1896.
Tributes and trivia: There are two shrines devoted to Mabini: The house where he died is located on the grounds of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) in Santa Mesa, Manila; while his hometown in Talaga, Tanauan City has long been the site of his burial.
In films, he has been portrayed by Ronnie Quizon in the 2012’s El Presidente, and by Epi Quizon in the 2015’s Heneral Luna.
Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat (1581–1671):
Kudarat was a Sultan of Maguindanao in the Philippines. He successfully opposed the Spaniards who attempted to conquer his land during his reign. He was also a hindrance to the Christianization of the island of Mindanao much like the other Muslim rulers of the southern Philippine Archipelago.
Kudarat was a direct descendant of Shariff Kabungsuwan, a Malay-Arab missionary who brought Islam to the Philippines between the 13th and 14th century.
Tributes and trivia: The province of Sultan Kudarat is named after this brave Filipino, together with the Municipality of Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, where his descendants of datus and rulers remain to be political leaders.
Gabriela Silang (1731-1763):
Silang was a revolutionary best known as the first female leader of a Filipino movement in the fight for independence from Spain. She took over the reins of her husband Diego Silang’s revolutionary movement following his assassination in 1763. During this time, she led the Ilocano rebel movement until she was captured and executed by the colonial government of the Spanish East Indies.
Tributes and trivia: The organization and party list Gabriela Women’s Party, which advocates women’s rights and issues, was founded in April 1984 in Silang’s honor. A statue of this female hero on horseback was further commissioned and erected by the Zóbel de Ayala family at the corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues.
The Tangadan Welcome Tunnel in Abra is also the site of the Gabriela Silang Memorial Park with a monument to the brave Filipina.
The report recommending these nine historical figures as national heroes was likewise submitted to the Department of Education, Culture and Sports on November 22, 1995. However, no action was taken by the government agency afterward based on speculations that an official proclamation by law of national heroes might trigger debates on historical controversies surrounding a number of them.
Nevertheless, despite the lack of any official declaration explicitly proclaiming the nine patriots as national heroes, they remain admired and revered for their pivotal roles in Philippine history.
As writer Quennie Ann Palafox points out in her article, “Reinventing the Filipino Hero” from the NHCP archives, “Heroes are not born, but they are chosen by the society among men deserving esteem and emulation.”
She continues, “There must be public acclamation and pronouncement of their contributions to the society. Otherwise, they will be similar to others who unselfishly helped for the betterment of others and yet they are unrecognized.”
In recent years, the concept of hero in the Philippines has constantly been redefined in response to the changes and challenges of our times. Filipinos in general are being regarded as heroes without having to give up their lives for country, but for their vital contributions to nation building. These are faceless Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), teachers, policemen and soldiers, among others, without whom the Philippines cannot hope to grow and reach its full potential.
With this, one may be able to salvage something good out of the lack of a proper law in the country to officially declare national heroes. For on this holiday, and every year after, we may also celebrate the selflessness of modern day Filipinos who, albeit not in bloody revolutions, also sacrifice their lives for a greater Philippines.
PHOTOS BY RENE H. DILAN AND CARMELA ENRIQUEZ