A s the country spends this long weekend to mark National Heroes Day tomorrow, August 31, The Sunday Times Magazine decided to look into the process of how a Filipino—whose love, loyalty, and allegiance to country is both admirable and immeasurable—is officially proclaimed a Philippine icon of the highest esteem.
Does a hero’s life story need to be presented to a particular body? Does thorough research need be done to authenticate one’s valor for country? Does a Filipino need to be martyred to become a national hero?
With all these questions, The Sunday Times Magazine excitedly began its own research into the making of a Philippine national hero, only to be met, however, by surprising and complicated revelations.
No such hero
“No law, executive order or proclamation has been enacted or issued officially proclaiming any Filipino historical figure as a national hero.”
This is what the “Selection and Proclamation of National Heroes and Laws Honoring Filipino Historical Figures” has stated in the 2002 executive summary report done by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP). According to Alvin Alcid, chief of research of Publication and Heralding Division of NHCP, this was submitted to the Reference and Research Bureau and Legislative Research Service of the House of Congress.
Based on this official document, even Dr. Jose Rizal who is taught in school as the Philippine National Hero, has never actually been conferred this title. Nevertheless, NHCP clarifies that the position Rizal now holds in the Philippine history is a tribute and honor to a national hero.
“However,” the statement clarified, “because of their significant roles in the process of nation building and contributions to history, there were laws enacted and proclamations issued honoring these heroes.”
As early as December 20, 1898, General Emilio Aguinaldo issued a decree declaring December 30 of every year a day of national mourning in honor of Rizal and other victims of the Philippine Revolution.
When William Howard Taft arrived in the Philippines in June 1900 and became the chairman of the 2nd Philippine Commission, the American governor general suggested to name Rizal a national hero.
On June 11, Act No. 137 was formulated which organized the “politico-military district of Morong” into the “Province of Rizal,” in honor of Rizal, the great hero and martyr.
Another hero given an implied recognition as a national hero is Andres Bonifacio. His birth date of November 30 was declared a national holiday through Act No. 2946, enacted by the Philippine Legislature on February 16, 1921.
On February 23, 1918, Act No. 2760 confirmed and ratified all steps taken for the creation, maintenance and improvement of national monuments, and particularly for the erection of a monument in memory of Andres Bonifacio
Despite the lack of any official declaration explicitly proclaiming the country’s most famous freedom fighters and martyrs as national heroes, they remain admired and revered for their important roles in Philippine history. For according to historians, heroes should not be legislated; rather, their appreciation is better left to academics. Acclamation for heroes in their opinion is recognition enough.
Nevertheless, the Philippine government have made attempts in the past to identify and officially recognize Filipino heroes.
On March 28, 1993, President Fidel Ramos issued Executive Order 75 creating the National Heroes Committee under the Office of the President.
The committee was tasked to study, evaluate and recommend Filipino national personages/heroes in due recognition of their sterling character aand remarkable achievements for the country.
Dr. Onofre Corpuz and Dr. Alfredo Lagmay came up with a six-item criteria for the purpose, which was adopted by a Technical Committee comprised of Samuel Tan, Marcelino Foronda, Bernardita Churchill, Serafin Quiason, Ambeth Ocampo (then known as Dom Ignacio Maria), Prof. Minerva Gonzales, and Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil. The criteria contained the following:
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.
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.
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.
After two years of deliberation, the National Historical Commission, comprised of the country’s top historians, selected nine individuals and recommended their declaration as “national heroes.” Shortlisted were Rizal, Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino, and Gabriela Silang.
Heroes in waiting
Unfortunately, the NHC recommendation submitted on November 22, 1995 to then Secretary Ricardo Gloria of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS, now known simply as Department of Education) was never acted upon.
NHCP’s explanation regarding this pending approval states, “This was probably because [the recommendation]might trigger a flood of requests for proclamations. Another possibility is that the proclamations can trigger bitter debates involving historical controversies about the heroes.”
The NHCP maintains, however, that the agency is certain of the laws and proclamations made in honor of all Filipino heroes, collectively celebrated for the first time in the 1931 National Heroes Day. Moreover, the year 1996, the centennial of the Philippine Revolution, had also been declared the “Year of Filipino Heroes,” with August 30 of every year dedicated as National Heroes Day. The date of choice is the commemoration of the Cry of Pugad Lawin, which signaled the start of Bonifacio’s Katipunan-led revolution in 1896.
In 2007, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Republic Act 9492, which mandated that if the date of any regular or nationwide special holiday falls on a Wednesday, the holiday is to be observed on the Monday of that week. In addition, if a holiday falls on a Sunday, then the holiday shall be observed on the Monday of the following week. In effect, the celebration of National Heroes Day since then has been assigned to the last or fourth Monday of August.
With all these facts uncovered, celebrating National Heroes Day is still observed by government as a very important holiday in the Philippines. For whether legislated or not, Filipino heroes deserve the veneration of generations of Filipinos who enjoy the freedom they now have. More importantly, it is in remembering them and their selfless love for country that will inspire future Filipino heroes to rise up.