The Country Born of Love and Courage

Samantha Go

“Iniibig ko ang Pilipinas, aking lupang sinilangan, tahanan ng aking lahi.”

These words were written by our forefathers to instill a sense of pride within our people. These were written so we could literally declare our undying allegiance to the Philippines. Back in the day, the Patriotic Oath seemed almost like a war cry that fueled both the radicals and the traditionalists (as long as they were locals, one would imagine.)

These days, students across the country hazily recite Panatang Makabayan in the wee hours of each Monday morning for their respective flag ceremonies, their right hands in the air, perhaps resisting the urge to close their eyes for a brief nap. Every single week, the routine is the same; but arguably the most important Monday they have to pledge that is on the fourth and final week of August – on the National Heroes’ Day. But they don’t, because there is no flag ceremony when there aren’t any classes.

At the risk of sounding cynical, one must admit that most kids nowadays simply look forward to National Heroes’ Day as a holiday, its true essence and purpose merely shoved aside or hastily scribbled into a required essay on Jose Rizal. This holiday is supposed to pay tribute to our fallen heroes and serve as a beacon of inspiration for the next generation of nationalistic freethinkers, but instead, the state of today’s patriotism would send those who cried at Pugad Lawin to weep in their graves.

For 91 years, we have been celebrating this great day, even before we actually achieved legitimate independence. Back in 1931, under the “unofficial” reign of America, our government declared that every last Sunday of August, we commemorate the sacrifices of those who lead the Philippines to revolution. It wasn’t until former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo changed things up in 2007 that we started celebrating on Monday (for economic purposes, allegedly).

Interestingly, to this day we have no official list of heroes. The actual law that put National Heroes’ Day into action does not declare any specific set of people. On top of that, the criteria for proclaiming an individual a national hero has long been debated and therefore is still not in effect. But of course, through the sheer proof of history, the people know who our heroes are. Not one Filipino goes through their education without being acquainted with their fair share of Silangs, Aguinaldos, and Bonifacios. A simple utter of “noli me tangere” is automatically associated with Jose Rizal instead of simply being a Spanish phrase.

There are hundreds of other men and women who gave their lives for our freedom at different points in time. Even in this lifetime, there are heroes out there who fight for true democracy. Heroism has extended past the great efforts of the Katipunan and into the fabric of our modern day. Even Malacañang itself states that heroism in our country is not limited to the greats who have graced the covers of Araling Panlipunan books and have been literally cemented in the various statues created in their liking. In Malacañang’s official website they say, “…this lack of specifics offers an opportunity to celebrate the bravery of not one, not a few, but all Filipino heroes who have braved death or persecution for home, for nation, for justice, for freedom.”

Among the most popular of heroes, though, whose face is commonly seen next to a bolo and a red flag, is Andres Bonifacio, the Supremo of the Katipuneros who lead the Cry of Pugad Lawin. It was his sheer lack of fear and unshakeable patriotism that helped pave the way for many more like him. These men and women did not let anything deter their dream of a free country.

The infamous katipunera Gabriela Silang, forever memorialized on horseback fiercely charging into battle with the flag in her hand, is one of the first women introduced to children in school. When we hear hero, often we immediately think of men. Unfortunately, this also shows that we have a lack of female representation in terms of heroism. There are plenty of heroic women out there, both in the past and in the present, but what we need more of is the identification of these women. In a patriarchal society it’s easy to think along the lines of the norm. But just like what Gabriela did when she defied convention and stood with her fallen husband’s comrades in battle, we, too, must look outside of our comfort zones.

We are fortunate to be living in a country where the population is as passionate and as warm as the Filipino people. Every day more and more people do brave things. These heroes are everywhere. From the OFWs to the soldiers to the parents caring for their kids; we are literally surrounded by moments of heroism. It doesn’t have to be huge, blockbuster degree acts that merit the word ‘hero’. It can be any action that has a positive effect for somebody or something that could not stand on their own. No matter the occasion, we must remember to keep the real spirit of heroism in our hearts; after all it was this simple but strong spirit that helped build us up today.

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