Who should we consider as heroes worthy of veneration and respect?
Our roster of national heroes includes those who figured prominently in the 1896 Philippine Revolution against Spanish colonial rule.
Among them are Jose Rizal, whose writings, such as Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, awakened Filipinos to the harsh reality of Spanish rule; Andres Bonifacio who led the Katipunan to rise up against Spain; the revolutionary leader and statesman Apolinario Mabini who served first as a legal and constitutional adviser to the Revolutionary Government; and Marcelo H. del Pilar, who led the Propaganda Movement that exposed oppression and abuses by the Spaniards.
The American colonial period also saw the emergence of such heroes as Macario Sakay who led Filipino troops in fighting the Americans in the trenches. Many others took part in fighting the American colonial masters despite inferior weapons.
The Japanese occupation from 1941 to 1945 also witnessed the gallantry of Filipinos in fighting foreign invaders.
But it was not just those who gave up their lives in the anti-colonial struggles during the Spanish and American periods and during the Japanese occupation, that we consider as heroes.
We also consider as heroes those who fought and died in struggle against the excesses during the martial law period from 1972 to 1986.
That’s the reason the government helped set up with the private sector the Bantayog ng mga Bayani that pays tribute to their sacrifices during a dark period in our contemporary history.
But we also know that heroism can also emerge during times when confronting foreign invaders and tyrants.
What does heroism mean during normal times? We see it when ordinary citizens volunteer to help in fighting a deadly disease, which is what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We saw frontliners, from doctors to nurses and medical technologists, among others, helping contain the viral infection even at grave risk of catching the virus themselves.
We see heroism when government, the private sector and civil society groups respond to natural as well as man-made disasters such as flooding and landslides from typhoons, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions through various means: providing food, shelter and clothing.
We see heroism as well when people band together to help those suffering from hunger due to extreme poverty.
But we should also consider as heroes those who fight crime and corruption even at grave risk to their own lives.
Heroism indeed takes many forms. But is it true that unhappy is the land that has no heroes? No. Unhappy is the land that needs heroes.