National Heroes Day is celebrated every last Monday of every August to honor all Filipino heroes. The date was chosen to also mark the anniversary of the Cry of Pugad Lawin which was the beginning of the Philippine Revolution.
What is a hero? In modern times, the term “hero” is used to describe a man or a woman because of their perceived courage, nobility of spirit and extraordinary exploits. The term heroic courage is difficult to define.. I think Hemingway best describes this when he said that courage was showing “grace under pressure.”
The root of the word “hero” is the Greek word heros which means “to watch over others”. In 1993, then President Fidel Ramos created a National Heroes’ Committee to come up with criteria to identify our national heroes. On the basis of their criteria they came up with a list of names: Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino, Gabriela Silang. However, the report of the committee was never acted upon.
Former Senate president Manny Villar later explained that their task was understandably impossible. He asked: “How can one even measure heroism? Who determines who our national heroes are? Heroism is attributed not only to persons of courage but also persons whose achievements have positively influenced the course of a country’s life fighting for independence or restoring democracy.
It is said that a nation’s history is the continuing saga of the lives and achievements of its heroes. Tomorrow, the Philippines commemorates one such story. It is a very familiar tale to those who take in being Filipino. But just like the story of Christmas, it is a tale worth repeating. It is the story of the hero Andres Bonifacio and the beginning of the Philippine Revolution.
On June 6, 1892, Jose Rizal came home from Europe. He felt that the Propaganda Movement lacked the necessary vigor and there was a need to wage a more vigorous crusade. Rizal established the La Liga Filipinas which was launched on July 3 at the house of Doroteo Ongjunco on Ilaya Street, Tondo. Andres Bonifacio was one of the approximately 30 persons who attended the meeting. The principal aim of the organization was to unify the entire archipelago into “one compact, vigorous and homogenous body.”
Rizal was arrested three days later one July 6, imprisoned in Fort Santiago and deported to Dapitan, Zamboanga on July 15. The day after Rizal’s arrest- on July 7, Andres Bonifacio, Deodato Arellano, Ladislao Diwa, Valentin Diaz, Jose Dizon, and Teodoro Plata formed the Kataastaasan, Kagalang-galang na Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan or the KKK. Its aim was to win independence from Spain. Through revolution. The KKK, therefore, was a radical spin-off from the La Liga Filipinas. The new organization immediately attracted members who wanted an armed revolution.
Ramon Basa was the president of the organization in 1893 to 1894. Bonifacio replaced Basa in January 1895 and was the Supremo when the Philippine Revolution finally began in August 1896. The KKK was primarily an organization of poor Filipinos unlike the Propaganda Movement which was mainly composed of the Ilustrado class. Bonifacio wrote a manuscript in Tagalog which was used by the KKK to explain the history of the Philippines and the reasons for the existence of the KKK.
The manifesto is addressed to the poor people in Tondo. I was struck by the relevance of its message for the Filipino poor even today. Here is an English translation by Teodoro Agoncillo of a portion of Bonifacio’s message.
“Reason tells us that we cannot expect anything but more and more sufferings, more and more treachery, more and more insults, and more and more slavery.
“Reason tells us not to fritter away time, hoping for the promised prosperity that will never come and never materialize. Reason teaches us to rely on ourselves and not to depend on others for our living. Reason tells us to be united in sentiment, in thought and in purpose in order that we may have the strength to find the means of combating the prevailing devils in our country.”
Tales of a revolution
There are many books on the Philippine Revolution. Here are a few that are not well known but are worth spending time.
• The Philippine Revolution by Apolinario Mabini (English translation of La Revolucion Filipina). The author of the book is known as “ the Brains of the Katipunan.” This is what makes the book must reading. This was published by the National Historical Institute.
• Blockade and Siege of Manila in 1898 by Jose Roca Togores. An eyewitness account by the author who was a volunteer for the Manila defence. This is the only book I have read which offers a firsthand account of the Manila siege from the Spanish point of view.
• The War in the Philippines: As Reported by Two French Journalists in 1899 published by the National Historical Institute. Eyewitness accounts of Philippine Revolution by two French writers, Gaston Rouvier and Henri Turot.
• The Philippines and Round About, by George John Younghusband, published by the Macmillan Co. London and reprinted by the National Historical Institute 2004. It offers a firsthand account of the Philippine Revolution from the eyes of a British military observer.
Creative writing classes for kids and teens
Young Writers’ Hangout on Sept. 7 and 21 (1:30 pm-3 pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC. Adult class on writing poetry with Gemino Abad on Sept. 28, 1:30-4:30 pm. For details and registration, email email@example.com.
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