MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:52 p.m.) — President Rodrigo Duterte lauded COVID-19 frontliners in his Rizal Day message for this year and urged Filipinos to emulate the modern-day heroes' love for the nation.
"Today, we see many 'Rizals' fighting for our people, this time against an unseen adversary — a pandemic. We have our brave frontliners who continue to serve the nation in their unique capacities notwithstanding the risks to life and limb. In them, we see a new expression of heroism that is truly inspiring," Duterte said.
"May we continue to celebrate Rizal and our modern-day heroes, to learn from their example, and to express the love and respect of a grateful nation," he added.
Duterte, who recently said he was limiting his engagements outside Malacañang because of the pandemic, did not attend rites in honor of national hero Jose Rizal this year. Last year, he led the 123rd death anniversary of Rizal in his hometown Davao City.
Duterte described Rizal as "a loving son, a good student, a dedicated physician, a passionate writer" and "a defender" of Filipinos' right to self determination.
Rizal had great aspirations for his motherland and had used the power of the pen to "convey sentiments against oppression and yearnings for emancipation," the president added.
"To the extent that it ignited a stronger sense of nationalism and a revolution, he was successful. He was our hero," Duterte said.
Rizal, whose writings had inspired Filipinos to resist Spain's colonial rule, was executed by firing squad on December 30, 1896 in Manila.
Robredo recalls Rizal's fight for freedoms
In a separate Rizal Day message, Vice President Leni Robredo noted that Rizal "through his work, the example of his life, and his supreme sacrifice…thought less of himself, and more about the many Filipinos who lived under the yoke of colonialism."
She said that Rizal's legacy is in the civil liberties that Filipinos have under the constitution.
"As we commemorate Rizal Day, may we always strive to be worthy of our freedoms, and realize that being free requires that we recognize the shared humanity in one another, and fight for the welfare and dignity of every Filipino," Robredo also said.
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