Heroism in the Face of Criticism

National Heroes Day in the Philippines was first commemorated every last Sunday of August of every year, per Act No. 3827 of the Philippine Legislature on October 28, 1931. President Cory Aquino adopted this in Administrative Code of 1987. Then in 2007, President Gloria Arroyo amended it through Republic Act No. 9492 and it now falls on the last Monday of August. I guess because it is not really a holiday if it happens on a Sunday, right?

Unlike other national holidays, this holiday does not celebrate and remember one particular person. It is a holiday that celebrates Filipino heroism in all forms and in all stages of our nation’s history. This is the day for the ordinary Filipinos who are placed in extraordinary situations and who chose to do the brave thing, the right thing, and the beneficial thing for their country.

President Noynoy Aquino shined the light on three kinds of Filipinos he thinks have displayed modern-day heroism in his speech on August 25, 2014, during the celebration of National Heroes Day at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. First, the Filipinos who lived in Fukushima prefecture in Japan who showed positive disposition in the midst of the tragedy brought about by the tsunami in 2011. Second, the Filipinos who had the presence of mind to save others during the onslaught of typhoon Yolanda. And third, which I think is PNoy’s favorite, young Filipinos, represented by Ma. Francesca Santiago, a student from Bacolod, who deplores the penchant of some Filipinos for criticizing and bashing the government instead of offering to help find solutions to our problems.

I say that the third kind of Filipino hero is the president’s favorite because he is really taking these criticisms, attacks, and protests against him and his administration personally.  PNoy is starting to take the stance that if you are against him, you are against reforms. And though I do not agree with his logic (and the Philippine Constitution guarantees my right to do so), I also get annoyed with critics who are nothing but whiners and fence-sitters yet do nothing to contribute to resolving our social problems.

So why are there Filipinos who can say a lot about what should be done in this country but do not actually go and do it themselves?

This question reminds me of the eloquent words of another Filipino hero, in fact, the current Philippine president’s father and namesake, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. Ninoy was a famous voice of the opposition during his time, a very vocal critic of the government. He wrote a piece published on the July 1968 issue of the Foreign Affairs by the Council on Foreign Relations entitled, “What’s Wrong with the Philippines?”   In that essay, he wrote that what is wrong with the Philippines is we are “a people without soul.”

Ninoy wrote: “Fault, if it must be fixed, belongs not to any single man or people. It lies in the fabric of the society and in what went into its making. Too many Filipinos are without purpose and without discipline. They profess love of country, but love themselves – individually – more.” 

He added: “The responsibility belongs also to those who came, conquered and ruled – to America as much as to Spain. For all the good they did (Spain welded and Christianized the people, America democratized them), they are responsible for the worst in the Filipino. While bleeding them, they molded the Filipinos in their own images, Spain Hispanizing and America Americanizing the natives. Almost half a century of American rule bequeathed to the Asian Filipino a trauma by making him uncomfortably American in outlook, values and tastes. What was left was a people without soul.”

Ninoy described Filipinos as “bewildered about their identity.” They are an Asian people not Asian in the eyes of their fellow Asians and not Western in the eyes of the West. Filipinos may insist they are Asian, but they are so American-oriented that, by reflex, they still react and respond like little brown Americans. Except for the “hyper-nationalists,” he said, Filipinos actually take pride in their community, if not identity, with the Americans.

He noted that because of this Western orientation, too many Filipinos are given to dodging their responsibilities, running to others for help when they should be on their own two feet. Ninoy might as well be talking about his wife Cory and his son Noynoy, both of whom are fond of running to America for help. But he could not have seen that one coming when he said that, right?

Ninoy quoted one of my favorite writers, Renato Constantino, to explain his point further: “As a people, we have been deprived for centuries of responsibility for our destiny. Under the Americans, while ostensibly we were being prepared for self-government, for self-reliance, actually we were being maneuvered by means of political and economic pressures to defer to American decisions and being conditioned by our American education to prefer American ways. The result is a people habituated to abdicating control over basic areas of their national life, unaccustomed to coming to grips with reality, prone to escape into fantasies.”  (Oh, is that why we turn to showbiz to ease the pain of helplessness?)

Ninoy’s essay may seem anti-American but it’s not in its totality. He still advocated for a “special relationship” with America and its continued military presence in Asia. He, however, insisted that “Filipinos must purge – now, with finality – the cause of their past shame: U.S. puppetry. What they must seek is partnership with the United States, not wardship.” 

He also urged the new generation of Filipinos to “shake and awaken the Catholic Church, which has long ignored the need for social reform and become flabby in its position of revered irrelevance.” So this Spanish legacy must be held responsible, too. Can we ever find the courage to go against the mighty Catholic Church even if they threaten us to burn in hell?

In the last paragraph of his essay, Ninoy said: “Filipinos will do well to keep in mind that invoking the dead – if epic – past will no longer work in this age of rapid evolution. For them sentimentality to rest their future and fortune on the special Filipino-American bonds and other myths of the past is likely to be fatal.” 

PNoy should take that advice from his late father, a Filipino hero, and stop invoking his dead-though-epic parents whenever his critics become harsh. Just accept the fact that you will always have haters, Mr. President. It comes with the job you’ve chosen to do. So quit whining about those critics. That’s how you can show us your heroism, too.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, August 28, 2014