When I was young, I always wondered what National Heroes’ Day was for. Was it for all the national heroes who were not given their special day? It turned out to be true as only Jose Rizal (the date of his death, December 30) and Andres Bonifacio (the day of his birth, November 30) have specific holidays dedicated to their heroism.
Later on I would learn that National Heroes Day is not just for those other heroes in our textbooks but also dedicated to the countless, nameless, faceless heroes of the country. And I particularly found it appropriate that through various executive and legislative acts, we ended up celebrating Bonifacio Day and the holiday for the common everyday hero on the same day.
There have been many academic debates among historians on whether Bonifacio is poor or middle class. But I think certain facts are undisputed. The “Great Plebeian” was born in Tondo and at age 14 was forced to work full time in order to support the education of his younger siblings. He did not finish school but was self-taught and was a voracious reader.
So to my mind, the debate on his class origins may be relevant to ideologues but irrelevant to an appreciation of his heroism. Here is a man who understood what it meant to struggle. He appreciated hard work and perseverance. His life led him to fight and struggle against oppression perpetrated by a colonial power. His life led him to a revolution for independence.
When I ran for president in 2010, one of the negative propaganda that was hurled against me was the lie that my family was not poor. Of the many attacks against me (and there were many!), this one was the most painful.
These people questioning my poor beginnings were people born with silver spoons in their mouths who never did a day’s hard work in their entire life. These are political operatives who used a modern photo of the place we lived in and peddled the lie that it was a comfortable Tondo neighborhood.
These are the same people who never experienced waking up early in the morning (as early as 1 did) and walking to Divisoria to sell fish and shrimp. These attacks may have cost me the presidency but it did not cost me my decency.
But I digress.
Bonifacio understood the value of hard work. He wrote in The Decalogue: Duties of the Sons of the People: “Diligence in the work that gives sustenance to you is the true basis of love — love for your self, for your wife and children, and for your brothers and countrymen.”
He was telling the Katipuneros that valuing hard work is love of country. This is the reason why National Heroes Day honors everyday heroes: the father who wakes up at 4 am to go to work, or the mother who toils in a foreign soil just to give her children proper education, or the factory worker who works overtime in order to put food on their table.
They are Filipino heroes.
I particularly like the tribute given by President Rodrigo Duterte in this year’s commemoration: “Every waking day is an invitation to dedicate our lives for a worthy cause; to uplift the quality of life of our countrymen, and to bring back our pride and honor in our identity as a people.”
This is the challenge to modern day Filipinos. How do we make heroes relevant? By emulating them in our everyday lives. By continuing to work hard. By rededicating ourselves to the national cause: freeing our people from the shackles of poverty. (Senator Manny Villar)