The country’s celebration of the National Heroes Day tomorrow comes just two weeks before the scheduled burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. It is in fulfillment of a pledge that President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly made during the campaign season.
Duterte’s insistence on this issue has been met with intense opposition by victims of human rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship. The debate on whether Marcos deserves a hero’s burial inevitably necessitates a discussion as to the standards that are being used in assessing if an individual deserves to be labeled a hero.
In March 1993, then-President Fidel V. Ramos issued Executive Order No. 75 creating the National Heroes Committee (NHC) under the Office of the President “to study and recommend the proclamation of National Heroes.” After two years of protracted deliberations, the NHC decided to elevate the following individuals as national heroes:
a. Jose Rizal
b. Andres Bonifacio
c. Emilio Aguinaldo
d. Apolinario Mabini
e. Marcelo H. del Pilar
f. Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat
g. Juan Luna
h. Melchora Aquino
i. Gabriela Silang
However, neither President Ramos nor any members of his administration acted on the Committee’s recommendation. According to an article published in the website of the National Center for Culture and the Arts, this is perhaps because an affirmative response “might trigger a flood of requests” for proclamation of additional heroes and that it can also “trigger bitter debates involving historical controversies about the heroes.”
Prior to coming out with those recommendations, the Committee developed a 10-point standard which they used in assessing the individuals being considered for proclamation as national heroes:
1) The extent of a person’s sacrifices for the welfare of the country
2) The motive and methods employed in the attainment of the ideal
Was his ideal purely for the welfare of the country and without any taint of self-interested motives? Most of all, the method of attainment should be morally valid
3) The moral character of the person concerned.
The person should not have any immorality issue that affected his ideal.
4) The influence of the person concerned during his generation and/or the succeeding ones.
5) Those who have a concept of nation and thereafter aspire and struggle for the nation’s freedom.
They must have desired the country’s freedom in any situation especially when there’s a threat of invasion in any form.
6) Those who define and contribute to a system of life of freedom and order for a nation.
One who helps in the orderliness and betterment of the country.
7) Those who contribute to the quality of life and destiny of a nation.
8) A hero is part of the people’s expression.
The citizen must have recognized and acknowledged the person as a hero.
9) A hero thinks of the future, especially the future generations.
His concern for the future generations must be seen in his decisions and ideals.
10) The choice of a hero involves not only the recounting of an episode or events in history, but of the entire process that made this particular person a hero.
The aforementioned ten points is notable because it indirectly opened the possibility that our long-held narrative that heroes must have fought against a foreign invader needs to be revisited. In defending Rizal from the critics of his status as the universally-acclaimed Philippine national hero, the late journalist Armando Malay said this:
“The field from which a national hero would spring is not limited to the field of revolution. Maybe, in some new African nation, the national hero would be one who invents a vaccine that would forever banish a debilitating disease.”