National Heroes’ Day

It’s a good idea, of course, to have a day set apart for the commemoration of national heroes. But you know what would be great? It’d be great if we, the People, actually knew more about our heroes than we were taught in schools and indoctrinated by pop-culture.

Recently, for instance, a massively successful Filipino movie essentially gave one specific hero – Emilio Aguinaldo – the stink eye. Considering the popularity of the movie, this jaundiced view of the first Philippine president was quickly embraced and magnified by everyone who felt like an historian after the movie. It’s gotten so bad that the name has been frequently used as a sarcastic reference by a popular morning radio talk show host.

And yet, there’s some really good evidence that Aguinaldo was actually way better than the weak-willed ninny portrayed in that movie. Sadly, how many twitter/fb-happy netizen nowadays would actually prefer to pore through volumes of history text rather than just rely on the pre-chewed, regurgitated biases of a heavily fictionized, and ridiculously anachronistic flick like Heneral Luna?

Image from Tampuhan Cafe

How many other heroes do we know so little about then? Gregorio del Pilar? The Hero of Tirad Pass, and the one of the youngest generals of the Revolution. But what else?

Miguel Malvar? The last general to surrender? I’m not even sure that’s entirely accurate. And who in the blue blazes was Macro Sakay? I never even learned that name in school, to be honest; just from the movie.

To be fair, websites like, which I linked to above, are doing a valiant job of popularizing knowledge about our war heroes via listicles. Looking at the bigger picture, however, bite-sized information creates only bite-sized knowledge. With luck, it’ll spur some people on to greater research and discovery but – and this is the same problem with biopics – probably not enough. Far more people will most likely be satisfied with knowing a bit of trivia (like the fact that Sakay once styled himself as a Philippine President) and then just move on to the next top-whatever-list they can find. Which leads me to the question: what exactly are Filipinos – particularly those not old enough to have actually fought in the Revolution – celebrating on National Heroes’ Day?

Tales of bravery that have been embellished or cut down over the years, leaving only barely glimpsed shadows of truth and fact? That’s not enough. In fact, such stories have so long ago passed out of popular style that the Heroes’ Day speeches you will hear today will probably be composed largely of paeans to “modern heroes” – a term that is routinely coopted by politicians wanting to make points with various interest groups.

Don’t get me wrong. I do agree with the practice of calling, say, OFWs modern heroes. Because they are. The same thing goes with teachers. But nowadays, you can throw a rock in any direction and hit someone waxing lyrical over nearly any profession or occupation and calling them heroes. It’s gotten to the point that it now feels awfully cynical.


To change that, I suspect we need to find ways to ensure that an appreciation for our historic past is restored amongst the vanguard of our population – the youth. With the increased emphasis on maths and sciences, I don’t know how effectively that can be done through our school curricula, so I suppose the second best way is to encourage historical societies and advocacy groups to step up their game.

Considering that media – film and the arts specifically – seems to be the most effective means of capturing popular imagination of late, it would be nice if government could take a more rigorous approach to vetting historically themed projects. Nothing wrong with inserting a bit of speculative fiction to fill in the gaps; nothing wrong with deliberately using a judicious bit of anachronism to spice up the work; but kindly consider also requiring better research and a more balanced presentation of the facts that are known. It’s perfectly okay to set out with a rockstar-making agenda, but please let’s not be doing that at the expense of accuracy.

Let’s also take a look at how we criticise works dealing with historical figures. Of course it’s worth lauding how homegrown the hit is, or how technically superior it is to others that have gone before, or how well received it is by the public – let’s do all that, but let’s also call out what needs to called out. Let’s not be afraid or too timid to tell our beloved filmmakers and authors that they got something wrong, or that they fudged a detail or two or twenty.  In the end, criticism is the whetstone on which we hone the quality of our work, and it is not un-patriotic or un-Filipino to point out errors by our fellow Filipinos.

With any luck, we might yet be able to hold some future National Heroes’ Day where the ordinary Filipino will be celebrating more than the double pay they will receive for going to work.


Featured image courtesy of Elizabeth Angsioco (@bethangsioco)


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