“WHO ARE the persons whom you consider a genuine Filipino hero? You can name up to five persons.”

    Five years ago, with neither prompting nor proffered list, the Social Weather Station asked 1,200 respondents in a nationwide poll.

    The top choice, as expected, was Jose Rizal gaining the nod of 75 percent of the respondents. Second, as expected too, was Andres Bonifacio, but with a rather dismal 34 percent.

    Third and fourth were the Aquino couple: Ninoy with 20 percent, and Cory with 14. Their son, the BS, being freshly-minted president at that time may have contributed to their relatively high ranking.

    In a tie with Cory was the Sublime Paralytic, Apolinario Mabini. Then followed four presidents – the purported first, Emilio Aguinaldo (11 percent), the ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos (5.1 percent), the “Guy” Ramon Magsaysay (4.3 percent) and the Castilla Manuel Quezon (3.8 percent).

    Rounding the Top 10 was the very first Filipino historical hero Lapu-Lapu with 3.7 percent.

    Just out of the Top 10 were Tandang Sora, Melchora Aquino (3.2 percent) and La Solidaridad’s Marcelo H. del Pilar (3.0 percent).

    President BS Aquino III at 2.9 percent edged the “Brains of the Katipunan” Emilio Jacinto (2.8 percent), who was followed by pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao at 2.6 percent.

    More historical heroes followed: Gabriela Silang (2.6 percent), the hero of Tirad Pass Gregorio del Pilar (2.2 percent) and the painter Juan Luna (1.9 percent), capped by Mar’s lolo President Manuel Roxas (1.8 percent).

    Why, even former President Joseph Estrada figured with 1.8 percent of the respondents, followed by President Diosdado Macapagal (1.6 percent) in a tie with presidential candidate actor Fernando Poe Jr. whom his daughter Gloria bested in the 2004 presidential derby.

    Alas, seemingly obliterated from the collective memory of the Filipino people are some other national heroes: the martyred priests Gomez-Burgos-Zamora, the propagandist Graciano Lopez-Jaena, the rebels Diego Silang, Francisco Dagohoy, Macario Sacay, the martyr Jose Abad Santos. What do they teach for Philippine History in schools these days?

    Yes, even the military genius Antonio Luna, the only “real” general in the Philippine-American War, merited not even a passing fancy by one percent of the respondents. Wonder how he would figure were another survey of this kind be undertaken now, given his nascent popularity with the box office success of his biopic Heneral Luna last year. And conversely, Aguinaldo – the contra to Luna’s bida. Ah, puñeta!

    That the despised Dictator earned an honored place in the Top 10 and the disgraced and convicted but ultimately pardoned plunderer merited a place at all in the survey manifest some reconsideration in our general understanding of heroism. Aye, just see how the nation is now engaged in a paroxysm of raging bitterness over the Marcos burial at the national heroes’ cemetery.

    Yeah, how did Marcos and Estrada – both driven out of power by their own people – ever become heroes?

    Some symptoms of a damaged culture patently manifest there.

    Unhappy is the land without heroes, so some wag once wrote. Unhappier though is the land with fraudulent heroes.

    But unhappiest is that land that cannot distinguish the real from the falsified in its pantheon of heroes.

    So what does it take to be a hero?

    A debate had long focused on the question: Are heroes born or made? Is heroism inherent in a person or does it rise out of circumstance? The latter has traditionally been the preferred position buttressed by historical epochs.

    Without the American Revolution would there be a Washington? Without the Civil War, a Lincoln?

    Could Turkey’s Ataturk have arisen without the Ottoman persecution? Or Lenin sans the Romanov’s enslavement of Russia?

    For that matter, Rizal and Bonifacio without the Spanish colonization?

    If memory serves right, I think it was the historian Toynbee that provided the synthesis to hero-born versus hero-made contradiction, to quote liberally (from faded memory): “When he has in him to give, and the situation demands of him to give, he has no other recourse but to give.”

    The essence of heroism inheres in the person and is drawn out from him by the circumstance. Both born and made is the hero then.

    Even if one possesses all elements of heroism in him – generally thought of as intelligence, honor and integrity, courage, selflessness and commitment to a cause, self-sacrifice and love for others, if there is no situation that will warrant the extraction and expression of these elements – a triggering mechanism of sort – the hero will not come out of him.

    As in the classical Latin tradition, it is via Fortuna that virtus, pietas, dignitas, and gravitas – the established Roman virtues – find their ultimate expression.

    Else, the lamentation in Gray’s Elegy in a church courtyard: “…Full many a gem of purest ray serene, The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:

    Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air…”

    Heroism. ‘tis said, is the summation of a life.

    Heroism, ‘tis held, is a verdict of history.

    So what’s Marcos doing in that list of “genuine heroes”? Estrada too, and for that matter the BS and Pacquiao?

    Ah, yes, I remember reading someone writing somewhere: “Anyone is a hero who has been widely, persistently over long periods, and enthusiastically regarded as heroic by a reasonable person, or even an unreasonable one.”

    Woe, I can only think of the “unreasonable” ones getting them there.

    But then, who am I – a second rate pedant – to even think so? Shame.

    (Updated from a Zona Libre piece dated April 11, 2011)


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