#InquirerSeven: Who exactly are our ‘national heroes’?

/ 03:41 PM August 28, 2017

On every last Monday of August, the Philippines commemorates the Filipinos who lay the foundation for the country’s independence.

READ: Duterte: Emulate our heroes


But did you know: No law nor President has ever proclaimed any Filipino an official national hero–not even the likes of Jose Rizal or Andres Bonifacio, both of whom are commonly referred to in history books as national heroes in their own right.

And if that is the case, who, then, are the heroes we should commemorate?


Here are #InquirerSeven answers to questions surrounding National Heroes’ Day.

  1. What is National Heroes’ Day?

National Heroes’ Day in the Philippines is a national holiday that aims to honor Filipinos who have fought for and contributed to the country’s freedom and independence. The law, in fact, does not specify any particular individual as a national hero.

Today, National Heroes’ Day is celebrated every last Monday of August, as stated in Republic Act No. 9492, as decreed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2007. The law was in line with her “holiday economics” program, which promoted more long weekends and moved national holidays normally celebrated on weekends to the nearest Monday or Friday of the week.

August 23 is also the official day of the Cry of Pugad Lawin in 1896, which marked the beginning of the Philippine revolution against Spanish colonizers.

Prior to 2007, National Heroes’ Day was every last Sunday of August, and was celebrated as early as 1931, or before the Philippines even became its own republic. At one point in history, it was even celebrated every November 30, which today is known as Bonifacio Day.

  1. Were we supposed to have ‘official’ national heroes?

Yes, we were. President Fidel Ramos created on March 28, 1993, the National Heroes Committee, which was tasked to recommend Filipino nationals as heroes “in due recognition of their sterling character and remarkable achievements for the country,” according to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

Members of the committee included historians Onofre D. Corpuz, Marcelino Foronda and Bernardita R. Churchill; authors Samuel K. Tan, Ambeth Ocampo (then known as Dom Ignacio Mari) and Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil, psychologist Alfredo Lagmay, former National Library director Serafin D. Quiason, Ambeth Ocampo and professor Minerva Gonzales.


  1. So why don’t we have ‘official’ national heroes today?

Secretary Ricardo T. Gloria of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports, as President Ramos’ representative, should have then acted on the recommendation of the committee, which submitted its initial short-list on Nov. 22, 1995.

No other official action, however, was taken after the recommendation. According to the NCCA, one possible reason to explain the inaction was that proclaiming the nine individuals as national heroes would have triggered more requests for proclamations.

“Another possibility is that the proclamations can trigger bitter debates involving historical controversies about the heroes,” the NCCA also said.

IN THE KNOW: We have no ‘national hero’

  1. Who supposedly made the cut to be national hero?

The technical committee short-listed the following nine Filipinos after four sessions spanning three years.

  • Jose Rizal
  • Andres Bonifacio
  • Emilio Aguinaldo
  • Apolinario Mabini
  • Marcelo H. del Pilar
  • Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat
  • Juan Luna
  • Melchora Aquino
  • Gabriela Silang
  1. What are the criteria to be a national hero?

On June 3, 1993, the first of four committee sessions, Corpuz defined the following qualifications as a member of the technical committee.

  • “Heroes are those who have a concept of nation and thereafter aspire and struggle for the nation’s freedom.”
  • “Heroes are those who define and contribute to a system or life of freedom and order for a nation. [H]eroes are those who make the nation’s constitution and laws.”
  • “Heroes are those who contribute to the quality of life and destiny of a nation.”

The list expanded during the committee’s third meeting on Nov. 15, 1995 to include three more criteria, written by Lagmay.

  • “A hero is part of the people’s expression. But the process of a people’s internalization of a hero’s life and works takes time, with the youth forming a part of the internalization.”
  • “A hero thinks of the future, especially the future generations.”
  • “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.”
  1. Can these nine still be called national heroes despite the lack of a proclamation?

Technically, we cannot, as past and current administrations have yet to officially proclaim them as such.

Two of the recommended “heroes,” however, have received their own national holidays separate from the pending official proclamation, implying their status as national heroes.

Rizal is honored across the country every December 30, along with other victims of the Philippine Revolution.

Bonifacio is also implied to be a national hero because his birthday every November 30 is considered a national holiday.

  1. So why celebrate a day for heroes when there are officially no heroes to speak of?

Administrations of past may have created the official holiday, but historians believe it is not solely up to them to say who should be recognized.

The NCCA, for instance, says the country’s many heroes–especially those beyond the aforementioned nine–need not be cemented as such by law in order to be celebrated and remembered for their bravery and contributions to the country.

“Despite the lack of any official declaration explicitly proclaiming them as national heroes, they remain admired and revered for their roles in Philippine history,” the NCCA said. “Heroes, according to historians, should not be legislated. Their appreciation should be better left to academics.”

Lack of legislation has, therefore, not hindered Filipinos from celebrating who they see fit to be called heroes. In Pampanga, for instance, notable Kampampangans who fought for the country’s independence are celebrated as heroes every August 30 regardless of the lack of national proclamation.

READ: In Pampanga, all heroes are remembered

The Official Gazette writes a complementary view of the nature of having specific heroes.

“Our national heroes are often portrayed as a pantheon of distinct and powerful personalities who have managed to get their names published in our history books by virtue of their words or actions. But National Heroes Day specifies no hero; the law that put into practice the celebration does not name a single one. And this lack of specifics offers an opportunity to celebrate the bravery of not one, not a few, but all Filipino heroes who have braved death or persecution for home, nation, justice, and freedom.”

The Philippines of today may be different from the one that first inspired many a Filipino to fight for freedom. But in light of a lack of official distinction between who exactly are national heroes, perhaps there are Filipinos of recent times–living or not–that can also be called a national hero, and whose accomplishments can also be celebrated today. JE


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