Thursday, 30 August 2012

Focus: Heroes


AUGUST 27 is National Heroes Day. On this day, we commemorate all those who stood head and shoulders above us common  citizens, through their uncommon  acts and deeds, by laying down life for country or for others,  or by showing  exemplary acts that benefited or saved many lives. 
We have our well-loved heroes of yore. We know them by heart  and by sight: Rizal has statues built in his honor in almost  every town plaza in the country;  statues of Bonifacio likewise, one hand with a bolo, the other hand  raising the flag of the Katipunan; the seated statue of Mabini, the sublime paralytic and the brains of the revolution, and the horse-riding Gen Gregorio del Pilar, the youngest  general  in the Katipunan who died at the age of 24.

Among our women, there’s Tandang Sora, who even at age 80, joined the Katipunan by providing food and money to the Katipuneros, ministering to the sick and providing shelter and refuge to them; Gabriela Silang, the brave woman revolutionary, wife to the equally  brave and daring Diego Silang, who fought in the battlefields with fellow Katipuneros, mano-a-mano with the enemies.
They are some of  the heroes whose lives we read from  our books  and whose stories were told and retold by our fathers and grandfathers. 
The generations younger than me, it seems, have lost touch with these national heroes.
When my nephews were younger,  I asked them if they knew Andres Bonifacio. 
Yes, Tita, they chorused, and proceeded to stand in attention, as in delivering a poem, and recited, in sing song manner:  Andres Bonifaco,  a-tapang, a- tao, nakatayo sa monumento, gawa sa bato at semento! 
And Mabini? He’s the one in the P10 bill, Tita? 
Last week, my  five-year-old nephew came a-visiting, and he asked me to search for his heroes in YOUTUBE:  Tita (bawal Lola!), search mo Marvel heroes.
So I typed Marvel Heroes. And lo and behold, the whole caboodle flashed on the screen of my laptop: Superman, Batman, Captain America, Superwoman, Thor, Incredible Hulk, Ironman, Green Lantern, and a host of muscled, five-pack heroes in tight pants, caped and sans cape,  with laser guns strapped to their arms and legs. 
The bad guys were either crazy scientists  out to conquer the world with their robots and fantasmagorical gadgets, or outright aliens looking for another planet to conquer (perhaps for R and R?) 
I am disappointed. Why are young people today so detached from  the heroism of our heroes? Maybe their life stories have not been read to the younger generation, as in mine. 
Back then, after my father had read the story of Bonifacio to me, I would spend hours imagining how he walked the streets of Tondo hawking fans (pamaypay kayo diyan!), how in the light of an alcohol lamp he would read the writings of Rizal, and years later, how , together with other Katipuneros, he tore his cedula and shouted independence! for his country. 
Of course, long before Rizal’s life was made into innumerable movies, I had already formed in my young mind scenes out of the life of Rizal: his romance with Leonor Rivera (much like the ill-fated Romeo and Juliet!), his hard life in Europe to campaign for reforms (plus his romances, again!), his writing of Noli and Fili, his very productive life even  in exile in Dapitan, and his execution at Luneta. 

If my nephews  could only associate our heroes with peso bills, or “monumento”,  and my grandnephew’s images of heroes are avenging men and robots,  then  I have been remiss in my civic duty and my role as nurturer of the next  generation, being an ascendant of these kids. 
I cannot feign  lack of time due to work as a credible excuse for not enriching their world with the feats  of our heroes, nor  excuse my failure to foist  the more contemporary heroes whom they can identify with and draw inspiration from. 
I have failed to define heroism as an achievable thing  -  a person becoming a hero even though he is not being  a-tapang  a-tao, ready to fight, as Bonifacio.
I have to rectify my omissions.
Recent events have shown that we do not lack contemporary heroes. 

Their heroism has been depicted in newspapers, TV and the internet, but no concerted efforts to instil their legacies in the consciousness of our people have been earnestly done. 
Images in the media are fleeting, easily replaced by newer and more sensational ones.
If we do not preserve the stories of the heroism of our contemporary heroes, they will be forgotten, their rich legacies hidden from appreciation of younger generations  and their stories as inspiring materials from which dreams and ideals can spring forth.  
The heroes I have in mind to extol range from the mature to the very young - to the unskilled and  highly skilled, dead and living.  I have their stories to retell.

Muelmar Magallanes
First on my list is Muelmar Magallanes:  a teenager, a construction worker, but who with his selfless deed,  has enshrined himself in the hearts of many whom he helped and who read his selfless acts in radio, newspapers and electronic media. 
Muelmar was a good swimmer, and voluntarily rescued more than 30 people – mostly his neighbours, from being drowned or swept away by killer floods brought by Typhoon Ondoy in 2009. 
After his rescue efforts, his weary body needed rest, and he had just laid down, when he heard a voice crying for help.
He saw a mother and her baby on top of a Styrofoam box, the box  sinking and being carried away by the swift waters. 
In spite of the weariness he felt, without hesitation, Muelmar dived into the fierce river and swam to the mother and her child  who were in danger of being thrown from the box. 'I knew we were going to die,' Menchie Espinosa said later. 

'Then this man came from nowhere and grabbed us. He took us to where the other neighbours were and then he was gone.'
Muelmar was gone, because he was so weary he did not have any strength left to swim against the onrushing waters, his body later found several miles away, together with others who perished in the floods. 
As he stood at Meulmar's coffin, his father, Samuel, said: 'He always had a good heart. It was typical of him to have given his life for others.'
Time Magazine chose him as one of the 10 heroes of 2009. Three years later, today, his name may have been forgotten by many of us, but not by those whose lives he saved. 
Such heroism does not deserve to be forgotten. 

A monument to his unselfish and heroic act should be raised in his baranggay or  in his town’s plaza, his story engraved on its post so every  young person who reads his story will know that heroism  knows no age, nor socioeconomic status  - a poor, selfless  boy   is  as  much a hero as an illustrado.

From a teenager to an eight-year-old child. 

My next hero is Rona Mahilum, who in 1996, saved her five siblings from sure death from their burning house. 

She herself sustained third degree burns on her back, face, and arms, but the young Rona did not mind the pain  as she carried her siblings on her burned back and  on her  burned arms, outside of the house,  to safety. 
Later, she still had the strength to try to put out the fire with water from a nearby well and helped save the houses- and lives  of her neighbours.   
She was cited for her bravery and heroism. I wanted to find out what happened to Rona since that fateful day - she must be 24 years old now. 
Was her story ever told and retold in her hometown in Negros Occidental? What has become of her  –  this young heroine?  

I googled her name but nothing  came out of my search.   
Unlike dead heroes whom we can honor by putting up monuments, Rona is alive, and needs no monuments. But she may need our help to be able to lead a fruitful life, coming as she did from a poor family in Negros Occidental.
It is our duty to help her realize her dreams, because for one moment in time, she shone like a beacon of light to us, that at such a tender age she was capable of such heroic deeds that we- the  faint-hearted and self-satisfied,  I can  do the same, only in our waking dreams.
 Ray Punongbayan

From the young to the old.
Ray Punongbayan was in his 50’s when he headed the PhilVocs, the agency tasked to monitor seismic activities in the country. 
Ka Ray, as he was fondly called, did not exemplify the type of heroism of Muelmar and Rona.   

His heroism was that of steadfast and unflinching determination to save as many lives as possible through the application of his knowledge and skills in predicting catastrophe.
He knew his science, he believed in his skills. Because in his analysis of hard data he was convinced of the impending eruption of Mt Pinatubo.
He knew that there was a chance he would be wrong, as many cases of  predicted volcanic eruptions have fizzled out. But he was willing to be a pariah as long as lives will be saved.
With forceful presentation of the facts, he was able to convince national and local leaders for an pre-emptive evacuation. 

Whole towns and cities, together with the American Air Base in Clark, were evacuated, based only on prediction of an eruption.
When Mt Pinatubo erupted, the voluminous amount of  lahar and other pyroclastic materials that flowed through the provinces  of Pampanga, Zambales and Bataan  covered  and inundated just  land, but failed to   claim many lives,  at least not as many as would have  been snuffed had prior evacuation not taken place.
Ka Ray was cited for his heroic deeds by international societies, for saving a potential 200,000 lives. (because an eruption of such magnitude can annihilate that many people in an instant). 
Years later, already retired from service, he perished in an airplane crash, while doing an aerial scanning of disaster prone areas so they can be mapped, again to save lives, for the Red Cross. 
To date, there have been no attempt to even put up a plaque in his honor in his hometown or even in the provinces the residents of whom were saved by the pre-emptive evacuation instigated by Ka Ray.
The younger generation should be told of his story in the same breath as the eruption of Mt Pinatubo is mentioned. 
For Ka Ray’s story is Mt Pinatubo’s story, and his story is what legends are made of. 

Jesse Robredo
And then of course, my list of contemporary heroes would not be complete without Jesse. Just call me Jesse, he was wont to say, and plain Jesse we will call him. 
He lived simply and did not enrich himself in office; dressed simply, talked and walked without airs, was a simple, loving father and husband. 
But his plainness and simplicity stop there.
For his vision was grand, his service to his country and people impeccable and his love for his country and people boundless. 
Only now that he is dead (from plane crash, too, like Ka Ray), have his real life accomplishments and the loving response of the people he served, been brought to light. 
And what  accomplishments in his short life!: instituted transparency in local governance; engaged the citizens,  in planning;  rid his city of illegal activities, raised the standard of living of his constituents and lifted his moribund city to a first class city.
On the national level, he was instituting changes in the PNP towards transparency, and weeding out bad eggs to recover the trust of the people in the uniformed service. 
But perhaps his enduring legacy in government service is his earning the trust of the poor and downtrodden, and bringing hope to their seemingly luckless lives.  
He raised the bar for true service and leadership- a servant-leader indeed.  We grieve for his untimely death, but we rejoice for his life .
These heroes did not need to raise a bolo like Bonifacio, or fight to the finish, like Gabriela Silang. Or aim a laser gun to an enemy like Jumong’s heroes. 
Their heroism came from the wholehearted giving of self -- for one shining moment, as did Muelmar and Rona, and  the  constant practice of virtue and steadfastness coupled with a beautiful and righteous  mind, in the case of Ka Ray and Jesse .

Their stories and those of many others like them, will be our swords to vanquish the blights of hopelessness and despair that continue to shroud the  lives of many Filipinos. 
And I hope by telling and retelling their stories,  their  virtues and heroism will be stamped in our  collective consciousness, and propel us to regain pride in our race and in ourselves, and in our ability, to be, like Muelmar, Rona, Ka Ray and Jesse - heroes.  

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