What exactly makes a hero?

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The debate about who are our heroes is endless in a country torn apart by partisan politics, but what exactly is being celebrated today? How did our leaders and decision-makers come up with the date for the celebration?

The Official Gazette traces the first ever celebration of the holiday to 1931, when The Philippine Legislature passed Act No. 3827 designating the last Sunday of August for every year as the date set aside for the country’s heroes.

This caused a confusion since, according to the Gazette, November 30 was already set as the day of honoring unnamed heroes, which was also concurrently celebrated as Bonifacio Day.

Traditionally, the two celebrations were held separately. Bonifacio Day is held at the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan, while National Heroes Day was celebrated through a military review by cadets of the University of the Philippines in front of government officials.

President Elpidio Quirino, in 1952, brought the day back to the first Sunday of August via Administrative Order No. 190, leaving November 30 as Andres Bonifacio’s sole domain.

This was adopted in 1987 under President Cory Aquino’s term via Executive Order No. 292.”

Finally, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, on July 24, 2007, signed into law Republic Act No. 9492, settling National Heroes Day on the last Monday of August, thus the people can enjoy longer weekends without necessarily disrupting work.

What makes a hero then?

The issue of the definition of a “hero” has polarized the country to no end. It is a good thing, then, that a National Heroes Committee has been created on 1993 under President Fidel Ramos whose principal duty is to evaluate personalities throughout history to qualify for the term.

"File:Lapu Lapu- a national hero (9234953807).jpg" by Thesupermat2 is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“File:Lapu Lapu- a national hero (9234953807).jpg” by Thesupermat2 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

According to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Committee – created via E.O. No. 75 – decided that a hero should have done the following:

  • aspired and struggle for the nation’s freedom,
  • defined and contributed “to a system or life of freedom and order for a nation”, and
  • done to improve his/her compatriots’ quality of life, as well as “contributed to the destiny of a nation.

Heroes, the committee added, should have a life that has been “internalized” by the youth, gauged through their impact to national consciousness and culture. A hero, furthermore, “thinks of the future, especially the future generations”.

Among the names submitted were Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat, Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino, Gabriela Silang, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, and Emilio Aguinaldo.

According to the last report, no action has been taken because, as can be noted, some of the names are subject to heated discussions and debates as to their “qualifications”.

Sources: National Commission for the Culture and Arts, Official Gazette

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