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Heroes of Our Time

Ironically, the piece of legislation providing for the celebration of National Heroes Day — Republic Act No. 3827, passed by the Philippine Legislature on October 28, 1931 — did not specify any particular hero. And so while we have days of commemoration for Dr. Jose Rizal and Gat Andres Bonifacio, National Heroes Day was really designated to celebrate the courage of nameless and faceless Filipinos who sacrifice their own welfare for others and for the nation.


But who are these heroes? Surely, while everyone can become heroes, not all acts are heroic. There are no laws that formally define what heroism is. I do not think that is possible or even advisable. Legislating who should be heroes is political and therefore controversial. Heroism, and the process of how one person becomes a national hero, is essentially a historical process.


I think heroism can be understood in relation to how one acts in the face of challenges to the nation’s future. There are people who do good things for his or her family but there are people who do good things for others and for the country. It is no wonder that those who we consider heroes today became heroes during times of crises and revolutions in our history.


It is also no wonder why the health crisis that we currently face, the COVID-19 pandemic, is producing heroic acts from ordinary people. We may not be in the middle of a revolution in the traditional sense of the word but this is a war we are facing. We are not only battling the coronavirus but we are struggling against the devastation to our economy caused by the lockdown. Make no mistake about it, this is a battle for the future of our country.


And in this struggle, we have seen plenty of heroes in our midst. Our health professionals have been in the trenches since this pandemic started treating people at the risk of being infected too. More than 5,000 health workers have tested positive for the virus as of August. While nurses and doctors bear the brunt of the virus, other health workers suffer too, including barangay health workers, medical technologists, clinic and hospital security guards, midwives, among others. These are Filipinos who perform their job — saving the lives of people — even if it means losing their own.


We should also salute non-medical frontliners who sacrifice their own safety in order to provide basic services to our people. Government workers — our police and military, local government workers, volunteers, those in the frontlines providing public service to our people — have also answered the call of duty despite threats to their own health.


Ordinary workers—store clerks, bank employees, food delivery crews, construction workers, drivers, private-sector workers—who risk everything just to be able to serve our people deserve our respect. Think about what they have to go through just to be able to go to work. I cannot imagine the psychological and emotional stress workers go through every day they leave home worrying about the family they are leaving behind. They do this for their family and in doing so contribute immensely to the recovery of our economy.


And speaking of contributions towards restarting our economy, I do not think anyone can doubt the tremendous contributions of Filipino entrepreneurs—those with micro and small business providing services and goods to their community. They open their businesses, built from their own blood, sweat, and tears, despite the danger to their own health. They are at the frontlines of our struggle to keep the economy afloat so we can provide a livelihood to our people amidst this lockdown.


I will say this again: the war against COVID-19 must be the focus of our energy and resources. The health of our people should be our top priority. For this reason, we need to also focus on reviving our economy. This is not an either/or proposition. We need to boost our economy in order to have the resources to fight the virus.


2020 has been a very difficult year. But it is also the year of ordinary heroes—nameless and faceless but full of determination, love of family, and love of country. 2020 may be the year of the Coronavirus but it should also be declared as National Heroes Year.



Manila Bulletin/Views/MannyVillar