His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
On National Heroes Day
[This is a translation of the speech delivered at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, Taguig City, on August 25, 2014]
To me, our yearly celebration of National Heroes Day represents three things.
First, it is an act of remembering. We remember people who, at the beginning, had their own personal concerns. They all had individual ambitions: to finish school, to find someone to love, to start a family, to set up and grow a business or advance in their careers, and to live peaceful lives. But when they were confronted with events that affected not just them, but their countrymen, they found themselves at a crossroads. They could have chosen to remain focused on their private battles, disregarding what was going on around them, yet they chose to set aside their personal agendas, their fears, and their own needs to fight for the benefit of the many. They were fully aware of the dangers of going against those who had power, but they did not waver. They knew that if they did not use their intellect and their strength to resist it, then the vicious cycle of abuse and violence would continue. These are the people we consider heroes. Is it not true what they say—that heroes are ordinary people who were placed in extraordinary situations, and yet still chose to do what is right?
Second, this celebration is also a thanksgiving. Today, because of their sacrifices, we enjoy different forms of freedom: We are free from invaders; we are free from the violence and devastation of war; we are free from dictatorship. We are free to express our opinions and reach for our dreams.
Third, this is also an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of being a hero, not only in the past, but in our present situation. This is vital because even if our society has made much progress, it is clear that our battles continue. Apart from this, the responsibility to make certain that we will bequeath to coming generations a Philippines freer and more progressive still rests on our shoulders. Indeed, times have changed, and thus, the forms of heroism we are capable of living out have changed as well.
It is personal for me to define heroism. We come from different backgrounds, and our abilities vary. Thus, each one of us is given a unique opportunity to serve our country and our fellow Filipinos.
I remember, for instance, a story that Secretary Mon Jimenez shared with me about some Filipinos who lived in Fukushima prefecture in Japan. It was 2011 then, and the place had just been hit by a really devastating tsunami. Many perished, and many were orphaned and injured. Houses in Fukushima, and property borne of hard work were destroyed, if not washed away. There was a palpable sense of defeat and hopelessness in life. But in the midst of this kind of suffering, there were Filipinos who, instead of focusing on material loss, gave thanks to the Almighty, because they had survived disaster. Their contagious optimism and the strong faith displayed by them truly encouraged their Japanese neighbors—these, with the positive disposition of the people there served as the foundation for the reconstruction of Fukushima.
There is also the story of Noli Dela Cruz, a member of our non-uniformed personnel sector. During the onslaught of Yolanda, with the presence of mind, he roped together sheets and clothes, so that his neighbors who were trapped in the floods may hold onto something. 36 persons were thus saved because of his efforts.
These two examples illustrate the extraordinary ability of Filipinos to serve as beacons of hope in the darkest moments. Instead of hurling criticism or spreading negativism, which some of our countrymen have grown accustomed to doing, these remarkable Filipinos chose to empower their fellowmen.
We must also remember that there are many heroes who remain anonymous—whose deeds are not known to many. There are the Filipinos who, instead of giving up in the face of calamities, helped and worked alongside their countrymen without a second thought. There are the teachers who devote their lives to guiding the succeeding generations. There are the members of law enforcement who choose to fulfill their responsibilities, instead of giving in to the temptation of easy money. There are our soldiers who protect our territory and people with true courage. There are the professionals who use their skills and knowledge to serve their fellow Filipinos. There are the leaders of religious institutions who are our allies in fighting corruption and in pushing for reform. And there are all our countrymen—each and every citizen who strives for success, in order to become a productive member of society. On behalf of the Filipino people, I thank all of you. You are proof that our nation is indeed a nation of heroes.
The latest estimates of the Commission on Population reveal that there are around 100 million Filipinos at present. On days like this, I cannot help but think, and ask myself: What can be achieved when a hundred million Filipinos work arm-in-arm towards a single goal? The days of colonizers, of wars, of Martial Law are long gone. Yet there are still a select and selfish few who remain determined to bring back the old and abusive political systems. This is the fight that confronts us today: to remain vigilant against those who seek to sow doubt and lies; to stand firm and refuse to allow ourselves to be manipulated by those who only pretend at reform; to reject the crooked, and resolve to stay on the straight path.
These are why a recent article written by Ma. Francesca Santiago, a student from Bacolod, is truly remarkable for me. She said that, at first, she was not fond of keeping up with politics because there were other things that she would rather focus on. But she was alarmed by what she had read and had seen these days. To her, it seems as if the latest trend is to hurl criticism, even at those who are doing everything in their power to uphold the interests of the people. She also said: in the face of the challenges our country has experienced, instead of remaining open-minded and searching for the truth, there are some who choose to spread baseless accusations; instead of helping to find a solution, there are some who want to worsen the fear and suffering of our countrymen. It is clear to her that everyone has a right to free expression, but at the same time, each one has the obligation to remain just and reasonable. I was surprised to know that Ma. Francesca is only 13 years old. It is impressive that, at this age, she already exhibits more discernment than some who are much older than her. If this is the caliber of thinking of the youth today, I am certain that we are indeed facing a brighter future.
We have been treading the straight path for more than four years now. The seeds of change we have sown are already bearing fruit—and, seeing this, those who want to take advantage of the people are becoming desperate. Let us not waste the opportunity we have today. This is the only way that we can repay and honor the heroes who sacrificed much, so that our country could arrive at its present state. This is the only way for us to ensure that, when the next generations commemorate National Heroes Day, they will remember, express their gratitude for, and reflect on this chapter of our history, and they will say: This was indeed the time when all Filipinos decided, as one people, to become heroes.
Thank you, and good day.