MANILA, Philippines — Does anyone remember Florentino Das?
Or the one who said “Ego Catholicus sum et animo prompto paratoque pro Deo mortem obibo. Si mille vitas haberem, cunctas ei offerrem.”
And who was the person who said “Ang hindi magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit pa sa hayop at malansang isda…”
Or does anyone remember Romeo Garduce, Anastasio Mamaril or the Filipino Miss Saigon following the fall of the South Vietnamese capital to the communists in the summer of 1975?
These and similar questions rise in the run up to the annual observance on Aug. 26 of National Heroes Day, formerly observed on Nov. 30 every year.
But since this date coincided with the birth date of Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan, National Heroes Day was moved to the last Sunday of August of every year to enable the people to pay homage to all other heroes of the country.
But what happens, according to some observers of Philippine history, is that the day is marked remembering those who are in textbooks – like Jose Rizal, the American-installed national hero, and the others like Antonio Luna, Gregorio del Pilar – not limited to them — who made sacrifices in the 19th century.
Perhaps, observers opine, some of those who have done good in certain areas and disciplines may not have done enough for the majority or the country as a whole.
And some ask whether a country really needs heroes as that country tries to co-exist in the community of nations, where permanent interests are those that pertain only to the nation.
A random survey of those past the half century mark and those below that age bracket has suggested different characteristics of a hero, whether the hero is from the family or the smallest political unit of the country which is the barangay and up to what is debated as the national level.
Not necessarily in this order, the survey listed down the various characteristics as: courage, determination, dedication, idealism, trail-blazer, perseverance, selflessness, skilled, humility, openness, nobility, ontologically sacrificial, rectitude, conviction, audience-friendly, bravery, integrity, endurance, among others.
Here, the questions of some arise once more, whether any of the present generation would perhaps know and emulate the courage and trail-blazing qualities of Das,
In May 1956, 38-year-old Das left Honolulu and sailed across the Pacific back to his homeland in 365 days, braving six typhoons along his way.
Das, father of eight and a fisherman from Maui, sailed home into Philippine waters and docked at Pier 2 to the cheers of thousands of onlookers and the screams of sirens from welcoming tugboats.
He had sailed solo from Hawaii to the Philippines on a frail 24-foot sailboat by two 25 hp out-board motors and a canvas sail, displaying then the sterling qualities that the Filipino can.
Then there is Romeo Garduce, the mountain climber who worked as an IT professional who began climbing for a cause in 1991.
After reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in 2002, Garduce became the first Filipino to climb one of the Seven Summits. On Sept. 26, 2005, Garduce became the first Filipino to ascend Cho Oyu, then the highest mountain peak scaled by a Filipino.
Perhaps many remember Lorenzo Ruiz as the one beatified by Pope John Paul II in Manila in 1981 and later elevated to sainthood.
But do they remember his words, or even the English translation: “I am a Catholic and wholeheartedly do accept death for the Lord; If I had a thousand lives, all these I shall offer to Him.”
Or do some in the present generation appreciate Rizal’s counsel “Ang hindi magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit sa hayop at malansang isda…” when non-Tagalogs wave their love for their own language other than Tagalog?
Do they still stand in awe when the name Lea Salonga is mentioned, with the names Sarah Geronimo and Charice Pempengco making waves as well in the music stage?
Or do some in the present generation think of Anastasio Mamaril as a trumpet virtuoso – he was called the King of the Trumpet for decades when he was alive – in the mold of the legendary Rafael Mendez of Mexico and even Harry James, an actor and musician best known as a trumpeter who led a swing band during the Big Band Swing Era of the 1930s and 1940s in the United States.
Mamaril, of Pangasinan, was a skilled trumpet player and band master whose playing of “La Cumparsita,” a tango written in 1916 by the Uruguayan musician Gerardo Matos Rodriguez, so enamored then President Manuel Quezon that he always invited Mamaril to Malacanang social functions.
As it was, “La Cumparsita” was a favorite of the tango dancing President.
Then there are the modern day heroes of the country, the overseas Filipino workers who collectively and separately beat pangs of nostalgia, who leave temporarily the comforts of home and work abroad for a better and higher wage.
Part of which, of course, is remitted back to the country through banks, which props up the domestic economy – earning for themselves the appellation “modern day heroes” from the country’s political leaders.
But as the country prepares once more for the annual celebration of National Heroes Day, questions continue to be asked.
And the answers are sometimes inadequate. (PNA)