Why don't we emulate our finest National Hero?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-08-09
Are we looking up to the right heroes who would direct us to the path that leads to our rightful destiny? This was one of the topics I discussed last week in a talk before faculty members of St. Scholastica’s College.

History scholars have debated about two of our most revered heroes — the more popular Dr. Jose Rizal and the militant’s favorite, Gat Andres Bonifacio.

His critics say that Rizal had never really aspired for Philippine independence from Spain. Other history scholars even say that Rizal was handpicked by the Americans after taking over from Spain because he did not provoke nationalist fervor, the very anathema of colonial rulers.

Bonifacio, on the other hand, proved to be more of a hothead than a great leader. Moreover, he hardly provided a road map or useful vision for national development. Bonifacio was such a hothead that he walked right into the hands of his enemies, a mistake that cost him his life.

While Rizal may have possessed exceptional abilities, being placed on the pedestal of a National Hero requires more than just endearing personal qualities. Exceptional personal abilities may a prodigy make but not necessarily a National Hero.

To be a National Hero, exceptional personal attributes must translate into a major national accomplishment — such as winning a war for independence and transforming fractious clans and regional groupings into one nation. Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar, Scotland’s William Wallace and King Robert the Bruce are good examples.

If Rizal was happy to be a first class Spaniard and did not nurture dreams to be a first class Filipino, why hail him a National Hero? Bonifacio critics, on the other hand, argue that to elevate the Katipunan Supremo to the level of a National Hero would be like honoring the blundering British military commander who ordered the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava of the Crimean War between the British and the Russians.

Romanticized by Lord Alfred Tennyson, the Charge of the Light Brigade was one of the two biggest disasters in British military history. The other was the loss of a 1,200-man force to Zulu Warriors in the late 19th century Battle of Isandlwana.

History scholars posit that to venerate Bonifacio as a National Hero would be to encourage that type of plucky narrow-minded nationalism that generates great casualties but accomplishes very little to the development of a nation.

Considering that Rizal and Bonifacio are our two most popular heroes, maybe that is also the reason why we Filipinos cannot seem to find the right combination for arriving at a national consensus. Neither of them really provides us with the inspiration and vision we need in order to get to The Promised Land.

Rizal cannot provide us with a road map to national greatness when he himself was not aspiring for national independence. Bonifacio wanted independence but could not even show how to attain a decisive military victory, much less provide a road map for national development.

The one hero we have who embodied a vision for future development is Apolinario Mabini, a man who enjoyed high recall for his brand as the sublime paralytic more than anything else. Our country cannot seem to have enough monuments built in memory of Rizal and Bonifacio. As for Mabini, he has a nipa hut for a shrine and a few towns and streets named in his honor.

Perhaps it was Mabini’s misfortune that he died of cholera and not as the central character in a cinematic death scene that a nation hooked on telenovelas expects from its heroes. Appreciating the more circumstantial aspects over the more important spiritual and visionary aspects of a hero’s legacy is our great national tragedy.

Read “The True Decalogue” of Apolinario Mabini and in it you’ll recognize the great vision that applies even now to our present national problems. What the Ten Commandments were to the Jewish nation, Mabini’s “The True Decalogue” would have been be the best foundation for a truly Filipino national development and value system.

Ironically, it was a former American Governor General, Gen. Arthur MacArthur (father of Gen. Douglas MacArthur) who recognized the essential Mabini. Testifying before the 1902 Lodge Senate Committee, MacArthur said:

“Mabini is a highly educated young man who, unfortunately, is paralyzed. He has a classical education, a very flexible, imaginative mind, and Mabini’s views were more comprehensive than any of the Filipinos that I have met. His idea was a dream of a Malay confederacy. Not the Luzon or the Philippine Archipelago, but I mean of that blood. He is a dreamy man, but a very firm character and of very high accomplishments. As I said, unfortunately, he is paralyzed. He is a young man, and would undoubtedly be of great use in the future of those islands if it were not for his affliction.”

On Sunday, we will discuss at length Apolinario Mabini’s great legacy to our nation.

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