What is a hero? A writer shot in the back? A leader betrayed and remained lost in the mountains? A boy-general in the frontlines? What even is heroism? Answers are rare when it comes to things we look up to. It was almost deliberate, as if by fate. Perhaps it was ethos that attracted us to these idols, and through these they inspire us to move against the current that weighed us down from progress.
Mandirigma, bagani: few of the words that describe the first Filipino heroes – warriors who were perfect in tales, but human in truth. Bagani, the outdated and forgotten root of today’s inspirations: our bayanis. Once known to be warriors, they still live up to the fight as modernism takes on our lives.
What elevates a normal warrior to the state of being a bagani? An outline by anthropologist and assistant professor Felipe Jocano Jr. tells the qualities of the old warrior-hero. They must be matapang (courageous), malakas (strong), marangal (honorable), magalang (respectful), mapagkumbaba (humble), and makabayan (patriotic). Translated, these ethics are almost too similar to the code of chivalry in Europe, the wulin of China, and the bushido of Japan. What makes them truly Filipino is the context of the kapwa (other people), whom the bagani finds true being, existence. Thus pakikisama, pakikitungo, and pakikiramay, words that couldn’t be accurately translated into other languages come into play.
The Filipino brand of ethos provides baganis challenges to live better than they were yesterday, through helping and protecting others. Where do we see these qualities? Lapu-Lapu was thought to defend his people, and tales circulate of his braveness and patriotism. Jose Rizal died with his thoughts on improving life for the indios which were our ancestors, and with full strength and courage did he face incarceration and death. Although not exactly humble, Antonio Luna proved his loyalty to the country through his strength, courage, and knowledge until his untimely death. Unknown and almost forgotten, Pantaleon Villegas of Bacong led the Cebuano branch of the revolution against Spain through his talent and love of his fatherland.
Nowadays, people are in constant search of the one true “hero” of their lives, or of society. Many look to their ephemeral affection-bearers saying “he/she/they is/are the hero/heroes of my life.” Some look to politicians who have done them favors, either through life-saving or community-building means. A number of Filipinos eye on popular icons and their ways of life, citing that they’re example leads to change, thus heroism. Though some of those mentioned are truly qualified, we need not look far to see real everyday heroes.
From Luzon to Mindanao, the Philippines brands its many soldiers fighting away from civilization and family. These soldiers, although admittedly underpaid and almost outgunned, serve neither for the money nor the pride but for service to the Filipino people. Different from the many armed echelons around the world, Philippine soldiers are famous for their resilience in the face of death. Fear was almost burnt out of the Filipino soldier as they face the many terrors of nature and conflict, all for the service of the motherland. General Douglas MacArthur once said: “Give me ten thousand Filipinos and I shall conquer the world.” This only goes to show the tale of Filipino courage.
Almost all over the world, working Filipinos sent almost out of context toil in foreign lands for foreign currencies. Labelled “modern Filipino heroes,” these individuals deserve more than just the title. They abandon their normal lives for the sake of family, loved ones. Warriors in the modern sense, they fight attrition in foreign lands to support the futures of not only their dearest but also of the county.
Heroism has not been lost in the Philippine society; it has simply changed to the qualms of modern culture. We may look up to different individuals for acts of heroism, but do remember that heroes are there for us to flourish and flock—for the good of everyone.