Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash
Written by Aiya Rodjel
The last Monday of the month of August marks National Heroes Day in the Philippines. This year, it will be on August 30. This holiday basically honors the bravery of all Filipinos who struggled for the country’s freedom, including those who vanished into anonymity. This succeeds celebrations such as the Philippine Independence Day last June 12, and Philippine-American Friendship Day last July 4.
Because of the ongoing pandemic, holidays and celebrations are a little different. After all, there is discouragement of parties, prohibition of public gatherings, and advise for people to stay at home as much as possible.
Be that as it may, it’s still important to pay tribute to the national heroes who’ve sacrificed their lives for the betterment of our country. In this article, we’ll take a look back at the history of National Heroes Day. We’ll also list down some ways people can celebrate the annual holiday while social distancing. These are mostly online, through a fast and reliable internet connection.
Making the August 30 holiday official
The celebration of National Heroes Day began during the American colonial period. At the time, the Philippine legislature is mostly Filipino leaders that aspired for independence. On October 28, 1931, the holiday became a law, through Republic Act No. 3827. This law recognizes last Sunday of August as an official national holiday.
Before the proclamation became a law, celebration of national heroes was on Bonifacio Day, held every November 30. In turn, there were separate celebrations for national hero Andres Bonifacio and other heroes.
The custom then was to hold an annual formal military review of the cadets (ROTC) of the University of the Philippines, with officials from the three branches of government as guests. Meanwhile, another celebration was at the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan.
On March 20, 1942, President Jose Laurel signed Executive Order no. 20. This set the holiday to the thirtieth of November. Then, President Elpidio Quirino reverted this, marking the last Sunday of August as the formal holiday.
On July 24, 2007, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed into law Republic Act No. 9492, which amended Book 1, Chapter 7 of the Administrative Code. This moved the holiday to the last Monday of August, which is what we recognize today.
The reason why she changed the day of the celebration is because of her “Holiday Economics” program. Basically, this aimed to reduce work disruptions by moving holidays to the nearest Monday or Friday of the week. This allows for long weekends, giving domestic leisure and tourism a boost.
And this commemoration is retained by president Rodrigo Duterte on his February 26, 2021 proclamation.
Commemorating the Cry of Pugad Lawin
Why did the government choose the end of August? Well, National Heroes Day commemorates the anniversary of the Cry of Pugad Lawin. This sparked the start of the revolution against the Spaniards. This event eventually led to the independence of the Philippines.
In the late 1800s, Andres Bonifacio spearheaded a secret society called Katipunan. These were Filipinos who were unhappy with Spanish rule. At the end of August 1896, this group rose up in revolt somewhere in Caloocan and Quezon City.
The ‘cry’ referred to the first clash between the Katipuneros and the civil guards. It can also refer to the tearing of the community tax certificates or cedulas in defiance of their allegiance to Spain. The inscriptions of “Viva la Independencia Filipina” can also be referred to as the term for the cry.
Who are the Philippine national heroes?
The most famous one is Jose Rizal. Coincidentally, he’s also the national hero of the country. Every Filipino knows who he is. But basically, he’s a scholar and polymath, and the influence to Bonifacio and the Filipino nationalism movement.
Another famous national hero is the instigator of the Katipuneros himself, Andres Bonifacio. Called the ‘father of the Philippine revolution,’ he laid the groundwork for the independence of the nation.
Other national heroes include Emilio Aguinaldo, a military leader, and the first president of the Philippines. Apolinario Mabini was the first prime minister of the country. Marcelo H. Del Pilar was a writer and journalist, who’s very influential in the Philippine independence movement. Sultan Kudarat was the seventh sultan of Maguindanao.
Juan Luna was a painter and political activist during the revolution. Melchora Aquino, the “Grand woman of the revolution,” tended to the sick during the war. Meetings also took place at her residence. Gabriela Silang was a leader of an early nationalist movement against Spanish rule.
However, it’s notable that the law doesn’t specify the celebration of powerful personalities. This lack of specificity offers an opportunity to celebrate the bravery of not one, but all Filipino heroes who have braved death or persecution for home, justice, and freedom.
Thus, national heroes aren’t just those who fighters of Katipunan or those who rebellions against the Spanish regime. Amid the pandemic, front-liners such as health professionals are our modern Filipino heroes. Because they have been valiantly fighting the pandemic for the rest of Filipinos, the rightful herald are theirs as figures who deserve honor and celebration.
To this day, these modern heroes have been risking their lives to tend to those affected by COVID-19. They have been bravely paving the way for people’s safety.
How is the holiday usually celebrated?
Prior to the pandemic, National Heroes Day celebration was through parades, visits to local shrines, and fireworks displays. At the same time, it was a time for mourning and remembrance. A lot of people lay down wreaths in shrines of heroes to show respect for the sacrifices they’ve made for the nation. There are usually events in the shrines of these heroes as well.
A lot of features on national heroes such as movies and TV specials are usually airing on this day. Basically, the special day serves as a reminder that the independence the country enjoys today comes at the sacrifice of others. The revolution may have happened over a century ago, but Filipinos get to enjoy the fruits of their labor to this day.
Because National Heroes Day is recognized as one of the non-working holidays in the country, students and professionals all over the Philippines are given the day off. Normally, some take this opportunity for short vacations. Some spend time with their friends and family, and take advantage of the National Heroes Day promos there are in certain establishments.
Since March of 2020, countries around the world have had to make huge changes. This includes the way people spend their holidays. Thus, calendars may be the same, but a lot has changed since then.
Celebrating the Philippine National Heroes Day amid the pandemic
Since last year, the celebration of holidays, including National Heroes Day, has been a bit different. Events with public gatherings have been prohibited. Hence, parties are canceled, and you can’t even celebrate with others.
However, just because you can’t meet up with your friends and party doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the holiday. First of all, the holiday can serve as your much-needed rest from everything happening in the world. Here are some ways to celebrate the special day while social distancing:
Hold a national hero watch party
There are a lot of interesting documentaries or films about national heroes you can watch on this day. From specials on certain heroes such as Jose Rizal or movies on the Philippine revolution, you can sit back and get a refresher on the events that led to the independence the country enjoys to this day.
Fortunately, there is a lot of content available on various streaming platforms you can choose from. This will give you a better appreciation of their contribution to society. At the same time, it can serve as a good history lesson.
If you live with children, watching this kind of movie will give them a better appreciation of these heroes’ legacy, and the experience of our forefathers. Plus, it’s a fun way to bond with the family. You can invite others to watch the movie or documentary at the same time. You can enjoy some sort of unity even while social distancing through various tools on the internet.
Visit museums virtually
While museums all over Metro Manila are closed in compliance with community quarantine guidelines, you can still take a stroll in museums in the virtual space. The national museum showcases a lot of historic pieces, including some made by Juan Luna himself.
Amid the pandemic, they’ve created a virtual tour platform wherein guests can take a stroll in the National Art Gallery and the Museum of the Filipino people. Visiting these galleries will give you a better appreciation of these heroes’ sacrifices for the Philippines.
At the same time, it’s a fantastic opportunity to check out beautiful pieces of art the Philippines has to offer. You can take the virtual tour alongside your friends so you can enjoy the virtual views in unity.
Pay homage to modern heroes
As previously mentioned, national heroes aren’t just famous figures you read in history books. You can pay homage to modern heroes such as medical front-liners by donating to causes that help them. There are a lot of charities that give free food and personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical professionals.
If you and the family are feeling creative, you can make cards or video greetings that show your appreciation for their contributions to society. Making a card might take a few minutes of your time, but the small gesture will surely put a smile on their faces.
There are also foundations that cater to military veterans and the families of military personnel. You can support the education of soldiers who risk their lives for the nation. While it’s not recommended to visit in person, you can still demonstrate unity by showing up in different ways.
Follow health protocols
Among the best things you can do to help modern heroes fighting for the nation is by following health protocols. This means wearing your face mask and face shield, observing social distancing, and other rules mandated by the government.
It may be a little uncomfortable, but the effort goes a long way. After all, by following expert advice, you put yourself at less risk of contracting the virus. Now that hospitals are being overwhelmed by the number of cases, doing your best not to get sick is the least you can do to contribute to the greater good.
If you have the opportunity to do so, you should get vaccinated as well. This may not guarantee that you’ll never get the virus, but it lowers your risk of hospitalization and death significantly. If you’re already vaccinated, you should educate others on the importance of getting vaccinated.
It’s important that Filipinos help dispel the stigma, and encourage others on the benefits of getting jabbed. They should spread facts only, and stop spreading fake news about the virus. Through a united front can Filipinos be able to beat the virus, and go back to some normalcy.
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