WHAT IS A NATIONAL HERO?
On our national hero's 150 birth anniversary, I am forced to rethink my answer to this question once more. In the not so distant past, there has been a lot of question as to why Dr. Jose Rizal is the country's national hero. Renato Constantino argues that he is an American-sponsored hero; that Rizal symbolized non-violence and peaceful advancement of reforms, traits that the American occupiers wanted for Filipinos to adopt and thus prevent further revolts against their hegemony. Others have hailed Andres Bonifacio as the "true" national hero for organizing the first Philippine government and leading the first anti-colonial revolution in Asia. The Retraction Controversy has also placed doubts on Rizal's nationalism and his anti-clerical stance.
The questions stem from the fact that our usual notion of a national hero is someone who is courageous, strong, able-bodied, and leads a military force into war against a colonial/imperial power -- people such as George Washington, Simon Bolivar, or Sun Yat Sen. Apparently, machismo is still in the psyche most Filipinos. This notion has to change in our time when even the smallest deeds of self-sacrifice can be considered heroism.
In my opinion, for one to be a hero, one must sacrifice him/herself for the liberation its people or as an impetus of such liberation. Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo falls under this category, both having courageously fought the Spaniards in the battlefield. However, Andres Bonifacio never won any of his battles and usually goes off to save himself once his forces are routed. He really sees it important that people's leader remains alive at the end of the battle rather than sacrifice life and limb. The same way with Emilio Aguinaldo who instead of facing the Americans in the battlefield, has decided to elude them until his arrest in Palanan and subsequent pledge of allegiance to the United States.
Dr. Jose Rizal is perhaps the epitome of such self-sacrifice though. He sacrifices his love life and a quiet life to gather knowledge around the world that would be helpful in the struggle for reforms in the country. He translates famous literary works into Filipino for his countrymen to see (such as works by Hans Christian Andersen and Schiller) and labors to ensure a fair perspective about his country abroad (such as annotating Morga's Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas). He uses his own fortune, time and effort to care for his countrymen, as he did when he opened his clinic in Hong Kong or in Dapitan. He enlightens his people about their status in society by writing the Noli and the Fili. His ultimate sacrifice perhaps is when he refuses to be saved by Bonifacio's revolution and instead gives his own life at execution so that the revolution can have the ultimate inspiration. Both Bonifacio and Aguinaldo recognized his sacrifices by revering him as the revolution's inspiration. Aguinaldo was first to declare him national hero in 1898, even before the Americans "sponsored" it.
Rizal's self-sacrifice has been modeled throughout history by other heroes, such as Manuel L. Quezon (who sacrificed time, money and effort for the establishment of the Commonwealth), Jose P. Laurel (who sacrificed reputation to collaborate with the enemy and save more Filipinos from the Japanese), Ninoy Aquino (who sacrificed his life at assassination so that the People Power Revolution could push through) and Efren Peñaflorida (who sacrificed time, money and effort to teach the street children of Cavite).
In the end, there is no doubt that Rizal is the first to envision himself and his country as a nation of Filipinos and to uphold its liberty from the occupiers. At his 150th birth anniversary, Dr. Jose Rizal will remain as the heart of the Philippine revolution and the Philippine national hero.