Filipino heroes and then some


THE PHILIPPINES OBSERVES National Heroes Day” this week and we honor some of them. Many heroes are written about with undisguised praise in our history books. Some just loom larger than life in the hearts of many of our countrymen and continue to edify us long after their deaths.

Doubtless, the 10 million OFWs, should be considered our “modern-day heroes” for bringing over $20-B in remittances that had partly kept our nation afloat economically. That at a great social cost to families ruptured by distance and relationships blurred by time.

But there are also individuals whose paths illumine our discourse and flavor the narrative of what real nationalism is. (Many of the facts here are generated from “The Lazy Boy’s Journey”).

The year 1957 was a Presidential Battle between two giant nationalists- our own Carlos P. Garcia and Claro M. Recto- following the plane crash death of president Ramon Magsaysay.

Garcia, of course, is adored for his remarkable “Filipino First Policy” and is the only Filipino to have ever served as both president of the Republic and the Constitutional Convention.

Recto, on the other hand, was the head of the National Assembly that drafted 1935 Constitution which he hand-carried to Washington for approval of US President Theodore Roosevelt.

He is described as “the finest mind of his generation” – becoming a congressman, senator and then Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

A true-grit nationalist, Recto suddenly died of a mysterious heart attack in Rome – while about to do several speeches. The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) was tagged as a party to the mystery- although unverified as to its authenticity.

Jose Wright Diokno was another bright man who topped both the CPA and the law exams. A staunch nationalist, appointed as Secretary of Justice by President Diosdado Macapagal- he ran after American billionaire Harry Stonehill for tax evasion and bribery of officials.

Forced to resign in 1962, Diokno ran several times as a top-notched senator-elect and authored several nationalist laws; he founded the FLAG ( Free Legal Assistance Group) for Martial Law victims. He resigned as head of the Presidential Committee on Human Rights right after the Mendiola Massacre during the Cory Aquino regime.

The nation also had the privilege of electing two accomplished senators in the persons of Raul Roco and Miriam Defensor Santiago. Roco of Camarines Sur (congressman and senator) is bruited as “the best president the country never had”. In 2004, when his presidential campaign was abbreviated by his prostate cancerthe battle narrowed down between GMA and FPJ.

For his brilliance in the senate hall, Raul is best remembered for busting the graft-ridden Department of Education and transformed it as the most respected agency in 8 months as Education Secretary. He was married to Boholana Sonia Malasarte.

They met as Most Outstanding Male and Female Student of the Philippines, respectively, and romance just came naturally as ABC or 123, if one wishes.

In the modern Senate, when it came to wit and feisty articulation in sing-song English or Tagalog, no one comes near to Mirian Santiago. Today, her acerbic language and piercing analysis are missed terribly in the Senate session halls. She electrified the nation with her no-nonsense handling of the Bureau of Immigration where she is used “ to having death threats for breakfast”.

Santiago is well rounded: judiciary (local and international courts), executive (Cabinet) and legislative ( both Houses). Although she ran and lost twice for president, Miriam endeared herself to the youth with her late-life jokes compiled in separate books.

Two Cabinet secretaries are worth mentioning. Health Secretary Dr. Juan Flavier (under Fidel V Ramos) and DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo (under Noynoy Aquino).

Flavier, standing at only below 5 feet, was a giant in life. He originated the “Doctors for the Barrio” program, championed reproductive health and fought smoking (Yosi- Kadiri campaign).

Also, later becoming a senator, Dr. Flavier is best remembered for the slogan “ Let’s DOH It” for the Department of Health. After his public office stints, the Honest Abe returned to his humble home- the only one he owned since the 1960’s.

For changing the sleepy town of Naga into a bustling city, Jess Robredo ruled his place for 20 years with the best governance policies, making Jesse one “of the world’s best mayors” with his “Tsinelas Democracy”. He combined the public and private sectors’ interests and jelled them into one cohesive tool for progress and democracy.

Appointed DILG chief by Aquino for his mastery of local governments, Robredo died in a mysterious plane crash near Masbate in 2012- when he was completing his documentation against top military men in drug and illegal gambling protection.

Two “heroic” mayors can be spoken of in the same mold: Arsenio “Arsenic” Lacson of Manila and Cesar Climaco of Zamboanga City. Lacson (Manila mayor 1952-1962) was called “arsenic” because of his volcanic temper and also served three years as a congressman. Lacson was a boxer, a journalist and was gifted with great speaking abilities.

Rumors have it that Lacson, a lover of beautiful women, once challenged then Ilocos congressman Ferdinand Marco over a fair lady from Leyte Imelda Romuladez. Did he die in 1964- unceremoniously with a heart attack in a Manila hotel allegedly in the company of a then voluptuous multiawarded Filipina actress?

Lacson was a brave soul who fiscalized City Hall clean and led police raids himself. It was rumored that in 1965 m he was to be the Nacionalista Party presidential standard-bearer versus incumbent reelectionist LP’s Diosdado Macapagal. His death paved the way for a turn-cost LP Ferdinand Marcos to the presidency and the rest is history.

Just as colorful was Cesar Climaco of Mindanao I a lawyer) who raided hotspots, confronted criminals in the streets and audited police matters without the benefit of any bodyguard.

In protest over Martial Law, Climaco went into exile and vowed not to cut his hair until democracy was returned by Marcos. However, he came back to Zamboanga City in 1980 and was elected mayor for the third time.

In 1984, while inspecting a burned down disco joint, Climaco was shot dead by his neck and then 200,000 crowds attended his funeral. He was well loved and a movie was made of him featuring Eddie Garcia.

These are ten Filipino names whose life on earth was marked by great acts of courage and a strong love of country and duty. Write us if you have other people in mind as we celebrate National Heroes Day this week.

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