Who are our heroes? Where are our epic stories?

I rarely spend time in front of a television or movie screen, and when I do I’m usually drawn to stories of heroism and courage, of monumental decisions and epic battles, of those fine gray lines that define morality, and of the different motivations that drive people to different courses of action.

But more than the high-tech chase and fight scenes (which often put me to sleep, truth be told), what I’m more interested in are the back stories, the ulterior motives–the whos, whys, and hows of these big events.

I want to know what makes people great, what makes them fall, and what makes them give up life and love in defense of values they deem greater, be that honor, justice, love of country, freedom, and so on.

The more basic questions

Here in the Philippines, however, the questions are even much more basic than all those. For beyond parrotting the names of our heroes and memorizing basic descriptions from (often-erroneous) textbooks, we Filipinos know very little of our heroes. Save for José Rizal, we don’t know many of our other great men and women, what they were like, and what lives they lived (and left behind). We hardly know of our heroes from pre-Hispanic times–and how heroism and valor were defined then–and we don’t even know much about Lapu-Lapu, the man who killed Ferdinand Magellan! We don’t know enough about the many other names whose names are recited alongside Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, Jacinto, Luna, Silang, etc., and we know even less about the men (boys, really) who fought alongside the Allied forces during World War II. There are names that have stuck out from recent history–from the fight against the Marcos dictatorship and People Power One–but again, they still aren’t household names.

And, truth be told, the way history is usually taught during grade school and high school will make anyone fall asleep or, worse, want to swear off learning about history altogether. Our history books are often difficult to comprehend and are boring to death (for lack of a more descriptive term), and many teachers, even more so. I’m just grateful to have studied college in an institution where history became fun and meaningful, and where I was actually inspired to re-read the Noli and the Fili in its full, hardbound version. (Thanks, Ma’am Noelle Rodriguez! I will never forget you.)

But not everyone is as fortunate as some of us had been, so that leaves a large gaping hole in our social and cultural fiber–where children end up learning next to nothing about the great men and women who have sacrificed much for this country that so many people now want to leave.

At the heart of it all, learning more about our heroes will allow us to answer and understand the most fundamental questions of all: What makes the Philippines great? Why did people give up so much for it? Why should we even bother to continue the work that they started? What can make us great again?

And in the context of today’s commemoration, we want to know, what makes the Philippines the “duyan ng magiting” (cradle of the valorous, of the valiant)? Besides commemorating the fall of Bataan, and many other falls we have taken and things that we’ve taken down, what can we celebrate about what we Filipinos can build?

Yet another great challenge for Philippine mass media

Yet again, this is where Philippine mass media should come in–to fill in the large gaps left by our ultra-boring, in-dire-need-of-overhaul history books and lectures. Instead of filling our young minds with crass commercialism and pure rubbish, media, especially cinema, should be firing up our young people’s imaginations and should inspire them–us all–to help rebuild a great country.

Think about it, if we truly are the creative, imaginative people that we claim to be, then where is our retelling of our own stories? Our own colorful myths and legends, our own historical milestones and great heroes? Where are our own versions of compelling bio-pics–of presidents and politicians, of heroes and heroines? (And not the Metro Manila Film Festival kind, please!) Why do we know more about the Kennedys and the Tudors–and even the Italian mafia–than our own historical figures? Where is our own version of samurai and kung fu movies? Why do we see our own Filipino Martial Arts only through movies like Bourne Identity, and not in our own action movies? (Oh, wait! What action movies??)

Do we really believe that the only kinds of movies and stories our people want to see are sappy romantic films unimaginatively made from song titles? Or chick lit that don’t say anything about the kind of stuff our women warriors and legendary heroines were made of?

Before anyone goes on to say that this is piece merely a rant against media, I’d like to think of this as a commentary against our entire society‘s failure to impart precious historical lessons that would have been invaluable for the crucial task of nation-building. How are we to know what nation we can build if we don’t know what it is made of? Or what it once was? How can this next generation of leaders be inspired to live out Filipino values if the quotable quotes we frequently cite are those of Kennedy’s, or Gandhi’s, or Lincoln’s? (And I’m guilty of that, too, I admit.)


So as we continue to mark this day commemorating the lives and the courage of the young men who fought and fell in Bataan, let us look at the larger view and ask the bigger questions: what now, and what next? How can we ensure that the lessons from the past are carried on to the future? And how do we do it in a way that engages and inspires?

To emphasize this point yet again: if we Filipinos are indeed the creative, ingenious, resourceful, and imaginative people that we claim to be, why can’t we use this to inspire our own people to celebrate our own stories?

Your guess is as good as mine, but I hope that one day, in the very near future, we’ll find answers that will surprise, delight, and inspire us all.

Niña Terol-Zialcita

Niña Terol-Zialcita is a “Communicator, Connector, idea Curator, and Changemaker” who uses the power of words and ideas to advocate causes and promote the Philippines at its best. She is ProPinoy.net’s Deputy Editor, as well as Editor-in-Chief of asianTraveler, the longest-running travel magazine in the Philippines. When she is not writing, blogging, or traveling, Niña is conducting writing workshops with Writer’s Block Philippines, hanging out at art galleries and cafés, and performing poetry with her husband, percussionist and performance artist Paul Zialcita. She is also the author of the book "[r]evolutionaries: The new generation of Filipino youth and youth organizations".

  • Manuelbuencamino


    Perfect editorial for National Heroes Day. And if I may be allowed to add, maybe one reason why we Filipinos are so atomized is because we do not have a shared history, because we are ignorant about our history as a people.

    • Thanks, MB! And YESSSSS. No shared history, no shared identity = no shared vision of the future. We are always quick to adopt the identities, cultures, and visions of other nations but our own. =/ I’ve felt that way, too, many times–which is why I feel that we ought to do something about it now, when technology will allow us to create and disseminate information wildly. 🙂

  • GabbyD

    i agree with this totally. unfortunately, with the internet, its hard to compete with foreign TVshows in terms of budget, effects. 

    my recommendation is to do historical drama on the radio. radio dramas are still quite huge, and a good radio drama, like say a good audio book, would be widely available by classes C, D and E, and even the older people of class AB. 

    for TV, historical shows are a hard sell, because you have to have the sets and props for it. medyo mahal.

    however, i’ve often wondered why we dont have simple stories of heroism, ambition that people would aspire to. i miss shows like chica-chica chicks, or ang manok ni san pedro, or john en marsha…

    these shows show simple middle class aspirations. the problem with these shows is that they didnt even have the money for much plot and story and dialogue. often, like palibhasa lalake, it was just the leads mugging for the camera. i think filipinos can develop tight 30min sitcoms.

    beyond that, i’d put focus on middle class aspirations on different professions. stuff that when people would watch, they’d go “i wanna be ______”.

    we could have doctor, lawyer, cop shows. simple lang, with practically zero budget and simple sets, filmed in “docu style” (think the Office). most importantly, they can have heroes who deal with real situations in morally, so as to be aspirational. 

    • Why not? Like I said, we always claim to be creative, ingenious, resourceful, etc., but we’ve copped out when it comes to story-telling and even reimagining certain mediums. Kahit na cool graphic novel series lang, I’d be happy na with that. And before people can protest that it would cost so much to print graphic novels, who said they had to be in full color? I remember learning about the saints and the Bible (blame it on Catholic school upbringing) through comics; why not our heroes? Why not history books in comic form? Isn’t that what they use for political propaganda anyway? Then make the information free and piratable, for Chrissakes. If Paulo Coelho can pirate his own books, we should make information like this open to anyone who wishes to learn from it. The point is: re-imagine, then re-inspire and re-activate!

  • I’d love to, actually. I have a rough idea for a novel, but (1) I don’t know how to write fiction; (2) it would take years of research. Still, it’s something I hope I would be able to accomplish within my lifetime 🙂 But maybe nga we can start with simpler ideas 🙂 

  • Junsalipsip

    Thanks.  Maybe you can start with one story