Modern-day heroes on Philippines’ National Heroes’ Day

Posted: August 30, 2010 in Non-automotive Opinion
Tags: , , , , ,

N.B. This article was originally published in Asian Correspondent on August 30 and has been revised for this site. Visit the original post here.

During the class evaluation, the evaluator said that this article was generally well-written. The presentation of ideas were organized and clear. The use of links were also maximized.

The grammar and syntax, however, leave some room for improvement. The article was also deemed to be a bit lengthy.

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Every last Sunday of August, the Philippines celebrates National Heroes’ Day. This non-working holiday serves as a commemoration of the valiant efforts of countless men and women who fought hard and sacrificed their lives in service of the country.

The week leading to this year’s National Heroes’ Day could be described as controversial at the very least. Two events thrust the Philippines into the center of everyone’s attention, both in good and bad light. Within 24 hours, the Filipino people experienced a roller-coaster of shame and pride.

The whole world watched in horror as sacked policeman Rolando Mendoza held hostage a busload of Chinese tourists at the Quirino Grandstand on August 23. (Ironically, the tragic event transpired just a few meters away from the monument of the Philippines’ national hero, Jose Rizal.) What followed was a maelstrom of accusations and criticisms pointing out the gross mishandling of the situation.

Manila hostage crisis
The PNP assault the bus where the hostages are held. (CBC News)

Then, a mere few hours later, the Philippine candidate to the Ms. Universe beauty pageant, Maria Venus Raj, boosted the morale of the Filipino people by emerging fourth runner-up in the prestigious event. Her performance was especially significant since it was the first time in 11 years that the Philippines managed to break into the Top 15.

Maria Venus Raj
Miss Philippines Maria Venus Raj in her national costume. (Starmometer)

Going back to the celebration of National Heroes’ Day, I will say that the two incidents–the tragic hostage-taking and the Miss Universe pageant–have showcased modern-day Filipino heroes in action.

The prospect of Maria Venus Raj as a modern-day hero is the easier one to digest. She did, after all, bring honor to the country by besting the representatives of other nations and being the only Asian to enter the Top 5. She successfully portrayed the epitome of a Filipina–a figure of beauty, grace, and elegance.

The thought of the Philippine police force as heroes is a bit trickier. It would require more explanation on my part and more patience and understanding on your part.

Before I get any scathing comments, allow me to clarify my point. Yes, I do believe that the police incompetently handled the hostage-taking situation. I do believe that they share most of the blame for the deaths of the Chinese tourists. And, that the PNP deserved each and every criticism thrown its way. Finally, yes, I do believe that China has every right to be upset with the police and the government.

What I’m referring to as modern-day heroes are the policemen on the ground–the ones seen on television assaulting the bus with the intention of saving as much lives as possible. Battling a crazed gunman while burdened by poor training and equipment dating back to the Stone Age is a display of bravery, in my humble opinion.

Still, despite all this valor, the outcome was very disappointing: seven hostages dead.

It was not the ground troops’ fault that it ended tragically. Because they were merely following the orders of their superiors; it was the decorated officers calling the shots. The men on the ground could not help it if they were given erroneous orders by their commanders. Or, if they were trained inadequately by the PNP for such crisis situations. Or, if the PNP was skimping on their weapons and gear.

It was not the assaulting policemen, as individuals, who failed; they tried their very best, and they could only accomplish so much with such meager technical and material resources. It was everything else–the entire corrupt and dysfunctional PNP system–that failed us all.

If there’s anyone to blame, it would be the higher-ups in the police and the politicking that comes with such lofty positions. It would be the entire PNP as an institution for producing incompetent and ill-equipped policemen. It would be the Philippine government for tolerating the corruption in the PNP.

But never the lower-level policemen who gave everything he’s got to fulfill his duty despite all the hindrances.

What is saddening is the reaction of people to Raj’s brilliant performance and to (some of) the police’s courageous efforts.

Instead of unanimous congratulations from her countrymen, Raj took some flak for the way she answered her Miss Universe question. She even became the butt of countless jokes featuring her supposed “major, major” slip-up. All these after proudly representing her country in one of the biggest pageants in the world.

The reaction against the police was ten times harsher. The SWAT jokes that circulated around the Internet reduced the police to blundering fools. Sharp criticisms are of no shortage either. Unfortunately, since the negative remarks are directed against the PNP as a whole, even those who do not deserve such get hit; the officials do deserve it, but the lower-ranked policemen on the ground do not. Especially after risking mortal peril.

All the critics need to remember this: they say that hindsight is always 20/20. And, that one needs to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to understand his or her situation.

In hindsight, given the pressure of millions of eyes fixed on her, was Maria Venus Raj’s slip-up understandable? Many think so. A lot of people even say that the question given her was particularly hard to answer given the short time limit. Now put yourself in her shoes. Honestly, could you have given a better answer than Raj?

In hindsight, given the scenario of facing a rifle-toting, grenade-carrying hostage-taker with no bulletproof vests and just a handgun, can the assaulting policemen’s efforts be considered heroic? I believe so. While it is truly lamentable that seven people died, credit still has to be given to the police for those rescued. Now put yourself in their shoes. Honestly, all inadequacies of the police withstanding, could you risk your life in the name of duty like these men did?

Hopefully, these reflections could make Filipinos fully appreciate the modern-day heroes this National Heroes’ Day.

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