June 12th marked the Philippines’ 120th Independence Day celebration. After 333 years of subjugation under Spanish rule, the Philippines gained independence on June 12, 1898. However, we are only under the illusion of independence since, until now, we are not yet out from under the banner of America; along with China, whose coast guard harasses fishermen operating in and around Scarborough Shoal.
Are we are still waiting for a new breed of heroes to change the national landscape? Unfortunately, heroes will not arise, but “bayani” are making their way through the country, fighting for ancestral lands, combatting poverty, promoting sovereignty, and challenging a dictatorship.
The word bayani was taken from the Hiligaynon “bagani,” which refers to a fearless warrior, who happens to be a nationalist, with a primary concern of how to help their country without asking anything in return – not even recognition.
The mindset of a bayani, from the concept of “bayan,” which means a community, encompasses one whose actions are devoted to the welfare of their locality. A typical example is the bayanihan system, where an individual seeking to establish a new residence and locals help in setting up their home without expecting anything in return; this tradition to true to the Filipino traits of “makatao, makabayan at maka masa.” Such traits were apparent in Andrés Bonifacio, Macario Sakay, Aniceto Lacson, and Juan Araneta.
Why bayani, not hero?
The term hero harkens back to western thought, where individualistic persona are manifested in photos, like José Rizal and the “ilustrado.” The influence of the west did not encourage motivation for independence from Spain but to become a province of the conquering nation.
Despite their demands for social and economic reform, their ideology was still western in origin, which contrasts the bayani, who carries a concern for their community, rooted in their “ugaling bayan,” which championed humility and camaraderie without the need for titles, educational attainment, or economic status.
Bayani can be seen in today’s progressive leaders, human rights advocates, barrio doctors, public school teachers working in remote areas, and students fighting for the rights of marginalized sectors. They truly exemplify the concept of bayani by giving hope to the neglected and abused. They are the kind of people society should recognize as “bayani ng bayan.”
We often stereotype their political ideology as left-wing, but they are the reason those in remote parts of the country continue to breathe; they are providing hope the country will soon find its perpetual independence, where the consciousness of the people is awakened.
The country cannot attain independence unless we turn ourselves into bayani, which will unite communities and make the Philippines a country of free people that live in harmony./WDJ