Remembering our heroes in the digital age

PHILIPPINE history is not lacking in stories of heroes who fought bravely for our country. From the Spanish era until today, we have Filipinos who resisted oppression, fought for freedom, and, in many cases, died for their cause. 

Ironically, in today’s Information Age, it appears younger generations do not know much about our national heroes, let alone the stories of our modern-day heroes. We have relatively few media materials about our national heroes, aside from the occasional film dramatization or short TV series. If the reverse were true, then our people — specifically the youth — would know much more about them and their actions and it would be more likely that they would have instilled in them a greater sense of patriotism and love for our country. 

The Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) under the Department of National Defense seeks to address this very issue. Aside from taking care of veterans’ benefits, and empowering them, they also seek to memorialize the heroic deeds of our veterans, and in turn motivate future defenders of the country. To this end, they have undertaken the Love of Country Builders program, which is involved in the construction of shrines and other facilities, the commemoration of historical events, and the publication of books and articles about our heroic veterans.

In a budget briefing with the DND and other attached agencies such as the PVAO, I brought up the possibility of creating documentary films and other similar materials about our heroes, not only those from the Spanish era, but also those from more recent times. 

Patriotic films and documentaries are a part of our history. During the First Golden Age of Philippine Cinema in the 1940s and 1950s, movies were made of the exploits of heroes, such as Diego Silang in 1951, Dagohoy in 1953, and Lapu-Lapu in 1955. In the present, we have movies that feature Gregorio Del Pilar, Jose Rizal, Emilio Aguinaldo, Andres Bonifacio, and, of course, Antonio Luna. 

However, my observation, which I shared with officials from the PVAO, is that these movies lean more towards dramatization. Indeed, a good part of the movie Heneral Luna, was devoted to his romantic life. While it is good to see our heroes fleshed out, what we need to see is what made them heroes, and what they did for their mother country. 

There are also two other concerns in connection with this subject. The first is that many copies of the older movies about our heroes have been lost, are hard to find, or are inaccessible for whatever reason. The second is that while we have many historical references from the Spanish era, the same cannot be said for the Second World War. Thankfully, information is now being collected from that time.

For example, we have the story of Captain Jose Cabalfin Calugas, Sr who was born in Leon, Iloilo. He enlisted to serve the Philippine Scouts of the US Army in 1930, and was eventually assigned to the 88th Field Artillery Battalion. A few days after the attack of Pearl Harbor, the 88th Battalion moved to Hermosa in Bataan, and by early January, the 88th was supporting the 31st US Infantry in defending their position at Layac Junction in Dinalupihan. 

In Jan. 6, 1942, Calugas voluntarily ran a thousand yards across open terrain, without orders, to man a 75mm cannon. There, he organized a squad to effectively suppress the enemy, even while under heavy artillery fire. He destroyed sixty advancing vehicles. For his actions that went above and beyond the call of duty, the President of the United States in the name of the US Congress awarded Calugas the Medal of Honor — the highest possible military decoration given to US servicemen.  

At the very least, Calugas’s story of bravery deserves a short documentary. Even better, efforts should be undertaken to produce an entire documentary series on many unsung Filipino heroes — covering the Spanish period to the Second World War, even up to the present day to possibly include those who defended the nation during the Marawi conflict. 

These documentaries could reach a wider audience via online streaming services, such as Netflix or YouTube. Hopefully, such digital media will help immortalize our heroes in a new way, putting them firmly in our national psyche once again. 

In this new age, our heroes are all the more important. Our reverence for them should not only be about their triumphs and extraordinary feats, but also about their collective passion, determination, and love for their country and their fellow Filipinos. 

We should support the PVAO and their Love of Country Builders’ Program, under which documentaries about our heroes, then and now, should be created and produced.  Such stories will never go out of style — and should be available at our fingertips.

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Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years — nine years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and six as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws.  He recently won another term in the Senate. (Email: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara)/PN

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