Thursday, August 30, 2007

Heroes on my mind

Like the Tina Turner screamed, “We don’t need another heee-ro.” Not another dead one anyway.

But this month is for heroes, both the dead and the undead. And so we, the undead, had another round of the so-called “holiday economics” weekend. The newly dead are having their day, they are coming at us, hogging the headlines. Their message—“It is the soldier…” Their flag-draped coffins are continuously being marched before our eyes in very cinematic ways.

I play “Taps” on my mind and salute you all.

Strangely photogenic indeed are scenes of the heroic dead being brought to their resting places. Mourning becomes electric, as they say. The movies have unforgettable images of these. But even more awesome are the real-life scenes—choreographed procession, funeral dirge, riderless horse and all. But in the past millennium only one was Ghandi-an and only one was Ninoy-esque in scale and grandeur.

Terrifying are the funeral marches that cry to the heavens for vengeance, with protestors flailing the corpses of their heroes in a sea of grieving, raging humanity.

And heart-breaking are the ones held almost in secrecy or attended only by a few. Like Jesus’. Like the one of our lively guide in the wilderness where we spoke and broke bread with rebels and slept with armed women in a hut bristling with hand grenades and other deadly weapons. (That was many years ago, okay?) Soldiers caught up with his band, one day, and he took in the bullets so his comrades could slip away. A little candle in a darkened room was all he had, and a sister weeping, pointing to the rope marks on her brother’s neck.

Such scenes are indeed awesome to behold, and the documentary and film makers have a way of turning the actual footage into cinematic moments that are hard to forget. How does one portray them later in images, in words and with music—so that the rest of the world may share in the immensity of the loss and taste the rawness of the grief?

I remember watching the trailer of the documentary “Batas Militar” (directed by Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala). While it depicted the intensity of the military crackdown on those who opposed martial rule, it also showed the hapless foot soldiers who were killed in battle with the insurgents.

There was this scene of perforated bodies of soldiers being loaded onto trucks—in slow-mo—with Mozart’s choral music “Ave Verum Corpus” swelling in the background. “Cujus latus perforatum…” It was awesome, but almost like a lullaby. Music and images drove home the devastating senselessness of Filipinos killing Filipinos and I almost burst into tears.

Who the heroes, who the villains? Ask the Greek philosopher who asked the question.
That long-ago scene kept coming back these past bloody weeks that saw soldiers getting felled by the dozen in the battlefields of Basilan and Sulu, some of them beheaded by the enemies.

And speaking of another breed of heroes, albeit reluctant, the overseas Filipino workers (OFW), much-maligned by a sosi lifestyle writer of a glossy mag and a newspaper, didn’t have to come home to exact their pound of flesh. The outrage created by that condescending and mocking article (“From Boracay to Greece”) was tar and feather enough for the insensitive writer who has resigned.

Elementary good manners and right conduct as well as good values should have prevented anyone from expressing in public such condescending thoughts or from not thinking that way at all, even to oneself, of OFWs who are slaving away in foreign lands so that those they left behind could live a little better.

Tomorrow, Aug. 31, Father Ruben “Erps” Villote, founder of the Center for Migrant Youth, will be conferred the Mother Teresa Awards by the JCI. Here is a man of quiet heroism whose prayerful life continues to bear fruit in the lives of the least, the last and the lost.

Tomorrow, too, the 100th birth anniversary of the late President Ramon Magsaysay, seven Asians will join the roster of Asia’s greats as RM Awardees in different categories.

We are not wanting in heroes. It’s just that the media limelight chooses to linger longer on the garish lifestyle of the rich, famous and physically endowed. The quiet heroism of many remains unknown for a long time until it is discovered.

The RM Awards Foundation (RMAF) has made such heroism known these past 50 years by honoring selfless women and men who have contributed much in making this planet a great place to be. There are now eight volumes of “Great Men and Women of Asia” (say GMWA) published yearly by RMAF since four years ago and I am happy to say I have written a good number of the stories in the books. RMAF launched the 8th volume yesterday, with this year’s awardees present.

The award-winning essays of students on their chosen Asian greats have also been published.

For an even much younger group is the 20-book series for children (illustrated, of course). It is “a gift of partnership” with RMAF from Bookmark and former Ambassador Bienvenido Tan Jr. who was RMAF chair twice.

Bantayog ng Mga Bayani also recently launched the book on the contemporary heroes and martyrs who poured out their lives during the dark years of martial rule. I personally knew a good number of them. And by the way, today is International Day of the Disappeared.

There is something about August—guns upheavals, disasters, fires, eclipses, tides, deaths, martyrdom, the distant drums. And the birth and beginning of things sublime and amazing. We, the August-born Leos of this planet, ablaze with passion and prayer and infused with the music of the universe, revel in these.