She represents everything we do not look for in a hero: someone coming from the South with an ethnic origin; a Muslim in a country torn by religion and dominated by Catholics; small, even petite at 4′ 7″; and a woman. Yet, she was everywhere during the war that set north, south, east, and west of our nation free.
She had held guns and fired them at the enemy, nursed the injured among her countrymen not asking which religion they are in so long as they are patriots of the land they are fighting for. She was a mother of two children whom she protected while teaching them the value of freedom and why it must be fought for, and guarded all the time.
That was a hundred or so years ago, and all that’s left of her now is the possibly adulterated tale of her conquests in both war and love. I felt privileged to have known a close friend who turned out to be one of the grandchildren. I wanted to revere the old lady from the South but my friend told me that they, the grandchildren, never knew her anymore after the war. There were no pictures then, and you won’t see her name or of her fellow fighters inscribed in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
She left her two children to the care of a friend from the city, knowing the ravages of the mountains and war. She was raped and killed shortly thereafter.
Only one of her children survived, as the city was also held captive by the war. He grew up to be a fine man, his person banded by the memories of a mother who had always been there, and a second guardian who nurtured his being, and then later also gave her life for his turn to survive. He was now fighting a different war—of betrayal by a dictator and of insults by his own people.
“I am no orphan,” he would tell everyone who would question him later on, “I have Pilipinas as the mother I can always turn to.”
I turned to wonder if each of us could say the same thing without batting an eyelash.
There were thousands, my friend would tell me, of other faceless, nameless men and women who carried arms and protected our Motherland for the sake of Her children, us. And then the war is over, but not the battle to recover from its pillage. Suddenly, there were no more memories, just stories of a forgotten time of heroes, dictators, and aggressors like old movie reels that faded with time.
Somehow, we just lost touch of the hero that was us. And so we invented actors and crooked politicians as demi-gods to look up to, eventually replacing our rich history with dispensable .