In Photo: The youth and vibrance of Narional Artist Virgilio Almario| taken from: flickr.com

By Bernadette Pamintuan

NATIONAL artist for literature Virgilio S. Almario recognized Fllipino poet Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar as part of the country’s roster of heroes because of the impact of his works on the revolutionary mindset of the colonized indios during the Spanish regime.

He believes that aside from martyrs, revolutionaries, politicians and soldiers during the war, it is about time to acknowledge a “full-time” writer whose contributions likewise formed national identity and unity.

“[Si Balagtas] ay hindi nagpakamatay [o] hindi namuno ng rebolusiyon, pero ginamit [niya] ang kaniyang talino para mag-ambag ng isang likhang sining o likhang pambansa,” Almario regarded.

He also stressed the influence of Balagtas’ masterpiece, “Florante at Laura,” on the political views of heroes Andres Bonifacio and Dr. Jose Rizal; the latter even quoting lines from the lyrical poetry as part of “Noli Me Tangere.”

 Ang Florante at Laura ay naging simbolo ng pag-ibig sa bayan,” Almario explained. “Ito ang unang naging simbolo ng pagsulat para sa bayan kaya [maging si] Apolinario Mabini ay nagpahayag ng paghanga [para rito].”

Analyzing three centuries of Spanish colonization period, Almario puts “Florante at Laura” in a pedestal as the best literary work ever written in an oppressed environment.

As the chairperson of Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), he plans to pursue the said campaign by encouraging the youth to get involved in any possible means. He also proposes dialogues with the President regarding the matter.

“[Kailangang] kumbinsihin ang presidente at gumawa ng executive order,” he said. “Kailangan ng ingay at kampanya. Kailangan mabanggit ng mga manunulat kung bakit si Balagtas ay hindi nagiging bayani.” 

Hero or patriot?

 However, for Prof. Augusto de Viana, researcher and chairperson of the the University of Santo Tomas History Department, it is a common mistake to classify a patriot as a hero. There is a thick boundary separating the characterization of one over the other.

In a separate interview, he explained that a patriot, in comparison to a hero, deserves higher honor since he serves as an inspiration for the citizens and for the hero himself.

“A hero is a nationalist while a patriot is something higher than a nationalist. Nationalism is different from patriotism,” clarified de Viana. You don’t have to die to be a hero, but to become a patriot is to lose everything including your life. [You should be] willing to endure extreme hardships. It’s the conviction that can make a patriot different from a hero.

Using this concept as reference, he then classified Balagtas neither as a hero nor as a patriot. He added, “A patriot inspires a hero. He is usually the first hero. Heroes follow the patriots.”

For the Thomasian historian, it should also be noted that Balagtas wrote “Florante at Laura” based on his personal experience, particularly pillared on his heartbreak, that conjured varying interpretations from its readers until at present.

It should also be understood, he states, that heroes are those who did something to improve the lives of their countrymen especially in gaining a greater sense of freedom, identity and consciousness. Therefore, there is a dilemma in classifying Balagtas as a hero.

“Balagtas is a literary genius but he’s not a hero, although he was a victim of the Spanish oppression. Just because he fell in love with a woman he cannot have, he was put into prison,” narrated de Viana. “He composed a play [but] it did not cause a revolution [and] it did not form the Katipunan. It was just a source of entertainment which the Spaniards like.”

Florante at Laura” was published in 1938 when Queen Isabella I of Spain was being criticized because of deviating from the traditional Spanish patriarchal custom of having only men as monarchs.

Carlistas, known supporters of Carlos V of Spain, were displeased of being under the rule of a woman sovereign, deeming it illegitimate. The conflict resulted to the Carlist Wars and the Glorious Revolution where Isabella I was dethroned by King Amadeo I.

“It [Florante at Laura] had a hidden message for the Filipinos; [that] we are oppressed but soon we will win. [As] for the Spaniards, their queen was being oppressed but she won in the end. Florante at Laura causes a double vision for the Filipinos and for the Spaniards that’s why both the Filipinos and the Spaniards acclaim him (Balagtas), although for different reasons,” expounded de Viana.

‘Unofficial’ national heroes

 Documents from the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) show that the country has no legislation officially  recognizing a historical figure as a “hero” although nonworking holidays commemorating their births/deaths have been constantly observed.

Even Dr. Jose Rizal is not legally pronounced as a national hero. He is being revered as such purely because of the adulation bestowed by Filipinos. Historians, however, believe that there is no need for legislation and “appreciation should be better left to academics.”

To untangle the legal glitch, former President Fidel V. Ramos declared Executive Order No. 75 forming the National Heroes Committee that “defined, discussed and deliberated upon the merits of the various definitions and criteria of a hero.”

In 1993, the committee held that a hero should be someone who “has a concept of nation, define and contribute to a life of freedom, contribute to the quality of life and destiny of a nation, is part of the people’s expression and thinks of the future generations” among others.

Falling under this category are Dr. Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Sultan Dipatuan  Kudarat, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino at Gabriela Silang.

On the national language

Meanwhile, Virgilio Almario emphasized the need to strengthen the reading culture among the youth for the constant promotion of the national language.

Balagtas, being a linguist and one of the pioneers of Tagalog literature, serves as an inspiration for modern publications, although dwindling in number, in providing local readers with a taste of our culture in written works.

“Marami sa atin, kahit edukado, ay hindi [na] nagbabasa ng libro o dyaryo,” Almario observed. “Hindi umaabot sa isang milyon ang sirkulasiyon ng dyaryo habang isang libo naman ang literary books. Hindi kumikita ang imprenta at industriya sa paglalathala ng libro.”

The mandate of KWF in his leadership is also to make Filipino writers more famous inside the country as they are being overshadowed by foreign novelists and poets.

Ang mga awtor natin, hindi masyadong kilala,” he added. “Katulad ko, hindi naman ako makikilala kung hindi ako national artist ehMas kilala ang mga comics writers, ‘yong ibangartist o painters kasi mas napo-promote sila ng media.

It is also painful for him to witness politicians, academicians and other public figures belittling the worth of the national language. One of the most prominent was Teddy “Boy” Locsin with his demeaning tweets at the height of one of the presidential debates last March.

Lumilitaw uli ang pangil ng kaibigang Teddy Boy Locsin. Para sa kaniya, at sa mga tulad niyang Inglesero, ang Ingles lamang ang pinakaperpekto at pinakamahusay na lengguwahe sa mundo. At iyon ang malaking problema para sa kaniya,” wrote Almario in his regular commentaries on “Kulo at Kolorum.”

Almario defended the effectivity of the national language in debates, saying that ordinary people use the language on a daily basis to prove their points in discussions.

Countering Locsin’s earlier depiction of the language as “circular shitty,” Almario underscored that debates can only be described as such if the speakers are lying or using sugar-coated arguments. Both of which cannot be attached to the language used.

Salamat at hindi siya sinunod nina Mar at Grace kagabi. Mas masaya naman ang debate sa Cebu. Ituloy lang ang sagutan sa Filipino,” he said.

Locsin, however, turned a deaf ear against scholars, language advocates and organizations who asked him to make an immediate public apology.

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