WHAT makes a hero a hero?

Events these past weeks sparked a spirited national discourse on heroes and heroism. A controversial burial made the nation reflect on our collective sense of what defines a hero and how heroes come to be. It also made us re-examine the value and relevance of heroes in this day and age. A national consensus is still far-fetched as the passionate debates continue amidst repeated calls to move on.

What fuels the fiery debate is primarily perhaps the respect our culture accords to heroes as national symbols. Heroes are revered not just because they serve as markers and representation of our identity as a people but more so because they embody our aspirations. They are the aspirational expression of the best that we can be. Thus, any incursion into this hallowed territory is regarded as sacrilege and will be met with resistance.

As the nation commemorates the martyrdom of Jose Rizal tomorrow, it is important to contemplate on the value and worth of our heroes, and find contemporary meaning in their lives, works and actions. This is in the hope that we collectively find the best in each of us as Filipinos.

In our quest to find Rizal and the spirit of heroism in our midst, we need not look far. Every Filipino, especially the young are called to be heroes. The youth has proven time and again their passion and zeal for lofty ideals. They have many times in the past exhibited their incredible capacity to rise above the narrow confines of their individual existence to put others and nation first.

Here is the National hero's ode, his challenge, his call action to young people--Jose Rizal's To the Filipino Youth.

Unfold, oh timid flower!

Lift up your radiant brow,

This day, Youth of my native strand!

Your abounding talents show

Resplendently and grand,

Fair hope of my Motherland!

Soar high, oh genius great,

And with noble thoughts fill their mind;

The honor's glorious seat,

May their virgin mind fly and find

More rapidly than the wind.

Descend with the pleasing light

Of the arts and sciences to the plain,

Oh Youth, and break forthright

The links of the heavy chain

That your poetic genius enchain.

See that in the ardent zone,

The Spaniard, where shadows stand,

Doth offer a shining crown,

With wise and merciful hand

To the son of this Indian land.

You, who heavenward rise

On wings of your rich fantasy,

Seek in the Olympian skies

The tenderest poesy,

More sweet than divine honey;

You of heavenly harmony,

On a calm unperturbed night,

Philomel's match in melody,

That in varied symphony

Dissipate man's sorrow's blight;

You at th' impulse of your mind

The hard rock animate

And your mind with great pow'r consigned

Transformed into immortal state

The pure mem'ry of genius great;

And you, who with magic brush

On canvas plain capture

The varied charm of Phoebus,

Loved by the divine Apelles,

And the mantle of Nature;

Run! For genius' sacred flame

Awaits the artist's crowning

Spreading far and wide the fame

Throughout the sphere proclaiming

With trumpet the mortal's name

Oh, joyful, joyful day,

The Almighty blessed be

Who, with loving eagerness

Sends you luck and happiness.