BOOK REVIEW: A Question of Heroes

by Rose Churma

The last Monday in August is known in the Philippines as Araw ng Mga Bayani. It falls on August 30 this year, a day to honor the bravery of all Filipino heroes who struggled for the nation’s freedom, including those who vanished into anonymity.

The date chosen is intended to mark the Cry of Pugad Lawin in August 1896, which was the first act of insurrection against the Spanish colonizers by the Katipunan, a secret Filipino revolutionary movement.

In commemoration of the Philippines’ National Heroes Day, this issue’s featured book review is on Nick Joaquin’s compilation of essays on ten heroes namely Fr. Jose Burgos, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Graciano Lopez-Jaena, Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini, Antonio Luna, Gregorio del Pilar, and Artemio Ricarte.

Through his critical essays on these heroes of Philippine history, Nick Joaquin provides a unique point of view on their roles in the fight for independence, first against Spain and then with the Americans.

Of the two essays on Rizal, “Anatomy of the Anti-Hero” was a comparative analysis of Leon Maria Guerrero’s The First Filipino and Ante Radiac’s Rizal from Within.

The Guerrero book, in English, is written in the “modern manner where the details are massed not for their scholarly but their emotional value…” and is a massive publication of over 500 pages.

The Radiac study, written in Spanish, can be considered an extended essay and is subtitled “An Introduction to a Study of Rizal’s Inferiority Complex” and is barely 70 pages long.

Radiac’s work is a psychoanalysis of Rizal with emphasis on his formative years. He suspects that Rizal suffered from bouts of inferiority due to his puny physique. Guerrero’s view of Rizal on the other hand is colored by his life history as a fellow illustrado and member of the bourgeoisie.

The author also devoted two essays on Andres Bonifacio. In “The Eve of St. Bartholomew” he describes the uncertainties of pinpointing exact dates when the revolution by the Katipunan started but agrees with researchers that “The Revolution began in Balintawak in the last week of August 1896.”

What is interesting to note is that St. Bartholomew or San Bartolome in Tagalog is the patron saint of Malabon, now a city within Metro Manila. In Philippine folklore, August is a red month or amok month.

One school of thought was that the KKK revolt was proclaimed on the eve of San Bartolome’s day, August 23 and that the bolo-wielding saint aided the bolo uprising by making it much easier for Katipuneros to pass through Spanish lines by using the excuse that they were on their way to attend the fiesta of San Bartolome de Malabon.

Emilio Aguinaldo was also accorded two essays, one of which is titled “Our Second Greatest Anti-Hero,” of which the first anti-hero was Jose Rizal.

The author notes that both Jose Rizal and Emilio Aguinaldo shared the same physical “defect” – in that both were very small in stature. His physical smallness encouraged Rizal to excel in intellectual pursuits. That was not the case with Aguinaldo who failed at the private school he was sent to in Binondo.

He was then enrolled in Letran but had to be taken out and placed with tutors. Because of the cholera epidemic, he was able to go home to Kawit and abandon formal schooling totally when he was only 13.

Yes, the first president of the Philippines was a drop-out!

In his memoirs, Aguinaldo writes about his dislike for learning that “It’s bad to be learned; you’re either hanged or exiled.”

In this collection of essays, the author reduces the heroes into regular guys and brings out facts not usually found in history books. Another classic Nick Joaquin publication.

ROSE CRUZ CHURMA is a retired architect who now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books, write about them and encourage others to write. Her online bookstore, Kalamansi Books and Things (, promotes Filipiniana books and publications by Filipino-Americans. Email her at

Read more Book Reviews:
BOOK REVIEW: English-Tagalog and Tagalog-English Dictionaries

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