COVID-19 frontliners honored as modern-day warriors on National Heroes’ Day

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 31)— Frontliners battling the COVID-19 pandemic were given the spotlight during Monday’s celebration of National Heroes’ Day— as they were honored as “modern-day heroes” of the country amid the health crisis.

In his message, President Rodrigo Duterte praised the valor not just of the Philippines’ past heroes— but also of the present ones who have been risking their lives to fight a “different kind of enemy.”

“Present-day challenges posed by the current public health crisis (have) given rise to modern day heroes: the countless Filipino frontliners here and abroad who are battling the COVID-19 pandemic,” the President said in a virtual message.

He likewise expressed hope that the Filipino heroes’ bravery will continue to inspire the public to overcome “even the most unfavorable situations" and become "everyday heroes" themselves.

Meanwhile, the National Task Force against COVID-19 also lauded the frontliners’ efforts and sacrifices despite the many challenges and risks they face, saying they are all considered heroes amid these trying times.

“As we commemorate National Heroes’ Day, the National Task Force Against COVID-19 honors our modern-day heroes— our medical frontliners— who have made every conceivable sacrifice to ensure the health and safety of the Filipino people,” the National Task Force said in a statement.

“The selflessness, dedication and bravery you have shown during this health crisis puts you in the same league as our national heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in order to free our nation from foreign oppressors… You are all heroes in the truest sense of the word,” it added.

Aside from health workers, the Task Force also praised the contributions of non-medical frontliners, including military and police personnel, saying their efforts will be “remembered and honored.”

In her National Heroes’ Day message, Vice President Leni Robredo also commended the frontliners for their contributions to the pandemic response— saying that the spirit of our heroes “lives within each of us.”

Robredo also took time to honor as heroes the “countless others” who continue to fight in times of crisis, and shared an uplifting message to the public.

“Love those beyond your immediate circle," the Vice President said in her message, "expand these circles to go beyond family or friends; care for the community, care for the country. Do this, despite fear and uncertainty. Fight, if necessary; do not shrink from struggle or sacrifice. Be kind and be brave.”

Former President Fidel Ramos also recognized the hard work of health workers, police, military, and other frontliners during the pandemic, which he dubbed as "another dark moment" in Philippine history.

"Our collective resolve as Filipinos seems to be tested once again by this COVID-19 pandemic. But as what our forebearers have proven to us already through their feats of heroism, the Filipino spirit is indomitable," he said in a statement read by his grandson during the virtual book launch of Twilight Glory.

"We see that same spirit is being embodied by our medical frontliners, uniformed and military personnel, government staff, and countless other Filipinos who literally risk their lives daily in this pandemic... Let us remember and celebrate all the Filipino heroes and veterans who sacrificed so much in the pursuit of freedom and independence."

The coffee-table book, which is supported by San Miguel Corporation, chronicles 500 years of Philippine history and recognizes war veterans and local heroes. Authors of the book acknowledged frontliners as well as the private sector for their contributions to the local coronavirus fight. SMC alone has contributed over ₱13 billion to the pandemic response.

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay— who led the wreath-laying ceremony at the Libingan ng mga Bayani— echoed the officials' sentiments, and likewise encouraged Filipinos to exude heroism as it knows no bounds and “manifests in different ways.”

'Honor frontliners by paying dues'

Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, on the other hand, called on the Health department to pay the frontliners their dues— including releasing daily hazard pay— as a way to honor them during this special day.

Ang dami nang sakripisyo ng ating mga frontliner," Pangilinan said in a statement. "Mano bang suklian natin ang kanilang serbisyo ng binibigay naman ng ating mga batas? Let’s honor our heroes not just with rhetoric but with substance.”

[Translation: Our frontliners have made too many sacrifices. Why can’t we repay their services with the things actually provided by our laws?]

‘COVID-19 frontliners must be included in history textbooks’

Notable historian Ambeth Ocampo said COVID-19 pandemic frontliners must be included in history textbooks to recognize their hard work and sacrifices in fighting the health crisis.

“We’re facing an enemy that we cannot see and that we do not know and that these people are still working in hospitals and caring for the sick makes their task more than ordinary, makes it heroic,” Ocampo told CNN Philippines’ Rico Hizon on Monday.

Ocampo noted the pandemic did not affect the Filipinos’ sense of patriotism amid uncertain times. The historian addressed that today’s commemoration of the National Heroes’ Day is “another ordinary day because normally it comes and goes.”

“One of the things that’s sad about our days is that many people are now thinking of going abroad. The sense of being Filipino is not something that we, some people think about. So I guess it’s not a question of heroism, it’s actually love of country,” he explained.

To date, the country has logged over 220,000 cases of COVID-19, with thousands of healthcare workers and frontliners also getting infected with the virus.