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A tale of two heroes

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On Friday, 30 November, the nation marks Bonifacio Day. It is a national holiday in honor of Gat Andres Bonifacio, the Supremo of the Katipunan, he who led the Philippine Revolution against Spain.

“Vinzons did not become president, but he became more than that – a martyr to the cause of freedom.

With all due respect to Bonifacio, this essay will discuss two other Filipinos who may not be as famous as the Supremo, but who are as great and heroic as he is.

First is Wenceslao Q. Vinzons, arguably the most promising young Filipino in the first half of the 20th century.

A Law student at the University of the Philippines (UP), Vinzons was a fiery critic of Philippine Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon. An orator, he was UP Student Council president and editor-in-chief of UP’s official student publication. He is the father of student activism in the Philippines.

Vinzons has many other credentials: third placer in the 1933 Bar examinations; founder of the Young Philippines Party, which fielded brilliant young men and women to run against traditional politicians; youngest delegate to the 1934 Constitutional Convention and Camarines Norte governor and, later, its congressional representative. His accomplishments made Vinzons an ideal candidate for president someday.

Unfortunately, World War II in the Pacific and the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines nipped his political career in the bud.

Captured by the Japanese months after they invaded the Philippines, Vinzons was asked to collaborate or face certain death. He chose death. In July 1942, Vinzons was executed. His remains were never recovered after the war.

Vinzons did not become president, but he became more than that – a martyr to the cause of freedom, a national hero. Although a student center in UP Diliman is named in his honor, Vinzons remains a forgotten hero, often remembered only in Camarines Norte.

Happily, Vinzons’ fraternity brothers in the Upsilon Sigma Phi, the oldest Greek-letter student fraternity in the Philippines and in Asia, honored him last week with the staging of the play Bintao: Ang Buhay at Kabayanihan ni Wenceslao Q. Vinzons at the UP Theater in Diliman. Written by Efren Yambot, directed by Tony Mabesa and Alex Cortez and produced by ex-UP Regents Gari Tiongco and Ponciano Rivera Jr. and Baguio civic leader Leonides Bautista, Bintao brought to the consciousness of the young and the old alike the Vinzons story of extraordinary love for one’s country, during extraordinarily trying times.

Mass Communication senior Joshua Jimenez played the title role. Veteran theater actor Ding Navasero had a supporting role.

The other national hero to be honored in this essay is Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos. He was President Quezon’s Secretary of Justice and, upon the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific, Quezon’s Chief Justice. He is an honorary member of the Upsilon Sigma Phi.
Arrested by the Japanese in 1942, Abad Santos preferred to be executed rather than to collaborate with the enemy.

Minutes before his execution, Abad Santos told his son that not everyone is given a chance to die for his country.

When the Japanese finally executed Abad Santos in May 1942, there was a bit of regret in them for they knew they killed a brave man.

The Jose Abad Santos story is memorialized in a number of decades-old publications.

Fortunately, a more detailed and moving biography of the hero, Honor: The Legacy of Jose Abad Santos, was written and published recently by Desiree Ann Cua Benipayo, a rising historical writer and biographer whose area of specialization is World War II in the Philippines.

“Its vivid account of the life of Abad Santos will certainly put the martyr in the hearts and minds of those who watch it.

Honor is most certainly a very interesting read, thanks to its historical references and the light but clear language employed by the author. Historians, nationalists and just about every Filipino who cherishes honor, bravery and freedom must include this book in their collection.

Complementing the book is a recent documentary film of the same title. The film stars veteran actor Richard Cepeda Go in the title role. UP’s Dr. Ricardo Jose, the leading Filipino authority on the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines, serves as a resource person in the documentary. It is directed by Bani Logroño and produced in cooperation with the Philippine World War II Memorial Foundation.

The film has no dull moment, which makes it appealing even to young audiences who are not acquainted with documentaries. Its vivid account of the life of Abad Santos will certainly put the martyr in the hearts and minds of those who watch it. It is so moving that many viewers at its exhibition at UP Diliman last August had glassy eyes as the film reached its ending.

Learning about Vinzons and Abad Santos will be a unique way of marking 30 November, not just in honor of Bonifacio, but as a salute to two other great Filipinos whose sacrifice for the country should always be an example for all.

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