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From victims to heroes

I would like to dedicate this particular column to the victims of the September 2, 2016, bombing in Davao City.

Twelve days after the tragic events in President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown and people are understandably focused on finding the perpetrators of the gruesome crime and bringing them to justice.

But here, I would like to write about the victims, or more specifically, try to answer this question: How do we make their deaths, painful as they are, into meaningful acts of heroism?

Let us stop making victims out of the 14 who died and the dozens who were would and make them heroes in the name of peace and reconciliation.

Every time a tragedy strikes, we inevitably focus on a class of people, the victims – those who have been directly harmed by the tragedy. And rightfully so because there can be no more painful experience than losing a loved one in an unexpected, often violent manner.

I mean, those who died in the Davao blast were probably just in the night market buying something for their nanay, or maybe just walking around enjoying the weekend with friends, or maybe just doing his or her job selling in the market in order to earn a living.

It is a tragedy. But we should not confine them to being just victims. Abhorrent as it was, the Davao bombing gives us an opportunity to address social and political problems underlying that tragedy.

It is our duty to honor those who lost their lives by making sure their deaths would not be in vain. We need to make sure that their deaths become meaningful rather than senseless as some have described it. We need to transform our memory of them from being just victims to heroes.

But how do we do this? In fact, a more serious question is this: What is a hero? What makes one’s act heroic?

I know scholars have studied this question before but let me offer my humble take on this. Heroes are those who, by their actions have made the lives of others better. And by others, I refer to those beyond our immediate circles of family, friends, and loved ones.

For surely we consider as our personal heroes people close to us who have impacted our lives. I, for instance, consider my Nanay Curing a hero because of her sacrifices to make our lives infinitely better and meaningful.

But here, I refer to a kind of heroism that affects people in the larger society. This is why we consider Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) heroes. Their sacrifices for their families and loved ones also positively impacted the state of the entire nation. How many times have the blood, sweat and tears of OFWs saved this country from economic collapse?

Manny Pacquiao is sometimes referred to as a hero not just because of his spectacular rise from poverty to boxing champion but because every time he lands a punch on his opponents, he raises the hopes and pride of a weary nation.

Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, and Antonio Luna, all used their intelligence, patriotism, and talents in building the foundations of our nation.

By making heroes out of the victims of the blast, I do not mean we have to build them statues and place their faces in our currencies. What I mean is that we need to make sure that meaningful reforms happen out of that tragic event so that their deaths would make a lot of sense.

I hope, for example, the loss of lives will make us care more for each other. I noticed that immediately after the blast some of the voices were angry voices, especially in social media where people seem to be less civil to one another.

Let us be kind to our neighbor or even to the stranger we come across with. One of the fascinating observations I have every time my family and I travel to Japan is how nice the Japanese people are. I mean, really nice and polite and respectful. I also remember there was a time when Filipinos were famous for being polite and kind. I am sure many still are but maybe the pressures of modern life have taken their toll in our ability to be civil with one another even in the face of disagreements.

Friends, democracy is built on the idea that we can have conversations about our differences and our future as a people. Tearing each other apart only gives more power to those who actually want to tear us apart as a nation.

Let us do what we can to support the peace process. If it is true that the Davao bombing was designed to destabilize the country, then it is imperative that we try to achieve peace in Mindanao, because this means peace for the entire country.

If the peace processes with the Muslim rebels and the Communists fail, it will only give opportunities for those who want to wreak more havoc in our communities. Let us make them irrelevant by making peace and prosperity possible in conflict areas where they thrive.

Finally, let us remain united. Our unity, as I wrote before, is our greatest asset in the face of challenges by terrorists. By unity, I do not mean we all should agree on all issues every time. By unity, I mean we work together towards a common vision for our country. Even when we disagree, let us not break our common bonds.

Our commonalities are more powerful than what separates us. Our common vision is brighter than what divides us. Only when we rise out of this tragedy as a more united, caring, compassionate, and resolute people, can we truly say that we have honored those whose lives we lost.

(For comments or feedback, please send e-mail to mbv.secretariat@gmail.com or visitwww.mannyvillar.com.ph)
(Senator Manny Villar)