Philippine history

FAST FACTS: What makes a Filipino historical figure a national hero?

Hannah Mallorca
FAST FACTS: What makes a Filipino historical figure a national hero?

FLAG. A large Philippine flag is hoisted at the Shrine of the National Flag in Alapan, Cavite in 2022.


While there are no laws that officially proclaim a Filipino a national hero, there are criteria that determine how a historical figure qualifies as a national hero

MANILA, Philippines – With a rich historical background, it’s no surprise that the Philippines recognizes prominent figures who fought for the country. From writers to soldiers, numerous people have sacrificed their lives to help the country gain and maintain independence.

Celebrated since 1931, National Heroes Day commemorates all Philippine heroes, particularly figures without special holidays and observances. (READ: FAST FACTS: National Heroes Day)

Historian Esteban de Ocampo defines a hero as a prominent figure who accomplished an admirable feat in any significant action or event, and who is honored after death due to his or her service to the nation. With this definition, how does a Filipino historical figure qualify as a national hero?

Prominent recognition

According to the Reference and Research Bureau, Legislative Research Service of the House of Representatives, there are no proclamations or executive orders that officially proclaim a Filipino historical figure as a national hero.

But there have been laws issued that honor these historical figures to recognize their contributions to the country’s nation building.

Heroes like Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio are not explicitly proclaimed national heroes, but Filipinos pay tribute to them and recognize their heroism, having national holidays as a result.

The lack of official declarations did not stop Filipinos from revering historical figures for their contributions to Philippine history.

What makes a hero?

Through Executive Order No. 75 issued on March 28, 1993, former president Fidel Ramos created the National Heroes Commission, which is tasked to study and recommend national heroes to be recognized for their character and contributions to the country.

The commission was also tasked to evaluate, recommend, and come up with the criteria to determine how a historical figure qualifies as a national hero.

The committee came up with the following criteria:

  • Heroes are those who have a concept of nation, and aspire and struggle for the nation’s freedom
  • Heroes define and contribute to a system or life of freedom and order for a nation
  • Heroes contribute to the quality of life and destiny of a nation

Additional criteria were adopted by the Technical Committee of the National Heroes Committee on November 15, 1995:

  • Heroes are part of the people’s expression
  • Heroes think of the future, especially of the future generations
  • The choice of heroes involves the entire process that made a particular person a hero

On November 15, 1995, the technical committee of the National Heroes commission chose 9 Filipino historical figures to be considered national heroes:

  • Jose Rizal
  • Andres Bonifacio
  • Emilio Aguinaldo
  • Apolinario Mabini
  • Marcelo H. Del Pilar
  • Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat
  • Juan Luna
  • Melchora Aquino
  • Gabriela Silang

Despite the recommendations, no action has been taken due to the possibility of triggering debates over historical controversies.

However, the given qualifications of the National Heroes Commission, historians and researchers reflect the continuing quest to remember significant personalities who made a difference in Philippine history.  –

Sources: Reference and Research Bureau Legislative Research Service, House of Representatives, Selection and proclamation of national heroes and laws honoring Filipino historical figures by the National Commission of Culture and the Arts (NCCA)

Hannah Mallorca is a Rappler intern