Will you die for your country? Not even the nice uniform could keep the question posed by President Duterte from scaring the children who trooped to Malacañang recently to witness his installation as the top member of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines.
He asked the boys: who wanted to join the military or police? There was a tentative show of hands and nervous laughter as teachers whispered to the budding scouts. Even if the children don’t aspire to join the uniformed services, however, they might later find themselves undergoing training in military discipline. Under this President, there is a strong possibility that Congress will restore the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps as a college requirement.
President Duterte belongs to a generation that laments younger Filipinos’ declining interest in serving the nation as soldiers and police. Born in the final year of World War II, Rodrigo Duterte grew up in an environment of armed violence arising from insurgencies and criminality as well as civil wars in neighboring countries. As President, he often goes out of his way to show appreciation for those who risk their lives to keep the nation safe. Today he leads the nation in paying tribute to the valor of these individuals, starting with the dwindling veterans of World War II.
Araw ng Kagitingan should also be an occasion for pondering the nature of courage. Many have observed that bravery is not the absence of fear but the ability to overcome it. Today it is also useful to remember that there is no courage in fatally shooting unarmed and helpless individuals, even if they are suspected of breaking the law. Killing a person whose hands are bound behind his back is the height of cowardice.
There is also no courage in surrendering to force and caving in to armed blackmail, such as the extortion that communist rebels and their fronts continue to carry out ostensibly in the name of a long discredited ideology. It is the height of courage to fight armed coercion and descent into anarchy.
As the President has pointed out, those who place the nation above self and are willing to put their lives on the line for their country deserve the heartiest accolades for bravery. Today, Araw ng Kagitingan, the nation pays tribute to the men and women who have shown such valor. This flame of courage must be nurtured and kept vibrant.