Kristian Timothy Bautista

Gifted with a rich culture and history, the Philippines’ tapestry is embedded with the myriad of challenges it faces—some local, others international, and many others in between. However, recent revelations of former President Duterte's actions compromising our sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea cast a shadow over this commemoration. In light of these pressing issues, Valor Day holds deep meaning for Filipinos, commemorating the sacrifices of our brave soldiers throughout history.

Despite various political challenges, Valor Day, which is officially known as Araw ng Kagitingan, commemorates armed troops who suffered in defending our nation during the Fall of Bataan. This holiday offers Filipinos a moment to reflect on our history and national identity, crucial for holding the government accountable.

As an elaboration, the Philippines, like any other developing country, or in that regard, any other country, is no stranger to a bombardment of issues, both in the local and global scene. Just this past week, former Associate Justice Antonio Carpio stated that former President Duterte has been revealed to have sold the country’s sovereignty over the Ayungin Shoal to China in a “gentleman agreement” despite winning the arbitration case over them.

In what appears to be a succumbent of our rights over Ayungin Shoal, the agreement governs the maintenance of the Philippine Navy vessel BRP Sierra Madre, grounded in the disputed area. However, the former president allowed for the agreement to favor China as the country could now only “bring food and water to BRP Sierra Madre and would not bring materials to repair the Sierra Madre,” as stated by Carpio.

With this disclosure, it appears that the Philippines, at the time, possessed an administration who seemed to fend for itself with a reckless prioritization of personal gain over national sovereignty—a flagrant betrayal of trust and an egregious disregard for the welfare of its citizens, especially local coastguards who faced and continuously faces the consequences of China’s recklessness in the pursuit of claiming the nation’s sea.

Just under the former president’s administration, China has seemed to subjugate the country with reports of Chinese vessels intentionally hitting Philippine fishing boats, which still carry on in the present, as defense secretary Orly Mercado claims that China continues to pose as a threat with the current harassments to our fishermen and violations of resource-grabbing in the sea.

In addition to coercion our local fishermen face, the very sea the nation fights sovereignty for also gets tarnished due to the illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing done by Chinese trawl fishing boats, which in turn, depletes the ocean’s resource regeneration period and damages the sea’s natural corals.

Adding salt to the wound, just recently, China appeared to have injured four Filipino crew members after using water cannons to block Philippine vessels that only took supplies to Manila’s military outpost at Ayungin Shoal—which has been the first time that Chinese boats have harmed local coastguards despite being in Philippine waters. 

Amidst the bravery of armed forces of the Filipinos during these incidents of coercion, it is ironic how the revealment of Duterte’s agreement lopsided in the favor of China and how his daughter, the current vice president, remains mum against these harassments—all happening in the week of the celebration of Valor Day.

Aligning the theme of this year’s Day of Valor, let this day be a poignant time capsule for Filipinos, to give them a moment to reflect—an introspection towards honoring the bravery and sacrifices of our veterans in today’s society—in the pursuit of finding our national identity and consciousness given the freedom we currently enjoy today. 

​​Stemming from a celebration of our brave, defeated troops, who have marched hundreds of kilometers to a prison camp during World War II, the Day of Valor serves as a commemoration to Filipino soldiers, it has now evolved in contemporary times to honor what we now acknowledge as “modern day heroes,” OFW workers and frontliners during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, to the coastguards who continuously fight the coercion and intimidation brought about to the nation by Chinese settlements.

They are the modern heroes inaugurated during the national holiday.  Having said that, the Philippines has commemorated the Day of Valor for over eighty years, and this holiday should not be the only day we reflect on celebrating our country’s rich history.

Day of Valor should serve as a reminder for us to move forward and proceed with the fight in the face of our current political battles, West Philippine Sea aside: historical revisionism, corrupt politicians and their dirty tactics, and environmental issues like the insufferable heatwave. One could even say that we currently live in a hellhole, with high prices of goods, inefficient transportation systems, and corrupt systems relative to other developed and developing nations.

Alongside this noteworthy comparison among our ASEAN neighbors, while many Filipinos preach that it is hard to love this country, may this Valor’s Day serve as a pause to contemplate the sacrifices and struggles that have shaped the Philippines’ trajectory, may the country be in its most unideal, currently. Our local coastguards continue to face the ritzy waves and humongous vessels just so they could bring fish to the market. And, supposedly, the government is revising its national strategy on the West Philippine Sea with coast guards being at the forefront of the tensions against China.

This collective reflection on this holiday incubates a sense of unity and solidarity, the genuine one, in the pursuit of defending our freedom and sovereignty—through encouraging dialogue and critical thinking, coupled with diverse perspectives on contemporary issues of the nation. This is why we celebrate Valor’s Day.