MANILA -- President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday, National Heroes' Day, recalled how Lapu-Lapu was the first Philippine hero, stressing how it “pained” him to see how the Visayan ruler has been relegated to a mere species of fish.

“As a footnote, just the -- a vignette of life, Lapu-Lapu was the first Filipino to kill a foreigner who invaded our country,” Duterte said in his speech during the National Heroes Day rites held at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City.

“But sadly he was a Visayan, I think he was a Moro, still in the Visayas. History forgot him. He was the first hero and designated a certain specie of fish and called it lapu-lapu. That is why it pains me deeply to see lapu-lapu being eaten every day, escabeche, fried, and all sorts of recipe,” he added.

Duterte said during his presidential campaign in 2016, he wondered why a statue he saw of Lapu-Lapu was smaller than a statue of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan.

“When I became President, I said that you know… No offense intended, but I saw the Lapu-Lapu statue smaller than Magellan. And I said during the campaign, ‘Why is this so?’” Duterte said.

The President said, although he did not want to “dishonor” the memory of Magellan, he disagreed with how history books framed Magellan as having “discovered” the Philippines.

“I will not maybe dishonor the memory of Magellan. He was the so to speak, the first guy who discovered our country,” Duterte said.

“It’s funny to me because we were not discovered. We, along with the Indonesians and Malaysians, Brunei and everybody here, we belong to the Malay race and we have had our own civilization thriving before the Dutch invaded Indonesia; the British, Malaysia; and the Philippines, the Spaniards and the Americans,” he added.

He mentioned Lapu-Lapu in his speech, noting that he felt it “very important” to correct how people remember history, particularly the events that transpired after Magellan set foot in the island of Cebu in 1521.

“Well, all is history, water under the bridge. As we go along life and we strive for a nation-building, I felt it very important that things should be corrected along the way,” Duterte said.

Last July, Duterte signed Republic Act (RA) 11040 declaring April 27 as Lapu-Lapu Day or Adlaw ni Lapu-Lapu, making him officially known as a national hero.

The act will give a special working public holiday nationwide and a special non-working holiday for Lapu-Lapu City and the whole of Cebu province.

In a chance interview with reporters, Duterte said he was open to the proposal of renaming the Mactan-Cebu International Airport after Lapu-Lapu.

“Magellan was the first invader to set foot in the Philippines. It was Lapu-Lapu who fought. Why is he more honored in this country?” Duterte said.

“Yes (I am open to renaming the airport), bakit natin ipapangalan 'tong [airport] sa hindi natin kadugo (Why would we name this airport after someone not related to us)?” he added.

Unsung heroes

Meanwhile, Duterte also lauded not just the country’s national heroes but unsung heroes as well, who have “made huge difference” in their own little ways.

“Today, we honor not just those heroes whose statues proudly stand along hallways and pedestals, or whose portraits are embedded in our currency and history books. Instead, we honor our unnamed heroes who, in their own little ways, have made huge difference in the lives of those they have touched,” Duterte said.

Duterte hailed the Philippine troops, particularly those involved in the liberation of Marawi City in October 2017, for defeating communist insurgents, Islamic separatists, and other threats to sovereignty.

He also lauded police officers, volunteers, educators, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), and even “ordinary Filipinos” who worked for the betterment of their families and the nation.

“Today, let us honor ordinary Filipinos who, despite the challenges that come their way, continue to work for the well-being [of] their families, the betterment of their communities, and the advancement of our nation. These are our [everyday] heroes that we need our youth to emulate and look up to,” Duterte said.

The President, meanwhile, expressed hope that all Filipinos came together to celebrate heroes’ “extraordinary feats and love of country” and urged the nation to embody their ideals and values.

“Let us all become worthy heirs to their legacy so that we may leave behind to the succeeding generations of Filipinos a nation that they will also proudly give up their lives for,” Duterte said. (PNA)