Note: The subject’s name was changed to protect his privacy, since the original article was meant for academic purposes only.
Jose Regalante* stands in the middle of the most famous park in Manila, Philippines.
The prickly heat seeps into his already sunburned skin as a drop of sweat runs smoothly on the right side of his face, tickling but also making him itch. The urge to scratch that spot grows even stronger as every sluggish second slips away. His instinct tells him, of course, that he should lift his hand and rashly touch it.
But his job tells him not to.
At least for two straight hours every day, Regalante is obliged to stand as still as the man beside him. Clad in a beige long sleeve uniform with red and yellow patches, Regalante holds a firearm with a seemingly built-in knife in his right hand. The man next to him wears a long black coat and holds a book instead.
The challenge to remain motionless is apparent to both of them, except that the man beside him is made of cement and happens to be the country’s national hero.
“Noong unang-una akong tumayo diyan (katabi ni) Dr. Jose Rizal, talagang mahirap at nakakapagod talaga,” recalls the ex-honor guard of the Rizal monument. “Bawal gumalaw, bawal magsalita.”
Occasional pranks from bystanders are unavoidable. Of the roughly 20 people that pass by the monument every ten minutes to take obligatory selfies, at least one or two would stop and observe the honor guards. When in groups, spectators tend to be more tactless in making jokes about them.
“Nangangatog na mga tuhod mo, ‘no?”
“Bakit hindi ka gumagalaw?”
“Mababa siguro ang sahod mo diyan.”
“Siyempre, maiinis ka rin eh,” laments the 38-year-old officer, who was wearing a black muscle tee with the word “MARINES” on it. The battle scars he got from his years of service in Mindanao are seen on his left arm. “Gusto niyo bang tumayo rin dito? Akala niyo ba madali lang?”
He then tells the story of how he learned to love his work. This, while he sits at the unadorned porch of the honor guards’ barracks located near the entrance of the Manila Ocean Park, a few strides away from Luneta. The headquarters serves as both the starting point and finish line for worn-out souls being sent out to safeguard Rizal’s monument from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
This kind of routine proved to be bearable over the years as Regalante learned a few techniques to get his mind off hours of boredom and monotony.
“Minsan tinitignan ko lang ‘yung mga dumadaan. Iniisip ko rin (kung) anong gagawin ko pagkatapos at sa kinabukasan,” he says with a smile—apparently something he is also not allowed to show while on duty. He also cannot sing to entertain himself since there are installed CCTV units in the area.
Most of the time, he thinks of his wife and their children, whom he once took to the park to see how he worked as an honor guard.
“Mahirap ba na tumayo diyan? Mainit?” he recalls one of his children as asking when they saw him just standing beside the monument. He says he usually explains that he gets paid to protect Jose Rizal, whom the kids already recognize because of their History subject. “Kaya minsan, ‘yung anak ko rin, pinagmamalaki niya na ‘Yung daddy ko nagbabantay kay Rizal!’” he warmly shares. “Sabi nila, ‘Bayani ka na rin kasi bayani siya.’”
However, the guards of Rizal can only go so far in terms of “protecting” the national hero.
Threats to the preservation of the monument like the construction of the controversial Torre de Manila, which is an obvious blot on the landscape, are also upsetting honor guards like Regalante.
“Tingin ko eh pangit naman talaga (‘yung Torre de Manila)…Mas maganda kung ipagiba na lang siya…” he says quite hesitantly. “Pero kung ano,” he continues, “wala rin tayong magagawa kasi inaprubahan na.”
What’s important, Regalante says, is that people continue to uphold their nationalism, something that others fail to achieve nowadays. “’Yung iba parang hindi nila kilalang lubusan si Dr. Jose Rizal; ‘Yung iba naman ay kilalang-kilala nila at parang diyus-diyosan na nila (siya).”
He admits he belongs to the latter since he considers himself as Rizal’s “devotee” and “knight.” This doesn’t change even now that his job is already to supervise the younger honor guards.
I proceed to ask him how much he earns by guarding a hero. He slouches, shakes his head, and gives a quick response and a half-smile. “Pagkakasyahin.”
And then I asked a cliché question: “Anong sasabihin mo kay Rizal kung buhay pa siya?”
He finds it a little weird, but quips, “Kung buhay siya, edi wala ako rito!”
Shortly after, Regalante turns a bit serious and opens up.
His dream for the country is for the people to work together for unity and progress.
He wants to be like Rizal—he wants to die for a noble cause.
He intersperses the word “siyempre” in most of his statements but always speaks with a hint of uncertainty and unassuming nature.
He says he is very proud of what he does for the country.
The routine might have become too mundane for Regalante to realize that what he had been doing all along was much more than just staying still for as long as he can; that aside from the symbol of heroism he is guarding, there is another one—and that living, breathing hero is right there in front of me.
To this, he only replies with a grin, “Lahat naman ay bayani kung gagawin nila ‘yung dapat nilang gawin.”