Observed on the last Monday of each August, National Heroes Day commemorates the Cry of Pugad Lawin, a revolt that kicked off the 1896 Philippine Revolution against the Spanish Empire and the long struggle toward that country’s independence.
After centuries of rule by Spain, the United States, and Japan, the Philippines finally achieved full independence at the end of World War II. This victory ended a protracted conflict that pitted the small island nation against major world powers.
Filipinos celebrate Heroes Day with parades, events at local shrines, and fireworks displays, honoring the known and unknown heroes of the Revolution.
History of National Heroes' Day
The picture-perfect islands and sparkling Pacific waters that surround the Philippines belie the country’s tumultuous history and struggle for freedom. On the last Monday of August, Filipinos commemorate the Cry of Pugad Lawin, a pivotal moment in the Filipino independence movement.
Ferdinand Magellan claimed the Philippines for Spain on a 1542 expedition. After three hundred years of Spanish colonial rule, realizing the Spanish had no intention of loosening their grip on the island territory, the Katipunan movement — led by Andres Bonifacio — mounted an armed uprising. Bonifacio and his men publicly tore up their cedulas (residence certificates issued by the Spanish), shouting “Long live the Philippines!” kickstarting a revolution.
Though the Spanish eventually defeated Bonifacio and his troops, their insurrection inspired a wave of revolts across the country that ultimately led to the Spanish-American War and in 1899, the formation of the First Philippine Republic.
The road to full independence wound through an alliance with the United States, a betrayal by the Americans, and another war. By 1902, over 40,000 Filipinos had died, and the U.S. replaced military rule with civilian rule. It wasn’t until 1946, after a brutal Japanese occupation, that the Republic of the Philippines finally became free.
Enacted as a holiday in 1931, while the Philippines was still a U.S. commonwealth, National Heroes Day honors known and unknown national heroes. The holiday defiantly endured through the Japanese occupation and continues to hold an important place in the Filipino calendar today. Citizens honor fallen heroes with solemn military events, wreath layings, and parades.
National Heroes' Day timeline
- July 16, 1990
Massive Earthquake Wreaks Havoc
A 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck Luzon Island, killing over 1,000 people. The Philippines experiences an earthquake over 7.0 about once a decade.
Ferdinand Marcos Becomes President
Ruling for over two decades, infamous dictator Ferdinand Marcos became known for his brutality, corruption, and use of martial law to suppress opposition.
After Japan's seizure of the islands in World War II, the Republic of the Philippines finally became an independent nation in 1946.
The Spanish Claim
A Spanish expedition “discovers” the islands, naming them for a Spanish prince.
National Heroes' Day FAQs
How many islands make up the Philippine archipelago?
The Philippines is made up of over 7,500 islands, 5,000 of which remain unnamed.
Do other countries celebrate National Heroes Day?
Yes, most countries have a national holiday celebrating veterans and the military.
Why did Filipinos revolt against the Spanish?
By the 1890s, the pressure built up by three centuries of oppressive Spanish rule led the Filipino people to organize and claim their independence.
How to Observe National Heroes' Day
Visit a veterans’ memorial
Whether or not you have loved ones who served in the military, you can take a moment to visit a public warm memorial and pay your respects to the veterans who fight for freedom and independence in every country.
Attend a parade
Heroes Day is commonly celebrated with parades in most Filipino towns.
Spend time with family
If you have the day off from work, use the time to connect with your family and enjoy a local park or attraction you haven’t gotten around to visiting.
5 Fascinating Facts About The Philippines
"Texting capital" of the world
400 million texts every day, more than the U.S. and Europe combined.
The densest population center
Manila, the capital, has the world's highest population density at 55,446 people per square mile.
Mall rat heaven
Three of the ten largest malls in the world are in the Philippines, where the hot and humid climate drives people to air-conditioned indoor attractions.
1 in 10 Filipinos work overseas
More than a tenth of the population works overseas and consist of 25% of all overseas nurses
The yo-yo is a Filipino invention
The popular stringed toy, inspired by an ancient Filipino hunting weapon, was invented by a Filipino-American.
Why National Heroes' Day is Important
It reminds us to be grateful
National Heroes Day reminds us that freedom comes at the cost of others’ sacrifices. For the Philippines, the long, painful road to independence is paved with the losses of many historic heroes.
It lets us spend time with family
Since Heroes Day is a national holiday, it’s a great opportunity to use the time off to spend time with your family and loved ones.
It’s a chance to learn some history
If you don’t know much about the history of this fascinating archipelago, take some time on National heroes Day to learn more about the Philippines and its journey to independence.