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Jose RizalLast month will probably go down in history as the time for a new kind of Filipino hero. I hope no one thinks of adding more holidays to November next year since, lamentably, the Philippines already has the most non-working holidays anywhere in the world. But within a single week in November 2009 two modern-day heroes drew accolades from across the globe.

On November 14, Manny Pacquiao surpassed the world record of wins in six different weight classes held by Oscar De La Hoya—whom Pacquiao beat via TKO in December last year (the De La Hoya camp threw in the towel before the start of the ninth round). The Pac-Man became the first man in history to win seven world titles in seven different divisions by pummeling Miguel Cotto until a 12th-round stoppage gave Manny the WBO welterweight title.

On November 22, Efren Peñaflorida, founder of the now famous Kariton Klasroom (pushcart classroom), was named CNN Hero of the Year for 2009. The innovation on the traditional classroom is a project of the Dynamic Teen Company, which Efren and three high-school classmates founded a dozen years ago. Their dream was to give other youths in the area an alternative to a life of gangs and petty crime.

Both Efren and Manny were born poor and are still relatively young (Efren is age 28 and Manny just turned 31 on December 17). But their lives have created an impact that resounds around the world.

Many of us already know Manny’s story. Starting his boxing career at age 16 to earn money for food, the scrawny boy was barely 106 pounds when he won his first bout via decision in 1995. Today he is a hefty 144-pound (at least, when he fought Cotto at the catchweight of 145) international celebrity with a very hefty wallet that bankrolls mansions in two continents, pricey sports cars, and everything the heart of the sixth highest paid athlete in the world desires.

The unassuming but passionate Efren grew up in an impoverished community in the southern Metro Manila suburb of Cavite. His neighborhood was not only poor, it was even next to a garbage dump. His beginnings were typical to poor Filipino youths around the country—a tricycle-driver father, a vendor mother, a family living a hand-to-mouth existence—but what he has done with his life is far from typical. CNN calls it heroic.

We each have our heroes and who we put up on a pedestal shows what we value most in life; who we want to be. But one thing you and I already share with our heroes, whoever they may be, is that our stories, like Efren’s and Manny’s, are still being written.

Print ed: 11/09


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