The Philippines celebrated its 115th Independence Day last June 12. And as expected, there were the usual pronouncements of doubt and mockery whether country was really free or not. Some even went on to entertain revisionist views on the actual date of independence saying that the date is meaningless since the country was only left on its own by the Americans on July 4, 1946.
As someone old enough to have lived at a time when the two biggest American military bases outside the United States were in the country, I find it both odd and funny, that the question on the country’s independence are being noisily raised online by those born after the US bases were booted out of the country.
While I cannot blame these younger Filipinos’ having a revisionist view of history, I cannot understand why they are capable of raising issues on the independence day’s verity and yet they are incapable of understanding the significance of June 12 in the continuing struggle for the country’s independence.
I am of the opinion that those who constantly raise the question whether the country today is independent or not are under the influence of those who fail to understand and appreciate the sacrifices made by those who died in the battles against the Spanish, the Americans, the Japanese and even against fellow Filipinos belonging to various sides of political persuasions. And I do think that those who latch on to this view relied only on the perspective of their cynical Philippine history teachers without even trying to understand the country’s history on their own.
A country’s independence day is remembered because it was the day when the people of that territory declared themselves free from oppression of a foreign power. It is a characteristic of state which is reserved only for colonized, enslaved or oppressed nations. But more often than not, that day of declaration of independence marks not the end of the struggle for freedom, but only the beginning. As such it is misleading, as it is wrong to view independence day as the day when freedom from oppression was achieved.
When the Philippines declared its independence on June 12, 1898, it was proclaiming to the world that it will no longer bear the yoke that Spain has placed upon the country for more than three centuries. It was proudly standing up against the oppressor and claiming its right to stand free and proud of all that the Divine has endowed it. At the same time, it was also warning the colonizer that if need be, it will defend its claimed freedom to the death.
While there have always been questions raised on the Act of Declaration itself, specially in the message it contains between the lines and its references to what Aguinaldo always liked calling as the benevolent North American nation. A reading however of some authorities on history (I suggest OD Corpuz’s Saga and Triumph and Floro Quibuyen’s A Nation Aborted), will allow one to have an idea of the dynamics which made these things come to pass. And it will also grant us the understanding how we as a people, often in awe of foreigners, are easily swayed from that which we really want for ourselves, out of our generosity for these new found friends.
But the politics of 1898 should not reduce in any way, the sacrifices of martyrs like Fr. Jose Burgos, Jacinto Zamora and Mariano Gomez in 1872. It should not dilute the blood spilled by selfless Katipuneros who fought in the opening days of the revolution in August 1896. And it should not erase from our memory images of dead revolucionarios in the trenches, the hills and the towns who fought, first against the Spanish and then later against the Americans, to preserve the freedom they have decided to claim for themselves and for future generations of Filipinos.
It is only proper that we, later generations of Filipinos, beneficiaries of the freedoms fought for by our founding fathers and mothers, our revolucionarios, our soldiers, our guerrillas, our activists, remember Independence Day as the day when these selfless Filipinos offered their lives and limbs, their sacred fortunes, for a vision of a free Philippines where their sons and daughters would live in full appreciation of their Divinely-decreed freedoms, able to decide and realize their own destinies.
The independence of a country is not about being totally unencumbered of any debt or affiliation with another, but it is about that country, particularly its people, being able to chart its course towards the future. Independence is about a nation being able to freely decide for itself which relationships with other countries will it best reap benefits and how it shall pursue these relationships.
Back in my childhood days, one of the prevailing themes in movies and books was the relationship between Filipinos and Americans, more particular Filipino women and American servicemen. And there was the constant depiction that the Philippines was what we’d call in Cebuano as “di’ ko beh” or someone who outwardly refuses and yet deep inside desires an object or treatment. Movies depicted how Filipinos blatantly want to be left alone by Americans but pining for the first opportunity to hook up with the man from the Land of the Big PX.
Of course, all that changed on September 16,1991, when the Senate of the Philippines said that it will have no more of American military presence in a country which was free and democratic. And that single act of ending a half century of US domination of Philippine political and military affairs was one manifestation of the country’s never-ending struggle for independence. Since that day, we have been virtually on our own. Floating freely in the Pacific and facing various demands of statehood such as issues in the economy, governance, education and national defense.
A decade later, the Americans returned supposedly under the benevolent purposes of the Global War on Terror. But unlike a century earlier, they are no longer able to claim huge swaths of Filipino land as American. I wonder though how long they plan to continue staying considering that the War on Terror has already eliminated its number one target.
The presence of these American servicemen should wake us up to the reality that struggle for independence never ends. And in the decade since they were expelled out of the country, we have not progressed much in terms of defending our territory. If before we struggled against the Spanish, Americans and Japanese, now we are fighting to stave off the Chinese and Taiwanese from claiming our lands and seas.
These challenges to the territorial integrity of our country now threaten our sovereignty as a people. These encroachments on our lands and waters endanger our independence. And as a nation we must confront these issues soon else we wake up one day and see another flag raised in islands just beyond our weekend beaches.
If we desire to remain free and independent then we must constantly struggle against aggressive countries, ambitious politicians and big business. The celebration of our Independence Day is there to remind us of what others before us fought for. And it should also make us ask ourselves what we should be fighting for.