June 12, 2021. It was the 123rd anniversary of the declaration of Philippine independence from Spain by Emilio Aguinaldo at Kawit, Cavite. Why did it feel like it was just another Independence Day? The news preceding the day was hogged by this feisty-looking little woman with her jaw thrust out to challenge the world record for the oldest living female person in the world — 123-year-old Francisca Montes-Susano of the Philippines!
But the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the world for the past year and a half has choked enthusiasm for celebrations for Francisca for her Guinness World Record nor for the same-aged Philippine Independence. It is the second consecutive Independence Day spent in the pandemic. COVID has terrorized the whole country as it has intimidated and bullied the world to utmost self-restraint and obedience to the rigid protocols needed to contain it.
Freedoms lost in the COVID dystopia brutally shame the celebration of utopian freedoms in a democratic nation. Reality embarrasses gushy Idealism. The last grand Independence Day civil-military parade of uniformed organizations and public and private entities before the Luneta Grandstand in Manila was held in 2018 to mark the 120th year of nationhood. Three years ago, way before COVID-19 was even a flu virus variant in that marketplace in Wuhan, China, where the pandemic is believed to have originated from.
It seems it might not be just the COVID then, that has doused the noticeably diminishing exuberance for Independence Day celebrations on June 12 each year. Some old-timers talk among themselves that Independence Day, back when it was celebrated on July 4 (for almost 20 years until 1964) was really a big bash — like Americans celebrate their own July 4th Independence Day with fireworks to this day. But to jog the clingy memories of these nostalgic seniors: on May 12, 1962, President Diosdado Macapagal issued Presidential Proclamation No. 28, which declared June 12 as Philippine Independence Day, while Republic Act No. 4166 of Aug. 4, 1964 renamed the July 4 holiday as Philippine Republic Day. Then Philippine Flag Day, which was earlier celebrated on June 12 was moved to May 28 with Proclamation No. 374.
Some would still question the realignment of anniversaries to milestone events in Philippine independence. History textbooks (e.g., Agoncillo, Teodoro: A History of the Filipino People, 1990) tell of the sequence of events starting from the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish in 1896 to the granting of Philippine independence by the Americans in 1946. In 1897 the Revolution ended with a truce declared with the Pact of Biak-na-bato; Emilio Aguinaldo and other Filipino revolutionaries were exiled to Hong Kong. In May 1898, the Spanish-American War broke out; the Americans won and took control of the Philippines from Spain. Emilio Aguinaldo et al. were allowed to come back to the Philippines. The losing Spaniards later ceded the Philippine archipelago to the United States in the 1898 Treaty of Paris.
On June 12, 1898, Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine Independence but failed to win international recognition of this.
In 1902, the United States Congress created the Philippine Assembly, with members to be elected by Filipinos (males only; women did not have the right to vote until after 1937). The 1916 Jones Act (Philippine Autonomy Act) declared the United States government’s commitment to eventually grant independence to the Philippines. The 1934 Tydings-McDuffie Act (Philippine Independence Act) created the Commonwealth of the Philippines the following year, increasing self-governance in advance of independence, and establishing a process towards full Philippine independence (originally scheduled for 1944, but interrupted and delayed by World War II). The United States granted independence on July 4, 1946, following World War II and the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, through the Treaty of Manila.
Some still ask, should Philippine Independence be celebrated on June 12, the anniversary of Aguinaldo’s failed declaration on June 12, 1898, or on July 4 based on the actual, real, and final granting of independence to the Philippines by the United States of America on July 4, 1946?
Perhaps the more technically inclined would tend to insist on July 4 as the factual marker of Philippine independence. But from the Philippine National Anthem’s lyric, “Lupang Hinirang” (beloved country) it can be gleaned that the Filipino passion for freedom could not just have been sated by the grandiose behest of the second historical colonizer, America. “Alab ng puso” or “fervor burning” must be inflamed by a revolution, as in the brave uprising of Andres Bonifacio’s Katipuneros and Emilio Aguinaldo’s challenge to the three centuries’ grip of the original colonizer, Spain. So it is that June 12, with its technical ambiguities, marks Philippine independence, though unilaterally declared, as “won” from passionate revolution.
As was Freedom won from the dictator Ferdinand Marcos with the EDSA People Power Revolution of February 1986 that ended the 14-year-long Martial Law from 1972. Fourteen years! How did a people, enlightened about Freedom and Rights, allow one of its sons to reverse and trample roles in a democracy, of a government of the people, for the people, and by the people? Thank God that there was an awakening, as the Snap Elections that Marcos himself earlier set into motion to “convince” the people (and himself, maybe) that the majority of Filipinos still wanted him to stay and be dictator for life. But the manipulation and cheating of election results, helped by active pre-election disinformation campaigns to glorify Marcos and pro-Marcos candidates while killing off chances of the oppositionists, had angered the people at last. Thus arose the groundswell of passion to fight for freedoms and rights lost, bursting fiery but unbloody in a second and perhaps more memorable “Independence Day,” on Feb. 25, 1986.
Passion for the independence of a people and a jealous awareness and close-guarding of freedoms and rights must be foremost for physical, moral, and spiritual/intellectual survival and development of society and individuals. The rule of law, derived from the Constitution and natural moral laws and values, must guide life and liberties for common peace and harmony. How sad that Independence Day commemorations are not as celebrated with the bravado of past years. There is subliminal value, or even just psychological and mental entrenchment of lessons learned from freedoms lost and won, in remembering freedom days.
How eerily alarming that today the Philippines is facing a national election, to be held on May 6, 2022 — barely a year from now, while still under the stranglehold of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the political unrest that competes for the people’s distracted focus. It jars concerns and anxieties that the dilemma of political confirmation of present leadership vis-à-vis a change in government comes so like the Snap Elections that could have confirmed approval of a dynastic dictatorship by Marcos in 1986.
The Rappler List of 2021 Independence Day protests and activities announced actual street protests and online discussions “in light of issues of Philippine sovereignty involving the Chinese militarization of the West Philippine Sea and President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy of dealing with China and its encroachment into Philippine waters,” is said. “Groups have also emphasized that this year’s celebration will renew calls urging Filipinos to vote and choose the right leaders as the 2022 Philippine elections draw nearer.”
Among the groups mobilized were Anakbayan, League of Filipino Students (LFS), Kabataan Party list, and the 1Sambayan opposition coalition.
Independence Day 2021, before the 2022 elections, tremulously feels like the days before the Filipinos’ immediately-past (1986) revolution for Freedom.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.