Then President Diosdado Macapagal declared June 12 Philippine independence day in 1962, 16 years after it had been celebrated every July 4th, when, in 1946, the US “granted” the country independence. Few objected at the time, in apparent agreement with Macapagal that the June 12th, 1898 declaration of independence in Kawit, Cavite, which led to the establishment of the First Republic in 1899, was the appropriate date rather than July 4th.
June 12th has officially been Independence Day for 52 years, or far longer than when it was commemorated on July 4th. The 116th year since 1898 was celebrated yesterday, but some Filipinos may be surprised to learn that there are still people on this planet who think that July 4th marks the country’s “true” independence day.
They include Americans of Filipino parentage, or Filipino Americans (no hyphen), and some bloggers and social media users, a number of whom are also US residents and citizens. They have several things in common: they think that Philippine independence became a reality in 1946, and that the US did indeed grant it. In addition, they reek with contempt for Filipinos and Filipino leadership.
One of the former, a Bobby Reyes, has been arguing for over a decade that the war the Katipunan and Aguinaldo fought against the Spaniards, and which culminated in the proclamation of independence on June 12, 1898, was only one of several wars for Philippine independence. Among the latter he includes the revolts that occurred in a number of communities and provinces during Spanish occupation. Aguinaldo had little domestic and international support, the same Reyes argues—and didn’t Aguinaldo have Bonifacio killed?
“There are many Filipinos and Filipino Americans who think that Independence Day celebrations are commemorations of a fictional independence,” he continues in an article that appeared about a decade ago that’s still online.
“We (should) celebrate only what is real and factual. We cannot distort historical facts. We cannot celebrate an event that only ‘resembles the truth.’ It was only on July 4, 1946, when the United States granted it independence that the Philippines became politically free as a country.”
There’s also website called “getrealphilippines.com” whose webmaster bases his argument against June 12 on the claim that the date commemorates a “non-achievement.” Despite the base motives of the Spanish and US colonizers of these islands, he says that in contrast to Filipinos, they did achieve something. The Spaniards unified the country, while “American engineering and administration” gave us Baguio and Subic Bay Free Port.
You may not be impressed by those colonial feats, but he nevertheless suggests that July 4th is preferable to June 12th, because granting the country independence was within US power to do so, whereas it wasn’t in Aguinaldo’s to proclaim it. In short, June 12 was a mere occasion for Aguinaldo’s “flag-waving” and was meaningless.
For all his contempt for Filipinos and Filipino leadership, the latter has more of a point
than the former, although both are justified in their scorn for Filipino “leadership.” Neither June 12 nor July 4 is the authentic marker of Philippine independence for one simple reason: Philippine independence has been mostly myth rather than reality in the past, but has become even more of an illusion during the Aquino administration.
June 12th this year was commemorated in the context of the return of US military presence in the Philippines and the coming transformation of Philippine military bases into US bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA. Both are happening in violation of the country’s Constitution, which bans foreign troops and military bases in Philippine territory except through a treaty approved by the Senate. This fact alone makes a mockery of Philippine independence and sovereignty, and has led even former Senator Leticia Shahani to observe that the country has become a neo-colony (it’s always been since 1946). To complete Philippine dependency, thanks to a military that’s basically useless for anything except torture and assassinations, the country’s defense against external aggression is in the hands of a foreign power that itself has a 100-year record of aggression worldwide.
But there’s still a difference between June 12th and July 4th. The former was a proclamation by Filipinos themselves, and never mind how limited was Aguinaldo’s domestic and international support, or whether he indeed had Bonifacio murdered. The fact is that the forces of the Revolution had defeated the Spaniards in a number of engagements, and had control of Cavite and neighboring areas while other revolutionary armies were fighting the Spaniards across the archipelago.
That Aguinaldo did proclaim independence showed that he could do so without Spanish intervention—and not only was that proclamation the first among the colonized peoples of Asia; it also led to the establishment of the First Asian Republic fifty years before other Asian countries won their independence from the colonial powers.
Aguinaldo proclaimed independence in the presence of the representatives of Commodore Dewey, which he naively interpreted as a sign of US support. It was not. But US treachery was certainly not within his power to control. Contrary to Reyes’ claim, if only because of that, US intervention in Philippine affairs even after 1946 is not something this country should be celebrating.
What made the 1896 Revolution different from previous revolts was its not being limited to a small community or province, and its having been waged in the name of, earlier, the Tagalogs, an ethnic group resident in several provinces including Manila, and later, the Filipino nation.
July 4th on the other hand marked a “grant” by a foreign power, which suggests that independence is a gift of charity for which a people must be grateful rather than an achievement—and yes, as limited as the 1896 Revolution was, it was nevertheless an achievement, marking that one moment in this country’s history of betrayals and failures when it came closest to the greatness that has since eluded it.
What Filipinos need to remember today is that that Revolution, in the word of Macapagal in a speech he delivered in the 1960s, is “unfinished,” not only because independence has been elusive in the past and is even more elusive today, but also because, contrary to the aims that drove the Revolution, poverty, injustice and inequality continue to define the lives of the Filipino millions thanks to the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the political dynasties that rule them as indifferently as the Spaniards and the Americans did.
June 12th should remain the country’s independence day because that date marked an independent declaration rather than the meek acceptance of a “grant” from the very colonial power that had destroyed the forces of Philippine independence in the early 20th century, abandoned it to the Japanese during World War II, and returned to continue its subjection as a neo-colony. But that date needs to be made more meaningful where it matters most — in the daily lives of the people. What Filipinos need are not fruitless debates, but independence from the greed, incompetence, and corruption of their so-called leaders and the latter’s foreign overlord.
First published in BusinessWorld.