Wednesday, June 9, 2010


“History”, one Israeli politician remarked, “teaches us that men and nations behave wisely after they have exhausted all other alternatives.”

As the Philippines marks the 112th anniversary of her Declaration of Independence, there is the usual temptation of perusing where the nation stands after over a century of freedom – perhaps made more poignant by the imminent inauguration of a new leader who ran on a platform of fighting what many perceived as a graft-prone pseudo-dictatorship.

The Philippines “won” independence at least three times in modern history – against Spain in June 1898, granted by the Japanese occupation on Oct. 14, 1943 and finally, accorded by treaty from the United States on July 4, 1946.

The 1898 declaration established a “Dictatorial Government of the Philippines” by virtue of a decree issued by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo.

It provided an almost cursory rationale for forming a new, sovereign state – that freedom is an inalienable right of Filipinos.

Much of the decree merely ratified Aguinaldo’s hold on power as “the instrument chosen by God, inspite of his humble origin, to effect the redemption of this unfortunate country”. Curiously, Aguinaldo never did sign the Declaration of Independence.

It is also acknowledge the role of the US and recognized in the selection of the red, white and blue fields in the Philippine flag “as manifestation of our profound gratitude towards this Great Nation for its disinterested protection”.

The declaration was presented by Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, then Auditor of War and Special Commissioner. Of course, America showed in the succeeding months just how “disinterested” it was in the Philippines.

The declaration acknowledged an American witness to the Declaration of Independence: a shady fellow named L.M. Johnson, purportedly a US Army Colonel and secretary of Commodore George Dewey, but who historians later speculated was actually a soldier of fortune and later became one of the owners of the landmark Alhambra Theater in Escolta, Manila.

When the US treaty granting independence to the Philippines was signed in 1946, the document proved as sparse as the 1898 declaration was grammatically grandiose. It was bereft of any lofty ideals nor some sage advise like something a father would say to a son finally going off on his own.

It was a simple, cut-and-dry contract that renounced US control over the Philippines “except the use of such bases, necessary appurtenances to such bases and the rights incident thereto, as the United States of America, by agreement with the Republic of the Philippines, may deem necessary to retain for the mutual protection of the United States of American and of the Republic of the Philippines.”

We searched for words in the documents to declaring the Philippines to be free that could perhaps explain the Filipino spirit and devotion to liberty, helping define People Power and continuously demonstrating a commitment to that most fundamental of tenets that “all men are created equal”.

We’d like to believe that we were searching in the wrong place.

The independence and freedom that Filipinos enjoy and flex today may not attributed to some parchment, no matter how historic they may be.

Everytime a Filipino refuses to accept poverty as a shackle that holds him to an uncertain future, and strives to improve his lot whether at home or by finding a job in distant lands – he declares independence for himself, his family and his nation.

We believe that everytime a Filipino shouts at the top of his lungs to denounce oppression, injustice and just plain evil – he liberates himself, his family and his nation.

And everytime a Filipino comes to the aid of a stricken brother or sister during a great flood or terrible earthquake, risking his own life in the rescue, he gives meaning to what it takes to be free.

That’s the reason perhaps we’ve never been to the parade at the Luneta. We’ve just never felt it was the place to find the meaning of the birth of Filipino nationhood.

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