Once again, it’s the 12th of June. This day may pass as just another Wednesday for most people all over the world, merely another episode of waking up, going to work or school then tucking oneself to bed preparing for the next day again. Yet, this day marks a very special event in history. Yes, it was also the day the Boeing 777 made its’ maiden flight but outside the achievements of the engineering world something much more significant occurred today.
June 12 is the Philippines’ independence day.
To the people who hold ties with the Philippines, June 12 should not just be any ordinary day. In Kawit, Cavite our nation’s first president Emilio Aguinaldo of the victorious Katipunan revolutionary army, waved our flag on the balcony of his residence over a crowd of jubilant nationalists on this day. After centuries, the Spanish colonial forces had left the Philippines and the country was to be governed by its’ own people for the first time. The saga that started when Lapu-Lapu slayed Ferdinand Magellan on the coast of Mactan, the sacrifice given by Jose Rizal and the heroic campaign of Andres Bonifacio and his army of peasants bore an ending that would form the identity of a Filipino and instilled a feeling of nationalism within us.
It was not long before the shores of the country were threatened once more, this time by the Americans. The country would then again endure another generation of colonialism, albeit a more humane and productive one under Uncle Sam. During this period, we were educated, became fluent in English and were introduced to modern architecture, technology and were taught how to run a government. But did the Filipino make use of the lessons learnt from the Americans?
It has been one hundred and fifteen years since Aguinaldo waved the flag and promised a good life for the Filipino. Today, we ask ourselves: is the country we call ours really better off than during the colonial era? Are we reaping the rewards of independence? While Aguinaldo and company were overjoyed and the valiant Katipuneros who fought the Spaniards relived that their efforts paid off, they had no idea that the succeeding generations for the country would not be so optimistic.
In politics there is an argument regarding independence: ‘what use is freedom if you cannot feed yourself?’ This is actually quite true, a country being able to govern itself is important since identity is a huge factor in being a legitimate nation. But if this comes at a cost of your social welfare, is it really worth it? The history of the Ivory Coast always comes to mind when discussing this. During French rule, the country was known as the “African Paris” with unique designs of French architecture lining its cities. Its’ fortunes as well were tremendous, benefiting from oil reserves, cocoa and coffee exports and obviously the country enjoyed backing from a major superpower in France. When independence was granted in 1999 however, its’ fortunes soon changed for the worse. The turning point was the civil war in 2002 that left a little below a thousand dead, another civil war added insult to injury in 2010.
Notice the similarities? Before the second World War the Philippines enjoyed similar luxuries under American rule. The Americans built our roads, bridges, schools, power lines, train tracks, air and seaports which made our way of life convenient. We also enjoyed the recognition as one of the most advanced nations in the entire Asian continent. Take note, during this period South Korea was still a modest nation called Choson, Singapore was not even a country yet and the people of Dubai still lived in tents. Several administrations of misrule led to the deterioration of the nation’s prosperity. Today, the countries mentioned are decades ahead in terms of progress compared to the Philippines.
This is no surprise. One cannot expect much from a country who ousts its’ most notorious dictator from power only to re-elect his wife and two children back to public office just a few decades after. This is a country where celebrity stardom overtakes academic and political credentials in picking our leaders and lawmakers. In 1992, the Philippine Senate overwhelmingly rejected to renew the U.S. Navy’s lease of Subic Bay, ejecting the last American military presence in the country only inn 2002, it begged for the Americans to come back to aid in their war on terrorists in the south.
The nation commemorates the heroic deeds of our Katipuneros for the 115th time today. On this occasion, let us reflect on this compelling question: where are we now after independence? When Manuel Roxas signed the Treaty of Manila, granting sovereignty from the United States were we ready to rule ourselves? Politicians and some factions of people alike would like to agree, but if so why are so many Filipinos itching to leave the country every day? Is this not a sign that something is not right in the country? We also hear of countless stories where wealthy defendants in court are able to buy their way out of a conviction, at the same time lawmakers in Congress push their own agenda rather than the interest of the people; these are further proofs that our justice system has not fully matured.
Make no mistake, independence is not a pot of gold that guarantees instant prosperity, but rather it provides the country the opportunity to achieve an opulent future. But the Filipino barely made use of this opportunity; in a country blessed with so many resources be it gold, fertile soil, aquatic creatures or skilled laborers there is no reason why we should not be on par with South Korea or Singapore.
At present another imperialistic force threatens our territory, if we are to defend our freedom we must first prove to ourselves that we are worthy of such freedom. Learning to stand on our own feet is a good start, not depending on the U.S. for military assistance for example, and modernizing our own armed forces would be a good first step. Second, instead of looking at overseas markets for employment why don’t we improve infrastructure and craft good policies to attract foreign investors so Filipinos would not need to migrate abroad but can rather stay put in their own country. It also would not hurt to pour funds on developing renewable energy sources so as to lessen our reliance on oil imports, not to mention curb pollution. Those are just a few points on a long list of what needs to be done, I’m sure the government can add plenty.
Of course those actions would require a lot of time, but thanks to the beauty of independence we have all the time in the world to make these happen. That does not mean as well we can be relaxed about it though, reforms are need badly by our countrymen, the consolation however is that no foreign power can hinder it from happening. We have our heroes to thank for all that.
This June 12th I hope that Filipinos may realize the greatness of our nation, because if the Philippines was not then no blood would be shed for it. I do pray that the sacrifices of our heroes: the Katipuneros, the World War II veterans, Ninoy Aquino and the like will not be in vain. The country is not in too good of a state, but we can change this. The actions we do for our country today will redeem our heroes.
I hope we can prove the Spanish and the Americans that they made no mistake in granting us our freedom, that truly we can rule ourselves. June 12th marked the day the nation stood united and rid ourselves of colonizers. I wish that someday we may be able to declare our freedom too, of corruption, greed, intolerance and all that enslaves us until this very day. My hope is that one day, the people may know what it’s like to truly be free.
Where do we take our independence from here? Hopefully, in building our nation into the vision that Jose Rizal had before he was executed by firing squad in Bagumbayan. The bright future that the Katipuneros took up arms for. Let us bring our freedom to the path our heroes promised us, that path our ancestors caught a glimpse of but never fulfilled. May we build the Philippines that we want our children to inherit someday, the nation we can proudly boast to the world.
Happy independence day to my beloved homeland, the Philippines! Mabuhay tayong lahat and may the dreams of Katipunan and Ninoy finally come to fruition!