Why celebrate Philippine independence on June 12?

Natashya Gutierrez
Why celebrate Philippine independence on June 12?
Those who paid attention to their history lessons will remember that the Philippines did not remain free of a colonizing power long after that declaration

(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in June 2014. Since then, Philippine foreign policy has shifted significantly. In October 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte announced he would keep distance from the US. He also said the Philippines could not stop China from building on Scarborough shoal because it was too powerful.)

When the Philippines was about to commemorate its Centennial of Independence in 1998, the issue of when to celebrate it was a major debate among historians.

The Americans granted the Philippines independence on July 4, 1946. But given so many strings attached to that grant of independence, historians made a case for celebrating it on another day.

In 1962, President Diosdado Macapagal issued Proclamation No. 28 moving the Independence Day celebration to June 12. (READ: The many dates of Philippine independence)

This is because June 12, 1898 is the day when the first Philippine Republic, led by President Emilio Aguinaldo, ratified the “Acta de la proclamacion de independencia del pueblo Filipino.”

Those who paid attention to their history lessons though will remember that the Philippines did not remain free of a colonizing power long after that declaration.

Rather than acknowledge that the Philippines is free, Spain, whose hold over the Philippines was already severely weakened at the time, chose to cede us (and its other colonies) to another power, the United States of America, via the Treaty of Paris which was signed in December 1898.

In fact, America was already very much present in the Philippines at the time the Aguinaldo government made its Declaration of Independence. The Philippine-American War (which is recorded in the annals of American history as the Philippine Insurgency) erupted shortly after that. When then American President William Mckinley defended the colonization of the Philippine islands, he argued that we were “unfit for self-government” and hence needed to be “educated,” “uplifted” and “civilized.”

And so, until July 1946, years after Aguinaldo’s Declaration of Philippine Independence, we were run as a colony by Mother America. And if you follow the logic of my friends in the Philippine Left, the Philippines remains firmly under the yoke of American imperialism to this day. (But that’s another story.)

This underscores one important question: what then is the value of the June 12, 1898 Declaration of Independence?

August 1896

And this brings me back to the reason why, when the country was about to celebrate its centennial, my history professors at UP Diliman suggested celebrating the centennial instead in 1996, not 1998 which was a hundred years after Aguinaldo’s declaration.

Why 1996? Because it marked a hundred years since another historical event whose celebration is now much eclipsed by Aguinaldo’s declaration: the Cry of Pugadlawin of August 1896 which was led by the Katipunan’s founder, Andres Bonifacio.

HEROES AND HISTORY. We need to acknowledge lessons from historical experiences and find ways to redress grievances so we can truly move on

Historians then argued that August 1896 is more meaningful as this is the date that Filipinos openly declared the intention to separate from Spain through the symbolic tearing of the cedulas, the symbol of Spanish taxation.

Now the word independence may not have been used then. But the concept of kalayaan or freedom is ingrained in the Katipunan’s struggle. It is enshrined in the Katipunan’s kartilya (charter). 

And if we acknowledge that the struggle for freedom did not cease years after 1898, wouldn’t it be more meaningful, some historians argued, to celebrate independence on the anniversary of the first time this struggle, this intention to break free, was openly declared? And for that matter, what is more meaningful? Independence or kalayaan?

Then again, history they say is always written from the point of view of the victors. And in the internal political dynamics of the Philippine Revolution, Andres Bonifacio, the hero of Pugadlawin, the man who founded the Katipunan, was the loser. 

His execution just over a year before Aguinaldo’s declaration is a tragedy that continues to haunt this country. And it is not just because of the fact that a hero of the revolution died at the hands of his own people. It’s also because there was no redress after that. There was no resolution. In fact, officially, the Philippine government remains ambivalent over the value of keeping Bonifacio alive in the national consciousness.

For some, this is evident in the way Bonifacio has been devalued in the Philippine currency. Bonifacio now shares a spot with Apolinario Mabini, while Jose Rizal, Emilio Aguinaldo and Ninoy Aquino have their own currencies.

For me, this ambivalence is evident in the fact that in August, there is more hype about Ninoy Aquino Day than Pugadlawin.

While I do acknowledge the value of Ninoy’s sacrifice, the celebration of his heroism should not, in my view, de-emphasize the value of sacrifices made over a hundred years ago.

Unintended consequences

I tend to think that this is the reason why this country is sometimes so schizophrenic. Rather than acknowledging unpleasant historical experiences, and making sure reparations are made, we tend to ignore them. We tend to sweep them under the rug. 

And this bars us from making the most of those experiences, learning the lessons from them, and effectively moving on.

This affects how we relate with our economic partners and defense allies. We tend to give too much too soon, without acknowledging that these “partners” and “allies” will not look out for us. 

Case in point: our expectation that the US will defend us against the bullying of China. As former senator Rene Saguisag put it, will they send troops to Ayungin Reef and Scarborough Shoal?

History shows these “allies” and “partners” almost always looked after their own interests. And therefore we also need to look out for our interests.

This also affects how we always tend to forgive – too fast – personalities who have abused our trust in the past. And so we forgave the collaborators during the Japanese occupation. And the perpetrators of Martial Law are once again in power. 

And years from now, I wonder what will happen to those accused in the pork barrel scam.

And so forgive me for raising this now when people are in a celebratory mood.

But it has to be said. And it has to be said now in the hope that people would think about it and discuss it.

I don’t even mind if we still continue celebrating Independence Day on June 12, moving forward.

But let us be clear: why and what are we celebrating? Rappler.com

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