Independence Day at poor man’s shrine

Paterno Esmaquel II
(UPDATED) For the first time, the President leads Independence Day rites at Liwasang Bonifacio, a shrine for a hero associated with the poor

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Born a century and a half ago, Andres Bonifacio stood for the poorest Filipinos. He wore a simple shirt, wielded deadly weapons, and led a revolution against the 300-year-old Spanish rule.

In a symbolic gesture, President Benigno Aquino III paid him homage on Wednesday, June 12. For the first time, Aquino led the country’s 115th Independence Day at Liwasang Bonifacio, a shrine for the hero closely identified with the masses.

The Philippines marks Bonifacio’s 150th birth anniversary on November 30.

Maliwanag po ang pahiwatig ng kanyang tindig: Karangalan ang magtaya ng buhay para sa bayan; taas-noo nating maipagmamalaki ang mga naiambag natin para sa kalayaan. Kasabay nito, tila mapanghamon din ang titig ni Bonifacio: Ikaw, Pilipino, ano na ang nagawa mo para sa bandila at kapwa mo?” Aquino said.

(It’s clear in his composure: It’s honor to lay down one’s life for the country; we take pride in our contributions to promote our freedom. At the same time, Bonifacio’s gaze poses a challenge: You, Filipino, what have you done for your flag and your neighbor?)

(Watch Rappler’s coverage of the ceremony below.)

Freedom from poverty

By leading Independence Day rites there, Aquino provides an interesting – and timely – twist to an annual routine. The past few days, after all, highlight the need for another kind of freedom – from poverty, that is, amid a booming economy.

Despite the Philippines’ 7.8% economic growth in the first quarter, for instance, the National Statistics Office (NSO) on Tuesday, June 11, said the country’s unemployment rate has increased due to extreme weather.

It rose to 7.5% in April from 6.9% in the same month in 2012.

On Monday, June 10, farmers called for genuine land reform even as the country marked the 25th anniversary of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). That was a landmark program by Mr Aquino’s mother, the late former President Corazon Aquino. 

In one of his Independence Day messages, Aquino stressed the need for inclusive economic growth, which involves the creation of decent jobs. 

“Today our people remain united in independence, and are now fighting another battle: to free ourselves from the shackles of ignorance, corruption, injustice, and poverty,” Aquino said in his Independence Day message delivered in Guangzhou, China.

It’s a battle that actually began centuries ago, highlighted by heroes who fought for the poor. If he were alive today, how would Bonifacio view Philippine freedom? –

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at