MANILA, Philippines – Countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are no strangers to struggles for independence.
With the exception of Thailand, all ASEAN members were former colonies of Western nations. Heroes and nationalists rose up and fought for the freedom of their respective countries.
These victories are commemorated during annual Independence and National Days.
In the spirit of the Philippines' Independence Day celebration on Thursday, June 12, let’s get to know the independence and national days of ASEAN countries.
Click on each country on the map below for more details. The colors represent the Western country which last colonized the ASEAN nation before attaining complete independence.
(Legend: Red - United Kingdom | Blue - France | Yellow - United States | Orange - The Netherlands | Gray - no colonizers)
The list below is arranged by the date of the countries’ observance of Independence or National Day. Only those that are public holidays are set in bold orange font.
MYANMAR: January 4 – Independence Day • 10 days after the Full Moon Day of the month of Tazaungmone (November-December) – National Day
The 10th day from the Full Moon Day of the month of Tazaungmone marks the day in 1920 when Burmese students of Rangoon University began anti-British colonial riots. Independence, however, was achieved much later on January 4, 1948.
Because Myanmar follows the lunisolar (lunar-months, solar-years) traditional Burmese calendar, the National Day moves between the months of November to December.
In 2014, Myanmar’s National Day will fall on November 16.
BRUNEI: February 23 – National Day
The former British protectorate observed its first National Day on February 23, 1984, which is 54 days after the United Kingdom granted it independence midnight of January 1.
PHILIPPINES: June 12 – Independence Day
The Philippines declared independence from Spain on June 12, 1898. But shortly thereafter, the Americans occupied the country. The Japanese also invaded it during World War II. After the war, the United States granted the country full independence on July 4, 1946.
Currently, the Philippines observes Independence Day every June 12. Meanwhile, July 4 is observed as Republic Day and Philippine-American Friendship Day, but are not regular holidays.
SINGAPORE: August 9 – National Day
Singapore's National Day marks the day in 1965 when it broke away from the Federation of Malaysia due to ethnic, political, and economic disagreements. It then became an independent city-state.
Before joining the Federation of Malaysia, the country gained independence from the United Kingdom on August 31, 1963.
INDONESIA: August 17 – Independence Day
On August 17, 1945, shortly after the end of World War II and the surrender of Japanese forces, Indonesian nationalists proclaimed independence from Japan, as well as from the Netherlands, which has colonized the country – then called the Dutch East Indies – since 1800.
However, the Dutch officially transferred sovereignty only on December 27, 1949, following a 4-year war for independence and the Dutch-Indonesian roundtable conference mediated by the United Nations.
MALAYSIA: August 31 – Merdeka (Independence) Day • September 16 – Malaysia Day
Malaysia's "Merdeka Day" commemorates its declaration of Independence from Britain in 1957. Meanwhile, the recently established Malaysia Day celebrates the day the states of Malaysia became the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.
VIETNAM: September 2 – National Day
Vietnam’s National Day celebrates the country’s declaration of independence from France on September 2, 1945. However, Vietnam was split between North Vietnam and South Vietnam in 1954, and it took 2 more decades before the country achieved reunification in 1975.
CAMBODIA: November 9 – Independence Day
Cambodia gained independence on November 9, 1953, when France, weakened by World War II and losing in a war against Vietnam, bowed to the demands for independence by Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihanouk. Full sovereignty was achieved in 1954.
LAOS: December 2 – National Day
Laos achieved complete independence from France on October 22, 1953, and became a constitutional monarchy. But two decades later, on December 2, 1975, the monarchy was abolished and replaced by the current Lao People's Democratic Republic.
December 2 every year is observed in Laos as its National Day.
THAILAND: December 5 – King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday
As the only ASEAN nation to have never been colonized by Westerners, the Thais observe their king’s birthday as the national holiday.
The holiday was established in the 1960s under Prime Minister Sarit Thanarat, who revived many rituals and ceremonies involving the monarchy under his leadership. Besides being the national day, it also serves as the Thai Father’s Day, as the king is considered the father of the country. – Rappler.com
Sources: ASEAN Public Holidays, Malaysia Day Now A Public Holiday, National Library Board: Why Is Singapore’s National Holiday Celebrated on 9 August?, Today Online: 50th National Day To Honour What It Means To Be Singaporean, Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Government Public Relations Department, Asian University Thailand: The Royal Ceremonies in Celebration of Thailand King’s Birthday Anniversary. Brunei National Day, Wikipedia, Vietnamese Independence Proclaimed Country Studies from US Library of Congress
Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.