For most of my childhood, we observed Philippine Independence Day on July 4, as we were taught that we were granted independence by the United States on that date, in 1946.
It was not until 1962 that President Diosdado Macapagal had our Independence Day moved to June 12, marking our declaration of independence in 1898. Technically then, July 4, 1946, was the day we regained our independence.
More than the holiday we observe today as Independence Day, June 12 speaks of a people in search of ourselves. More, then, than that once-a-year celebration, we need to learn more about how we have struggled, for more than a hundred years, for independence, with so much untaught in schools and, just as importantly, so much to unlearn, as in the idea that we were “granted independence.”
Heres’ my take on what “Independence 101” could be in the K-to-12 system, which provides for Philippine history in both senior high school and college.
June 12, 1898, provides a valuable marker, a turning point in the saga that is our history. For young students, it is important to talk about our precolonial period, one which, with so many new archaeological findings, is showing a richness in terms of local cultures and political structures both local and regional. Tribes they may have been, but our ancestors surely had a sense of independence and freedom.
Early on, our students need to understand the colonial intrusion that happened, explained with local terms like “sakop” (to be occupied). It is a history of an encounter of cultures: language, religion, even food. It is a history, too, of political development, of how we were (and still are) divided along tribal and regional affiliations, of how “Filipino” was reserved for Spaniards born in the Philippines until Rizal and the Propaganda Movement expropriated it to become more inclusive: the indios (“natives”) and mestizos and, yes, even the Spaniards born here.
Early on, our students must learn of the many revolts against Spain, until we get to the Philippine Revolution that was not limited, as is often taught, to eight provinces in Luzon. The Philippine Revolution needs to be framed against the backdrop of global developments, of western, particularly American, expansionism and of the Spanish-American War.
High school students can learn about the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, when a US naval fleet fought a brief battle that defeated Spain. That event hastened the Declaration of Philippine Independence on June 12 by Filipinos revolutionaries, establishing the first constitutional republic in Asia.
Also for high school, we should include the Treaty of Paris, signed Dec. 10, 1898, which ended the Spanish-American War. Spain relinquished sovereignty over Cuba and sold, for $20 million, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to the United States.
The chronology should continue and include how Philippine independence was betrayed as the United States occupied the Philippines, and led to the outbreak of a bloody Philippine-American War in February 1899. We should talk about continuing struggles for independence throughout the American occupation, not just parliamentary struggles but also different forms of resistance, from guerrillas in the countryside to subversive zarzuelas in Manila’s theaters.
Resistance against Japan during World War II also relates to the continuing struggle for independence. Then, in the postwar ruins, there was the July 4 “independence.”
College history will deal with older, more discerning students who can now learn the back stories behind dull dates. Just one example: We need to talk in the classroom about how Felipe Agoncillo, an official of the First Philippine Republic, was denied participation in the negotiations on the Treaty of Paris.
There are many gaps that need to be filled in our history textbooks, for example the role of women in our struggles for independence. History needs to become alive — to encourage our young to look at local histories, at unsung heroes and heroines in their own towns and barangay, in their families.
Independence is not just about 1898, or 1946. College history can tackle what independence meant during martial law, including how Marcos deftly played the superpowers to keep himself in power.
In college, in other general education subjects, we should talk about independence as it relates to foreign policy and economic development. What does independence mean, with 10 percent of our population working overseas? What does independence mean, in relation to our maritime resources?
What does independence mean, in relation to the food on our table? Why do we still have to import rice, and did you know the local poultry industry is practically dead now, because it’s cheaper to just import dressed chicken from the United States?
Keep independence in our consciousness more than once a year, in and out of classrooms, in the arts, literature, film and the many stories and narratives of struggle.
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