July the 4th
From 1946 to 1962, we celebrated Philippine Independence Day on July 4 and described it as the day “the Philippines was granted independence by the United States.” President Diosdado Macapagal corrected that error on June 12, 1962, invoking Emilio Aguinaldo’s declaration of independence from Spain in 1898 as our “true independence day.”
Bear with me as I run through multiple dates. Almost 60 years after Macapagal promulgated that important correction, I feel we still need to grasp more deeply the significance of the events surrounding these different dates.
June 12, 1898, was the declaration of independence, with the first official rendition of a Philippine national anthem and the raising of a Philippine flag. Aguinaldo declared himself dictator but on the advice of Apolinario Mabini, agreed to become president of a revolutionary government.
Meanwhile, the US, long coveting Spanish possessions, won an almost farcical Spanish-American War that lasted eight months, including a token Battle of Manila Bay where it defeated an antiquated Spanish armada. With Spain’s defeat, a Treaty of Paris agreed on Dec. 10, 1898 on the spoils of war, and Cuba’s declaration of independence from Spain but not the Philippines’. Instead, we were sold, together with Guam and Puerto Rico, to the United States.
Our revolutionary government continued despite the annexation, with work on the country’s first constitution. On Jan. 23, 1899, the First Philippine Republic was declared in Bulacan, with Aguinaldo as its first president. That republic was Asia’s first, and inspired other republican revolutionaries including those of China and Korea.
That date was recognized as Araw ng Republikang Filipino by President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III in 2013—almost a historical footnote since the date is not a holiday and I really cannot remember any significant commemorative activities.
July 4 is the US’ Independence Day, commemorating the Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1776. That declaration, too, captured the imagination of many anti-colonial revolutionaries throughout the world. Our own Filipino revolutionaries had hoped the US would not take over the Philippines, believing the Americans’ cherished freedom, having had to fight for it the previous century.
We waged our own struggle to regain independence all through the American colonial period, through both armed struggle (a long Philippine-American War) as well as through parliamentary means.
America promised a transition into independence but made sure the script would make us feel that we owed our independence to them. When Gen. Douglas MacArthur fled the Philippines as the Japanese invaders advanced, he declared “I shall return,” leaving us, including US soldiers captured by the Japanese, pretty much on our own. His return in 1945 was hailed as Liberation and, the following year, on July 4, we saw America “granting” us independence.
July 4 went through strange metamorphoses in the Philippines. After it was dislodged as our Independence Day, it became Republic Day, almost like a concession. Under Marcos, Republic Day vanished and July 4 was declared Philippine-American Friendship Day. I’ve already mentioned how Republic Day was reconfigured in 2013 under President Noynoy.
I wouldn’t mind giving more attention to July 4 as Philippine-American Friendship Day, in the sense of commemorating America’s bold experiment with democracy. Alas, we adopted too many of the superficial aspects of American government, such as names of agencies, and quite a number of laws but without understanding their spirit.
Particularly at this juncture in history, the US’ current and turbulent soul-searching around its democratic institutions is important for the Philippines and for the world.
Take time to watch Netflix’s excellent documentary, “Amend: The Fight for America,” which deals with the American Constitution’s 14th amendment, passed in 1868 in the aftermath of the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery. For the first time in American history, citizenship was defined as a birthright, together with rights and privileges, including due process, equal protection and so many other vital aspects of democracy. The last episode in “Amend” talks about immigrants (was that Manny Pacquiao flashed on the screen?) and how definitions of equal protection are extended even to non-citizens, immigrants in particular seeking a better and more secure life.
More than movies and pop culture and consumer goods (now mostly made in China), there is much to learn from America, and to celebrate, July 4 or June 12.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.