Day of freedom | Inquirer Opinion

Day of freedom

On June 12, 1898, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the Philippines’ freedom from the rule of Spain. It was our day of freedom.

But was it, really?

In the coming days, the significance of freedom will again be drilled in our consciousness as our national flags fly high along Edsa and at government offices. Such feeling of pride would have been overtaken by the juicy Senate hearings on the real identity of Bamban, Tarlac Mayor Alice Guo. Once again, netizens have been hooked to national entertainment, allegedly in aid of legislation. The general sentiment is: “Just spill the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

It’s an expression we often hear in academic lectures, sermons, movies, speeches, and court hearings. But not everyone is aware that this widely accepted quotation originally came from Jesus Christ. The context and meaning then were quite different from how we loosely use it now. In the Gospel according to St. John, Jesus’ statement in its original context had nothing to do with the admission of a lying witness, the acceptance of a rule, or a new academic theory.


Jesus said to the people who believed in Him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

Jesus’ audience at that time were those who claimed to be His followers. And He told them that He was the truth who would set them free, but not from the shackles of the Roman Empire, as the Jews had wished. Jesus was talking of a kind of freedom that would release them from the bondage of sin that had been gradually crippling them. There was rampant hypocrisy so that evil compromises became the norm. These included taxing the poor heavily, while tax collectors accepted bribes. The widows, people with disabilities, and the poor, were neglected while majestic temples stood. Religious teachers and political leaders would pray, tithe, fast, and sacrifice expensive animals to impress their followers.

Given that Christianity is the dominant religion in the Philippines, how are our values and practices as Christians making an impact on our society? How come honesty seems to be a lost virtue, especially among leaders and workers from the public and private sectors? As surveyed by Transparency International, the Philippines has a corruption index of 115 out of 180 countries. How come the Church’s teaching to care for the poor seems unheeded? Over the past decade, the number of poor Filipinos has remained at 25.24 million. According to the World Bank, we are reducing poverty much slower than our neighbors, say, China, Indonesia, and Vietnam, with an average annual poverty reduction rate of 2.1 to 2.4 percent, compared to the Philippines’ one percentage point reduction rate per year.

More disturbing is the fact that rich Filipinos are getting richer, while the poor are getting poorer. A World Bank 2022 report estimates that the top 1 percent of earners capture 17 percent of national income, while the bottom 50 percent get only 14 percent. This gap, according to the same report, is one of the biggest in the world. As a nation, we should lament this.


The truth shall set you free. What should this mean to a Christian country and to those professing to be followers of Christ? First, the freedom He’s offering is freedom from the bondage of sin—both personal and systemic. It means release from the old lifestyle of laziness, making shortcuts to circumvent the law, doing mediocre work, making decisions based on kinship, accepting and initiating bribes. It also means policies, systems, and structures that compel us to do what is right even when no one is looking.

Leonora Aquino-Gonzales used to work at the World Bank as a senior communication specialist. She now teaches at the College of Mass Communication, University of the Philippines.

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