Freedom Day and family

AS CADETS at the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City, one event we always looked forward to was the celebration of Independence Day on July 4. In a convoy of buses the entire corps of cadets would move to Manila to spearhead the military parade that was one of the highlights of the festivities, topped by an evening dress parade at the Luneta, enabling us to perform before a highly appreciative audience. It was one of the rare occasions when we would be allowed to visit with family and girlfriends just before the start of the academic year.

In 1962, President Diosdado Macapagal decided to move Independence Day from July 4 to June 12.


In an article written in June 1998, historian Ambeth Ocampo said that a Philippines-US disagreement brought about the change. Macapagal’s memoirs, “A Stone for the Edifice,” mentions a rejection by the US House of Representatives of an additional $73-million war damage claim. This provided the spark for the change of dates, an action Macapagal says he had been contemplating since entering public life.

Stanley Karnow in his book “In Our Image,” reveals a different reason for the change in dates. Karnow says that Macapagal told him, “When I was in the diplomatic corps I noticed that nobody came to our receptions on the Fourth of July, but went instead to the American Embassy. So to compete, I decided that we needed a different holiday.”


The official version indicates that it was on June 12, 1898, that President Emilio Aguinaldo from the balcony of his home in Kawit, Cavite, proclaimed the independence of the First Republic in Asia, and the end of Spanish rule. Incidentally, the Philippine national flag made in Hong Kong by Marcela Mariño de Agoncillo, with help from Delfina Herbosa, was officially unfurled during the festivities. A day earlier, the Philippine national anthem, originally known as the “Marcha Filipina Magdalo,” was played for the first time before a group of Philippine dignitaries.

Whatever the real reason may be, I have no problem with June 12. It happens to be the birth date of my father. His birthday coinciding with Philippine Independence Day has served as a reminder for me to maintain a sense of independence in thought and in action regardless of what others had to say.

* * *

Modesto Farolan was born at the turn of the century, in 1900, in the rural town of Sarrat, Ilocos Norte, to middleclass parents. His formal education consisted of secondary schoolwork at UP High, Padre Faura. Everything else was self-taught and on-the-job training as he moved from cub reporter in the Manila Daily Bulletin, to city editor of the Philippines Herald, the pioneer Filipino daily in English during those days. He would become editor of the paper in 1931 and after World War II, editor in chief and publisher of the same. His rise in the newspaper world was proof that hard work, discipline and drive, could substitute for academic degrees if one was determined to move ahead in life. After the grant of independence he served as press secretary to President Manuel Roxas and, shortly after, was appointed first Philippine consul general to Honolulu, Hawaii.

A close confidante of President Elpidio Quirino (Apo Pidiong), he served as a member of the UP Board of Regents, an appointment that did not sit well with some PhDs of the UP academic family. Why should a mere high school graduate be involved in the affairs of the university? But he dealt with this situation as firmly as he ran the newsroom when he was putting out a paper.

When Ramon Magsaysay defeated Quirino in the presidential election of 1953, I could sense his disappointment as well as the hurt, as old friends made themselves scarce or unavailable. In one of his letters just a few weeks after the elections, he wrote of how “when a tree has fallen, everyone makes firewood of it.”

Many people thought that with Quirino’s defeat Farolan was finished with government work. But President Ramon Magsaysay in a display of statesmanship, not often seen these days, appointed him the nation’s first commissioner of tourism, a new sub-Cabinet post that emphasized the growing importance of tourism as a source of revenue and much-needed foreign exchange. For his pioneering work in tourism, he would earn the title of “Father of Philippine Tourism,” an honor posthumously bestowed on him during the term of President Cory Aquino.


My father would also serve as ambassador to South Vietnam, Cambodia, Switzerland, Austria and Indonesia. When I arrived to take up my post in Jakarta, his old friends thought that he was returning for a second tour in Indonesia. Ten years of his diplomatic career would be spent in this country, and he was dean of the corps for most of that period. In the words of his friend and colleague, Benjamin Salvosa, president of Baguio Colleges Foundation (now University of the Cordilleras), he was “the acme of the informal process of self-education and self-discipline.”

In his lifetime he would serve six presidents of the republic—Roxas, Quirino, Magsaysay, Garcia, Macapagal and Marcos—each of them belonging to different political affiliations. He would always remind me, “As public officials, we serve the nation, not individuals.”

Modesto Farolan was born on June 12, Philippine Independence Day. I was born on Aug. 31, Malaysia’s National Day, and his grandchild, my only daughter Carmela, was born on Aug. 17, Indonesia’s Merdeka Day. Three generations of our family are identified with the birth of freedom in three Asean countries.

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TAGS: Diosdado Macapagal, History, Holiday, Independence Day, Modesto Farolan, opinion
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