It was on June 12, 1898, when the “Act of the Proclamation of Independence of the Filipino People” was read at General Emilio Aguinaldo’s ancestral house in Kawit, Cavite. The country’s independence, however, was not achieved quickly.
Through the Treaty of Paris, the Spaniards ceded its control of the islands to the Americans, causing the Philippine-American War and, consequently, United States’ rule of the country. It was only on July 4, 1946, when independence was totally granted to the Philippines. Since then, Independence Day was celebrated on July 4.
Then in 1962, the country’s ninth President, Diosdado Macapagal, proclaimed June 12 a public holiday “in commemoration of our people’s declaration of their inherent and inalienable right to freedom and independence.” The change was confirmed through Republic Act No. 4166 in 1964.
President Macapagal explained why such a move is appropriate in a speech he delivered on June 12, 1962.
Since the nation’s right to liberty is not derived from the grant or recognition of another but is an attribute it naturally holds, Mr. Macapagal found it “proper that what we should celebrate not the day when other nations gave recognition to our independence, but the day when we declared our desire to exercise our inherent and inalienable right to freedom and independence.”
He further explained that compared to the independence granted by the Americans in 1946, the declaration of independence in 1898 is signified by the determination and unity of local government leaders to revolt.
He credited General Aguinaldo for galvanizing the entire nation to action, that when he “formally assumed political command and declared his country free from [colonizers], a nation came into being.”
“There had been other Asian revolutions before. But the revolution which culminated on June 12, 1898 was the first successful national revolution in Asia since the coming of the West, and the Republic to which it gave birth was the first democratic Republic outside of the Western hemisphere,” he added.
President Macapagal’s speech also hinted at reasons why Philippine independence is worth celebrating.
Independence Day obviously stands as a reminder of that long-fought battle for freedom and the people behind it.
Many who are very observant of our history might see the nuances within the narratives, which are worth exploring. It still stands true, nonetheless, that the June 12 declaration was a fruit of a united resolve.
“I moved the observance of the anniversary of our independence to this day,” President Macapagal spoke, “because a nation is born into freedom on the day when such a people, molded into a nation by a process of cultural evolution and a sense of oneness born of common struggle and suffering, announces to the world that it asserts its natural right to liberty and is ready to defend it with blood, life and honor.”
The nation’s rough yet triumphant journey to freedom is one of those things Filipinos should never forget. This commemoration is an admonition for Filipinos to cultivate a thirst for knowing the rich history of the country, including its struggle for independence.
Mr. Macapagal, in fact, recognized in his speech the heroes whose “acts of patriotism and nationalism” contributed towards gaining the independence that the nation now enjoys.
He cited heroes such as Lapu-Lapu; Rajah Soliman; Rajah Lakandula; Francisco Dagohoy; Diego and Gabriela Silang; Apolonario de la Cruz; Fathers Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora (more known as GomBurZa); and Dr. Jose Rizal, among others.
Independence Day also serves as an apt moment for Filipinos to reflect on who they are in light of all these, and of what they could give in return as benefactors of this emancipation which took pains to be attained.
“[I]t is fitting that as we commemorate the anniversary of the declaration of our independence and as we recall the glorious events surrounding it,” the late statesman said, “we should examine ourselves and ask if we have been worthy of the heritage of freedom which our heroes bequeathed to us and for which thousands of our patriots so willingly shed their blood. Let independence day therefore be an occasion not only for commemoration, but for spiritual self-examination.”
For President Macapagal, the heroes have a right to ask of Filipinos how strong their Republic is today. This evokes a sense of responsibility left for us to be productive and truthful citizens.
These heroes, he added, might well ask the businessman if he did his best to improve his methods of production and to increase his marketing efficiency. They also might well ask students if they have been diligently studying “not only for high marks, but for the sake of learning,” in order to fully contribute to the nation’s overall progress. They might well ask politicians if they are placing the Nation’s greater good above their “narrow self-interest”.
“Our heroes might well ask us all: What have you done for your country?” he concluded. — Adrian Paul B. Conoza