For the past 114 years, June 12 marks the day wherein the Philippine Flag was lifted just about everywhere in the country. This year, P-Noy led the Independence day rites at Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan, where the Malolos Congress was held in 1898 to draft the constitution of the first republic in Asia and Africa. Meanwhile, a ‘Kalayaan Job Fair’ at Rizal Park, Manila with at least 43,000 job opportunities was also part of the Independence Day commemoration. But not that far from the job fair site, Philippine riot police blocked protesters and farmers from marching toward the U.S. Embassy. They slammed the government’s land reform program as ineffective and said the presence of U.S. counterterrorism troops in the south has undermined Philippine independence.
As I watched the morning and evening’s newscasts on Tuesday, I was inclined to reflect on how the celebration of our Independence Day was usually depicted. Television reports were just mere accounts of the flag-raising ceremonies done in various locations of the Philippines followed by the speeches of important government officials – who to me regard independence as lip service.
Do we see the multitude of people attending this very important event? Do we feel a sense of celebration because we are free? Is independence truly celebrated by Filipinos as they are given a day off from work or school?
Those who would immediately answer these questions with ‘no’ are those who feel that we are not free at all after 114 years of independence, including myself. We obviously know our history, that the Philippines experienced three waves of colonization, namely under Spain for nearly 400 years, under United States for nearly 50 years and a brief four years of Japanese occupation during the US Commonwealth period prior to independence in 1946. However, in these contemporary times, I tend to believe what we have is a façade of freedom.
I agree with retired Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno when he said that we have not been truly freed when we wrote our Constitution in 1935 for our writing hands were guided by our American colonizers. The revision of our Constitution in 1973 was bound by martial rule. Fourteen years later, we had our best chance to break away from oligarchic control following the ascendancy of Corazon Aquino to presidency in 1986. However, we blew it because the constitutional commission gave the power and responsibility to Congress.
The return to a presidential system after that peaceful revolt in 1986 only gave room for a highly centralized national government. It also paved the way for local leaders to work towards reserving their powers to themselves. In effect, political parties abundantly grew, built around prominent individuals, which focused entirely on winning elections, not on what to do with the power achieved.
What gains do we have in this façade of freedom? That to me would only be misery and ills of our so-called “democratic” institutions. Filipinos, who are continuously building their identities, are continuously challenged to understand the meaning of freedom. Some may regard that this freedom is only pseudo-independence. This then becomes an important venue to capture the meaning of freedom which can be translated into wise decision-making. This applies not only to the selection of the right government officials. More importantly, it shall highlight making the right choices for the Philippines and its people.
Article by: Heidi B. Baraan