We Filipinos today mark the 112th anniversary of the declaration of independence on June 12, 1898, the same day the Philippine flag was first unfurled and the anthem played.
What is the meaning and relevance of “Independence Day” nowadays? Some say “freedom” is already a much-abused and even hated word, to the extent that a number of Filipinos actually want the country to be re-colonized by the United States. The premise, however false, is that we Filipinos misuse our “freedom” and exploit our “democracy”, that we have a “damaged culture”, that we need a savior to save us from ourselves.
There are also those who wish to gloss over even a slight mention of big, important things for the sake of so-called peace. Yes, nobody wants to remind us of our awesome problems as a nation and people. We endure those problems everyday. But the longer we pretend that everything’s fine and harbor the illusion that we already have real, authentic and substantive freedom, we prolong the bad state we are in.
Our flag is a reminder that once upon a time, apathy and cynicism were not in the vocabulary and mindset of Filipinos. Once upon a time, there was solidarity to bring (independence) light to the darkness (foreign rule) that pervaded the country, and to bring the blessings of a free Republic to ourselves as a people.
We could remain cocooned inside the comfort of our homes and our airconditioned offices, while away time in front of our computers, and pretend the fight has long ended. Nothing is new with that. That was the same mentality that brought down the revolution, replaced it with unprincipled collaboration and eventually grinding cynicism. These however just fail to bring meaning and substance to our lives.
Workers and Filipino businessmen have one thing in common: That left to our own devices, sans the control of multinational banks and corporations that have long monopolized capital and limited opportunities, we can industrialize the country, provide mass employment and cut down poverty.
Farmers seek land reform not to shame the landlords (although many of them, especially the violent and despotic ones deserve it) but to get their rightful place in the country. Farmers freed from landlord abuse and foreign agrocorporations would be in a better position to ensure food security and end the seemingly-permanent poverty in the provinces.
Genuine freedom does not mean shutting down our doors and windows. We just have to give ourselves the honor and responsibility of determining our own fate. Unfortunately, the free Republic many would like to believe was proclaimed under the protection of some big country and, up to this day, is (mis-)guided by so-called special relations with it. Make no mistake about it, we have never attained national independence. Nominal independence, yes. Real independence, no.
It is not too late yet though. Many Filipinos have long stood up for the cause of national independence. They used to be branded as “bandidos” or “tulisanes” to shame them. Now they are being called “terrorists”. Sometimes, they cause inconveniences like traffic jams during demonstrations. Sometimes, they knock on our doors to campaign for partylist representation in the hopelessly pro-rich Congress. At other times, they are our parents, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, sons, daughters and friends who say no to the conventional, and travel the road less traveled. Sometimes, they come in the form of entrepreneurs complaining of high taxes and red tape. They also come in the form of overseas Filipino workers who are denied opportunities to work in their own country. Sometimes, we find ourselves in the midst of it, like in Edsa Dos, and I sure know how it felt. It felt liberating. Parang binubunutan ka ng tinik sa dibdib.
As we pay tribute today to our founding fathers (and mothers) who led the revolution until near-victory, let us put a new meaning to our flag. May it always remind us that we owe it to them and ourselves to bring reality and substance to the freedom we have long claimed to possess and enjoy.
It is always time to make freedom a real thing for all of us.