Wednesday, June 13, 2007

June 12, 1898 and July 4, 1946, Two Philippine Independence Days

I'm certainly not the expert on the facts surrounding Philippine Independence, but AS USUAL, I have my observations and opinions as an American outsider on what I see and hear over here.

So, when it comes to this topic, what DO I see? That's easy—not much, as in not much happening.

Like so many aspects of this country's history, Philippine independence seems to inspire little more than ambivalence among the common folk that I know. It’s not really even celebrated, at least not like what I’m used to back home. I can’t imagine such indifference in the States during our own July 4th celebrations. Yet, based on the actual events of June 12, 1898, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. In the end, things did not go well in the months and years that followed. By the end of 1898 a soundly defeated Spain ceded the Phils to the United States, and right or wrong, President McKinley decided to keep it. What followed was The Philippine Insurrection, a long war that was ultimately lost by the Filipinos to the USA.

The average citizen doesn’t know that June 12 was not even the original holiday. Or perhaps more appropriately, they don’t realize that it HAD BEEN the original, before being superseded. Until 1964, starting from 1946, July 4th was THE day marking this nation’s independence. The current president’s father, Diosdado Macapagal, who was the president in 1964, must have decided that sharing July 4th with the U.S as their Independence Day was just too much a source of national embarrassment.

I can understand the pride that went into his decision. After all, the way they see it, we “granted” them their sovereignty. The July 4th date was a reminder to those mostly academics and elite “in the know” that their freedom was more our decision than it was theirs. Basically, the Americans “gave permission” to the Philippines that it was ready for self rule, and that must have been a pretty bitter pill to have to swallow.

At the time, it was probably done in what we thought was a spirit of good will, but in hindsight, we should have done it on a different date—like June 12th maybe? But, who knows—(And I’m sure someone does)—perhaps Filipinos were in on the decision as well? To put it mildly, sometimes feelings between nations change over the years. In the jubilant months just after WWII I’m sure there was a lot of Filipino-American cooperation and friendship, which apparently had melted away by the 1960s.

Interestingly, the original 1898 declarer of Philippine Kalayaan (freedom), Emilio Aguinaldo, was still alive in 1964 at the age of 94, when President Macapagal made his decision to change the official date of independence to June 12; although Aguinaldo died on February 6, a few months before the actual new independence date could be celebrated. Knowing politicians and their sense of the theatrical, I’m sure Macapagal wanted to make some political hay out of having Emilio around during the big kick off.

In a way, the Philippines has three Independence Days. It could be argued quite strongly that the overthrow of the Marcos Regime on February 25, 1986 is THE most appropriate day of the three to celebrate. And without a doubt, of the three holidays, the February 25th EDSA Day is probably the most understood by the populace. Sadly, not much has changed here since then. I clearly remember the heady exuberance and optimism that followed the days of “people power.” Unfortunately, not much has come of it.

Academics here would never admit to such a thing, but the Philippines was neither ready nor capable of maintaining its territorial integrity in 1898. The Spanish had seen to that. Thanks to the Spanish, indigenous Filipinos did not speak a common language; they spoke a sea of them. And, the host of different peoples certainly did not yet have a sense of being part of a single nation nor did they share a culture, except for that given to them by their Spanish overlords. Thus, the archipelago was easy pickings for continued control by the rest of the colonialist world. The Dutch, Germans, Brits and a host of others were waiting for the U.S. to leave so they could swoop in, pull it apart, and take over.

Personally, I think the July 4th day, now called Filipino American Friendship Day, is the one that marks the true spirit of Philippine independence. By the end of the war against Japan, Filipinos had certainly proven they were capable of self-rule. And even though it could be said that we had consented to their sovereignty, in reality, it was pressure from the Filipinos themselves that had finally made it happen.

Then again, who says that any country has to have the same kind of spirited Independence Day that the States have? After all, the French still proudly celebrate their so-called Independence on Bastille Day, which marks the day in 1790 when the masses stormed the hated Bastille. Thing is, it was also the start of one of the bloodiest and most unsavory periods of France’s history. Who needs that?


KA said...

Ironic, isnt it? Considering Filipinos are a people that love celebrating... Pageants, Graduations, Weddings, Birthdays are huge! I mean, just look at how big a deal Christmas and New years is!
The philippines indeed won it's independence from Spain, but the spanish surrendered to the United States Navy after they fired a shot at Manila. A navy can't win a Land War, the Filipino Army had won the war, but the US claimed a victory. After that we were then McKinley's "Little Brown Brother" who needed to be civilized through Christianity. That was quite enlightened of him since we were already Catholic. It's a divisive issue though - some people still support Maros, Some people are still proud of their Spanish and Western Heritage. I dont know about the Provinces, but that's what I remember from my childhood.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Well close, but you don't have it exactly right Katana. The Philippine fighters you refer to had reconstituted after Aguinaldo had been brought back from his exile in Hong Kong by the United States. Remember? He had already been defeated and bought off by the Spanish during the rebellion / revolution of '96. Dewey's destruction of the Spanish Navy in Manila Bay effectively isolated and demoralized the Spanish forces in Manila. From that moment their days were numbered and they knew it.

What the Americans probably should have done was to work with the Filipinos instead of disregarding them, but unfortunately, it was a different world back then. The world, and in this case the United States, operated on a much less enlightened level.

We probably should have declared the Philippines a protectorate and used our power and means to influence events here instead of running roughshod over Aguinaldo and crew.

What we did do though was to invest huge in trying to educate and build a new Philippines in our image. Was that an arrogant mistake? In hindsight, perhaps. But at least we tried. The Spanish had been here for centuries and had worked to keep the masses ignorant, their only goal being to maintain control. By comparison, thousands of American teachers and administrators poured into the country and changed this place forever, although I think we could have done more.

If I had been in charge I would have done things very much differently, but hindsight is 20/20. First of all, I wouldn't have continued to use the ruling families to control the cities and provinces as we opted to do out of expediency. By doing that all we managed to do was to continue and maintain a corrupt Spanish system designed primarily for status quo. Thanks to us its what we have today, and obviously, the status quo sucks!

McKinley's "little brown brothers" remark was unfortunate. As far as using Christianity to spread enlightenment, the islands were already Christian of the Roman persuasion.

Instead of religion, the early American administrators here were actually more concerned with trying to teach Filpinos the basics of bureaucracy, only the American way of doing it.

However, the slow-moving more relaxed and more corrupt Spanish way was already deeply rooted and became "the Filipino way." It drove us nuts back then, and it still drives us nuts when we have to deal with it. No matter what we tried, we couldn't change it. It just seems to suit the local persona, so that's probably the way it will always be here.

Anyway, its all in the past now. I hope a new and better heritage can be developed from this point on. It might be slow, but I have seen some good changes, so all is not hopeless.

Nick Ballesteros said...

I am happy to say that at least I listened to Philippine history back in grade school. I am aware that we, once upon a time, celebrated Independence Day every 4th of July, and then it was changed to June 12.

True, this day isn't as glamorously celebrated as Christmas or All Souls Day, or the fiestas, and I tend to agree with you in the vast diversity between the islands being a factor. That, and the Spanish influence.

Moving the non-working day to another day to create a long weekend isn't helping either. Sure, people get to enjoy longer weekends, but the essence behind the holiday gets lost in the process.

Ed said...

Well written Phil. Now if I could just persuade some of my Filipino friends to understand all of this.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Wat, I know what you mean. Sometimes the shuffling of days out of convenience trivializes the events in people's minds.

Ed, I was just talking to a coed about the June 12 events from '98 that inspired the holiday and she was shocked. She admitted that she thought all this time that the day was to mark the Pinatubo eruption!

Looks like I got a LOT of work to do!

Anonymous said...

Whether it is celebrated on June 12 or July 4, Independence Day is actually a misnomer since we never really gained independence anyway the way the Thais or the Malays, and even the Chinese, did.

A lot of the atributes of our nationhood are still either driven, dictated or influenced by our colonial masters (foreign policy, national defense) and each administration (from Roxas to GMA) are just happy to accommodate the Americans. I don't think that would change considering that we Filipinos look up at some "authority" to pat us on the back or give us a critical look to ensure that we're doing the job right. We yearn for Uncle Sam's blessings in everything the government does and to them, the govt officials, it's kind of legitimacy or something.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Joey D, are you bitter against "neo-colonial America" or with the "accomodating" actions of the Phil government, as you say? Or, perhaps with both? If so, can you provide examples?

As far as the examples you do cite: Thailand was always free of colonialism, in fact thats what the name of the country means "free," but even they have their occasional military coups. The Malays were once under a strong British influence but managed to maintain their own identity after independence. China was dominated by colonial powers, but was never really colonized, except for Hong Kong by the Brits, and Macau by the Portuguese; now its probably the most tyrannical nation on the face of the earth. I'm not certain you can really use those places as good examples for independence as compared to the Philippine model.

Thing is, all that stuff SHOULD be in the past. But, as far as the Philippines, it has never seemed to have recovered from its past. 60 years on from its independence from the America, I still hear a lot of complaining about our "influence." Strong countries will always seek to influence others; its what they do. We don't try to influence this nation any more or less than any other.

In the case of the Phils, most of the bitterness and angst among Filipinos, especially from academics, I think stems from the anger they feel over this country's continuous economic woes. Somehow its always someone else's fault.

Its obvious to most anyone who has lived and studied here that the primary causes of your economic stagnation is your own gov't, its corruption and policies, as well as from the constitution itself. For example, its easier (and LESS risky) for an American businessman (or any foreigner) to invest in China and to earn a profit than it is here in the Philippines. Therefore, investment goes there instead of here.

As far as freedom, there is no doubt that the Philippines is free and independent. We can exert all the influence we want, but ultimately its your own leaders who make all the internal decisions. The reason that the Philippines is not the economic powerhouse that it SHOULD be is NOT because of the bad ol USA. After living here these past five years, its plain to me that the Philippines is its own worst enemy. So much could be done that hasn't been.

Getting back to freedom. The Philippines is free to fail or prosper on its own. It is after all, independent. Continuing to fix blame on outside causes is a crutch and it makes people less likely to fix the REAL problems, which are mostly organic to WITHIN the Philippines.

Having said all that, perhaps the best Independence Day is February 25th. It reminds us that Filipinos actually CAN effect change within their own country.

Anonymous said...

I don't I was blaming the U.S.of A. for my country's woes in my comment. I think I was clear that it is us Filipinos who seem to be very dependent on some form of "authority" to guide its growth and development. Government leaders as I said seem to be yearning for America's (ie, "authority") blessing in every thing it does. Of course, what else could the bureaucrats in Washington do but take advantage of the subservience, inefficiency, ineptitude and corruption of whatever Filipino govt in place.

Blaming outsiders for my country's woes is already passe. The days of "down-with-american-imperialism' is obviously a pointless slogan, especially when once poor countries surrounding us(Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and even Vietnam) have become economic powerhouses on their own.

Yeah, very true, we are own worst enemy and it's just too bad when we Filipinos just realize it when we are outside looking in.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Well said Joey D... I read you loud and clear...