The challenge of independence
Today marks the 117th year of the Declaration of Philippine Independence.
I am so lucky I am writing this while staring at memorabilia of the Philippine revolution, a signed portrait of then General Dwight Eisenhower, a gift to General Emilio Aguinaldo; a 1933 issue of the newspaper La Vanguardia featuring the wax sculpture of Jose Rizal done by the great Guillermo Tolentino; the picture of the iconic bolo-wielding Bonifacio painting; an original flag of the Veteranos de la Revolucion, the organization put up by Aguinaldo after the revolution for the remaining Katipuneros and their families; the nine flags of the KKK; and lots of pictures of Katipuneros.
I am, after all, in the historic town of Taal, Batangas. The birthplace of many valiant revolutionaries. I walk the streets where heroes walked, go to homes where Katipunero leaders held secret meetings. I enter the homes where our heroes lived.
By being here, I somehow feel the fire of the revolution. The revolution that gave us independence.
On June 12, 1898, our forces led by General Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy declared Philippine independence from Spain through the reading and signing of “The Act of Declaration of Philippine Independence” in then Cavite-Viejo, now, Kawit, Cavite.
The event also officially adopted and proudly unfurled the Philippine flag sewn by Marcela Agoncillo under instructions from General Aguinaldo. Technically, it was the second time that the flag was hoisted as it was earlier used when Aguinaldo’s forces won the Battle of Alapan on 28 May 1898. This date is now marked as our Flag Day.
June 12, 1898 was also the first time that Julian Felipe’s “Marcha Filipino Magdalo”, now known as our national anthem, “Lupang Hinirang” was publicly played to the jubilant, proud sons and daughters of the Motherland.
The Declaration of Independence gave birth to the revolutionary government led by the 28-year-old General Miong. His men were equally young or just a bit older than him including the great Apolinario Mabini. The country was at war against our colonizers and our leaders were the youth of that time. The Declaration of Independence was a most valiant, defiant act by our young people -- in the name of other Filipinos then and now, including us.
These idealistic, patriotic young Filipinos were after the establishment of a Philippine Republic—independent and free from the clutches and oppression of Spanish friars. Despite all the odds of being at war with virtually no resources, inexperience in governance (after all, what did we know when we were their age?), and lack of models to look up to and pattern their actions after (it was the FIRST time after three hundred years that the country was to have a government), they did not lose sight of their goal of freedom for the country and its people.
Just a few months after, on September 15, 1898, Aguinaldo formally convened what is now known as the Malolos Congress whose first significant act was to ratify the June 12 Declaration of Philippine Independence. On this day, Aguinaldo is quoted as having said that, “... the Philippines is for the Filipinos” to the joyous acclamation of those gathered.
The Malolos Congress’ major task was to draft what would become as the first Philippine Constitution. On January 21, 1899 Aguinaldo promulgated the Malolos Constitution and two days after, on January 23, 1899, the Philippine Republic was inaugurated with Emilio Aguinaldo as its first President. We declared ourselves a free and independent country.
From a revolutionary to a republican government in less than seven months is no mean feat. And all these took place while our forces were fighting a war.
If our young leaders, especially Emilio Aguinaldo only desired power, no matter how their difficulties at the time, they could have opted to remain being a revolutionary government. After all, the war was not yet over. The fact that they worked to formally transform the country into a republic is a testament to their adherence to the goal of independence.
We need to give credit where it is due. We owe our freedom to the young people who fought for what we now enjoy and many times, take for granted.
There are many views on the 1898 revolution. I have even come across pieces questioning whether what our heroes paid for with their lives was a real revolution because according to them, there was no agenda for social transformation.
To them, Aguinaldo et, al. were just after removing the colonial powers and replacing it with themselves. People also tend to pit our heroes against each other. Rizal versus Bonifacio, Bonifacio versus Aguinaldo, etc.
I do not understand why we do this. Some say it is for historical accuracy. I say that there is no way to perfectly reconstruct our history. All those involved are gone now. We have incomplete records, and even the books that we read are informed by biases of their authors.
It is quite easy to be critical and raise all these questions within our present context. We have the benefit of advanced education, time to critically consider things within the comforts of our homes or offices using the technology we have now.
After all, we are not fighting a war. We are not scared that the enemy will come, get, even kill us. We do not worry that allies might be spying on us. We are not on the run.
We can say what we want because we are free. And we are free because of our forefathers and mothers who paid with their blood so we are able to do as we please.
The least that we can do is to recognize their contributions to our independence, to our being free.
As we celebrate the 117th anniversary of the declaration of our independence, perhaps we should ask ourselves if we would have fought as hard if we were in the shoes of our Katipuneros, in the same context they were in.
Our revolutionaries operated within a most difficult context. But they got what they were after-- our independence. We are in a different but much easier situation, rather than criticize the past, should we not learn from it so this independence is further enriched?
This is the challenge to us.
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