Tuesday, July 8, 2014

FEATURE | A question of independence

By EPI FABONAN III. In the film The Dark Knight Rises, there is a scene wherein the masked mercenary, Bane asks the greedy industrialist, John Daggett just before he kills him, “Do you feel in charge?” Now, 116 years since our independence from Spain, and almost 70 years since the United States recognized our independence, there should be no harm in asking these questions: “Are we really a sovereign, independent nation? Do we feel in charge of our country?”

Freedom at a price
At noon of July 4, 1946, American High Commissioner to the Philippines Paul V. McNutt proclaimed the independence of our country. In front of thousands gathered in the purposely-built Independence Grandstand (designed by architect Juan Arellano), the American flag was slowly lowered from a flagpole while the Filipino tricolor was simultaneously hoisted up. Immediately after, Manuel A. Roxas was inaugurated as the president of the Third Philippine Republic. He and McNutt would sign the Treaty of Manila, a treaty recognizing complete independence of the Philippines and general relations between the new republic and the US. This is in compliance with the terms and conditions of the Tydings-McDuffie Law passed in 1934 wherein the US would grant the Philippines independence after 10 years of transitional Commonwealth rule.

However, our independence came with strings attached. With the new republic born from the ashes of war, it was in much need of financial assistance from the US for its rehabilitation efforts. Noticeably, after July 4, 1946, several treaties were signed between the Philippines and the US, which provided for trade concessions favoring the US and the continued presence of American military bases. These include the Philippine Rehabilitation Act (1946), Bell Trade Act (1946), Military Bases Agreement (1947), Mutual Defense Treaty (1951), and the Laurel-Langley Agreement (1955). The Bell Trade Act is particularly controversial because of its parity clause that allowed America to have equal access to our natural resources. The Military Bases Agreement, meanwhile, extended the stay of American military bases in the country for a period of 99 years (shortened to 25 years in a 1966 amendment).

From July 4 to June 12
Sixteen years later, on May 12, 1962, then President Diosdado Macapagal would sign Proclamation No. 28, declaring a return of the date of independence to June 12, 1898, when Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista read the declaration of independence from Spain at the balcony of President Emilio Aguinaldo’s house in Kawit, Cavite. The Acta de la Proclamacion de Independencia del Pueblo Filipino states that the Philippines would become an independent sovereign nation under the “protection” of the US—an irony some nationalist historians have argued. Why would an independent and sovereign nation be under the protection of a far more powerful state? With this change, our date of independence became tainted with the blood of the Father of the Revolution, Andres Bonifacio, who was executed by Aguinaldo’s men.

It is worth noting that prior to Macapagal’s proclamation, there was already an on-going lobby to reestablish June 12 as the original date of independence, led by the Philippine Historical Association (PHA). The association’s first president, Gabriel F. Fabella, filed a resolution in Congress in 1959, which was sponsored by Palawan Rep. Ramon Mitra, Sr. In the resolution, the following reasons were cited as to why June 12, 1898 should be the date of Philippine independence:

First. The United States does not celebrate its independence on the day its independence was recognized by England, but rather on the day the Americans declared their independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. American independence was only recognized on September 3, 1783. Following American precedent, we should naturally adopt June 12 since it was on that day in 1898 that Philippine independence was declared.
Second. Philippine independence celebrations, thus far, are generally overlooked and forgotten by the rest of the world. Falling as it does on the same day as that of the United States, our celebrations are overshadowed by those of the United States.
Third. In determining the date of the granting of independence to the Philippines, the Filipino people had little or nothing to do with the fixing of the date. As a matter of fact, they really cared little for the date. All they wanted was independence irrespective of the exact day.
Fourth. If the Philippines celebrates a common independence day with US, other nations might believe that the Philippines is still a part of United States.

It is also worth noting that Fabella is an ardent fan of the late President Aguinaldo, having read the latter’s exploits during the Revolutionary War against Spain and the Filipino-American War. He was such a frequent visitor at the Aguinaldo Mansion in Kawit, as part of a regular field trip of his UP Diliman History class that soon, he would be invited every year to the late president’s birthday and would become close to the Aguinaldo family. He was also instrumental in UP Diliman’s conferring to the late president of an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1953.

Another important piece of information is the fact that in 1962, prior to the change in the date of our independence, the US Congress has sponsored a $73 million appropriations bill to supplement the $400 million Philippine Rehabilitation passed in 1946. However, the bill was defeated upon voting and a very upset Macapagal decided to postpone his goodwill trip to the US that year and advocated for the change in the independence date.

An earlier date of independence?
With these problematic dates of independence, we could go back to Fabella’s logic that recognition by other countries is irrelevant in our choice of Independence Day. A closer look at his statements suggests that it stems from the desire and actions of a polity to break free from the yoke of another greater polity. We had that polity already in Haring Bayang Katagalugan, Bonifacio’s de facto nation-state born out of the insurgent Katipunan secret society. Hence, we could argue that our real declaration of independence was when Bonifacio and some 300 of his followers met in Pugadlawin, Caloocan (now in Quezon City), on August 26, 1896 to symbolically start the revolution against Spain by tearing their cedulas personales or community tax certificates. Moreover, applying the same reasoning, we could even argue that a much earlier event, the El Primer Grito of April 12, 1895 is our first declaration of independence when Bonifacio and eight other Katipuneros wrote the words Viva La Independencia Filipinas on the walls of the Pamitinan Cave in Montalban, Morong (now Rodriguez, Rizal), and cried for liberation from Spanish rule and oppression.

The lack of a written declaration is the reason why these dramatic declarations are not recognized. The accepted date is still viewed in the same spirit as the American declaration of 1776, wherein a piece of paper signed by educated men—not a nation’s collective cries of desire for freedom—is the definitive statement of independence. A written declaration warrants an official recognition from other nations, just as in Aguinaldo’s republic, even if such recognition is not universal. McNutt’s publicized declaration sounds even more tantalizing for all its glitz, glamour, and extravaganza. Sadly, the cries of Bonifacio and his men were shouts not heard around the world and have become moot and academic in the consciousness of our leaders and academia.

Do you feel in charge?
And so, 116 years after our accepted and recognized date of independence, are we a truly independent and sovereign nation? Our nation’s decisions in recent decades regarding pressing local and regional turmoil prove otherwise. We’ve very much neglected our armed forces’ capability to defend our territory from foreign aggression by confidently relying on a lopsided defense agreement instead of aggressively pursuing military modernization. We’ve allowed a regional hegemon to unabatedly encroach on waters within our patrimony and territory. We’ve allowed crooks and scoundrels to amass millions from the nation’s pockets for their personal whims and caprices. We’ve allowed the cycle to go on by voting for them each election even as millions of Filipinos wallow in unemployment, starvation, and poverty.

Independence. Sovereignty. These are big words you cannot put into reality by merely writing it on pieces of paper and reading it in public. To be truly free, a society makes its explicit desire potent through collective and effective action. On the 116th anniversary of Philippine independence, the masked mercenary Bane is asking us, “Do you feel in charge?” You know very well the answer.

Originally published in the June 12, 2014 issue of The Philippine STAR.

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