Freedom is not free: A look into Filipino Independence Day

"Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?"
(from Jose Rizal's El Filibusterismo)

Independence Day
Photo courtesy of
On June 12, the Philippines commemorates Independence Day once more. The current legal basis of this holiday is Republic Act No. 4166, which changed the date from July 4 to June 12. However, the Filipino experience of fighting for independence may seem a peculiar one for the rest of the world. For instance, the United States from Britain (1775-1783), the nations of South America from Spain (1810-1833), and Romania from the Ottoman Empire (1877), among others, all fought for and won their armed struggle for independence. As for the Philippines, we formally celebrate our independence on a date when we did not even win it yet. What are we independent from? Should we celebrate it in the first place? This led to criticism that we are remembering an empty and false independence day. If that is the case, when should we celebrate Filipino independence? A number of dates have been forwarded throughout the years, and let us take a look at some of them.

Cover of Maktan 1521, a comic
depicting the Battle of Mactan
Photo courtesy of Tepai Pascual
April 27
On April 27, 1521, what is now the Battle of Mactan saw the local ruler Lapu-Lapu emerging victorious over the outnumbered Spanish troops led by Ferdinand Magellan. To this day, Lapu-Lapu is widely regarded as the hero who "fought against foreign domination." This is why some may consider the date as our rightful day of independence. As a consolation, Proclamation No. 200 declared April 27 as Lapu-Lapu Day.

Of course, there are issues that may be looked at before we can proclaim April 27 as independence day. Taking the event into context, engaging in battle is not a matter of last resort. It is an opportunity to assert supremacy. The battle involved large numbers of troops. If we are to believe foreign accounts, both Humabon and Lapu-Lapu may have had as many as 3,000 to 4,000 each. Magellan only had 60. However, pre-colonial diplomacy shows that perception of strength is more potent in negotiations than actual strength.  This is why Magellan risked it despite being outnumbered. Whether he was confident of their technological superiority or he wanted to impress his new allies (Rajah Humabon and company), Magellan took a costly gamble. Humabon, for his part, was just too wise not to participate in the battle. One should also explore the intent of the Magellan expedition. While they did claim the islands (by naming it, persuading the rulers to obey the Spanish king, and baptizing the people into Christianity), the main objective is to reach the Spice Islands (Moluccas/Melaka), and circumnavigate the world to prove that the earth is not flat. Besides, if the Spanish never got to occupy Mactan anyway, then Lapu-Lapu would not have to declare independence from anyone or anything. All the polities in the Philippines at the time were independent of each other, and battles between them are commonplace. In the Filipino perspective, the foreigner Magellan is no exception. Instead, he became a player in the existing diplomatic and military norms being practiced at the time.

How about Lapu-Lapu and his agenda? If we are to believe Cebu folklore, it seemed that Lapu-Lapu was a foreigner, and Rajah Humabon was well established in Cebu when Lapu-Lapu arrived from Borneo. Lapu-Lapu asked Humabon for land to develop, which may go to show that Humabon was the authority figure in the area. Humabon offered Opong (Mactan), but Lapu-Lapu preferred Mandawili ((Mandaue) in mainland Cebu. When the Spanish arrived, it appears that Lapu-Lapu had to settle with Mactan, and Humabon refused his request. Was Lapu-Lapu a threat to Cebu? To an extent, there is even the notion that Lapu-Lapu was a pirate chief. Was he involved in pangangayaw (raids) which terrorized the islands? Looking at the situation this way, it would seem that Humabon had misgivings to Lapu-Lapu, which the latter did not forget. Lapu-Lapu may have also known that Humabon himself was a foreigner to Cebu. Humabon (or Sri Hamabar) was grandson of Sri Lumay (or Rajamuda Lumaya), a half-Tamil migrant from Sumatra. If Lapu-Lapu was indeed a foreigner himself, then how can he be regarded to fight against "foreign" domination? The battle would turn out not only as a fight against Magellan, but also a fight against Humabon.

June 2
On June 2, 1823, Captain Andres Novales and 800 troops from the King's Regiment (also known as the First Regiment) began a mutiny and declared Novales as emperor. The captain was supposed to be reassigned to Misamis to "fight pirates" on June 1, but a typhoon impeded the journey. Novales was sneaked out of "exile" and brought to the barracks of the regiment. In his speech to his men, he said, "Like you I am a Filipino. I feel the injustice done to the loyal sons of the soil, and I know that what has happened to some of you will eventually happen to the rest of us. Our turn to be displaced has come." This is where they decided to take action. They marched through the Camino Real (Royal Road, now divided into F. B. Harrison Street and Elpidio Quirino Avenue), shouting "Viva la independencia" (Long live independence) and "Viva el Emperador Novales". Instead of complaining to the boisterous soldiers, the city people waved flags and shouted in support of them. They were successful in taking most parts of Intramuros, a rare feat in Spanish colonial history in the Philippines, as they took advantage of the lax security. However, Fort Santiago held out until reinforcements were able to arrive and subdue the mutineers. Captain Novales, Lieutenant Ruiz, and 21 other sergeants were executed on the same day (June 3). His last words were: "Let my death and that of my companions be an example to you; we die innocent, for having attempted to give you freedom..." It was said he would have continued speaking but his next words were drowned by drum music, which preceded the shot that killed him. The Governor General, Juan Antonio Martinez, feared that Novales's final words might stir the people to stage another revolt.

The difference of Novales from the rest of the rebel leaders before him was his awareness of citizenship and nation. The generation of Novales was different because even if applied only to creoles (half-bloods), the concept of being a Filipino was used for the first time. For instance, Tamblot would only speak of Bohol, Diego Silang would only speak of Free Ilocos, and Sultan Muhammad Dipatuan Kudarat would only speak of Maguindanao and Lanao. All preceding rebellions and uprisings fight only for their home regions, but apparently, none possess the understanding of freeing the Philippines as a whole. Thus, he was unanimously declared "emperor of the Philippines." A veteran of the Peninsular War (part of the Napoleonic Wars, 1808-1814) and the South American Wars of Independence (1810-1833), Novales might have also knowledge of the American Revolution and the French Revolution, and thus, leading to his ideas about subjects as citizens and an independent Philippines. However, it seems that the comparison ends there. The intent of making the Philippines an empire must be inspired by the Mexican Empire. Novales would take note of Agustin de Iturbide, a royalist officer who turned against the Spanish colonial government, as someone to emulate. Perhaps Novales did not hear of news that Iturbide was forced out of position in March 1823? Did he envision a monarchy than a republic? Or perhaps he intended to use the emperor stint to take direct command of affairs during a transition period before having a constitution? To be fair, even in Spain, the liberal efforts to establish a republic has met limited success. If the Philippines was essentially behind Spain in a number of aspects, then it may be too early for a Philippine republic as well.

Again, there are issues that need to be considered. For instance, their declaration of independence may be regarded, but we can only speculate the intent of Novales and his men. Governor General's Martinez had been aware of such a conspiracy since January of 1823. Why did they only spring into action when Novales was about to be sent to Mindanao months later? Were they bargaining with Martinez and the colonial government? Did the Spanish purposely made it appear like a simple mutiny than a fight for independence? Non-peninsular soldiers were, in practice, demoted as peninsular soldiers are given key positions in the military. So, if Novales was only a captain at the time, he may actually be deserving of a higher rank, likely a major or a lieutenant colonel, for him to command such respect from his regiment. Was the independence rhetoric only a facade for equal rights as a military man and a citizen? Besides, just like the June 12 declaration, Novales and his troops declared independence before they accomplished their objective of taking the entire capital.

Pamitinan Cave
Photo courtesy of Rizal Provincial Government
April 12
In a meeting at Pamitinan Cave, Montalban (now Rodriguez) on April 12, 1895, it was said that Andres Bonifacio, along with other key revolutionary leaders (like Emilio Jacinto, Guillermo Masangkay, and Aurelio Tolentino) and new members of the Katipunan, declared independence (the "Cry of Pamitinan") and wrote "Viva la Independencia Filipina" (Long Live Philippine Independence) on the cave walls. By this time, Bonifacio has taken the position of Katipunan president. Of course, there are issues that need to be considered. At the time, the revolution had not been launched yet. There is no bid to win independence. It would seem as mere bravado on their part to lift the spirits of new recruits. Besides, the wording may seem a little off from Bonifacio's ideas. Bonifacio envisioned Haring Bayang Katagalugan (Sovereign Tagalog Nation), so it would be intriguing if he used Filipina (as Emilio Aguinaldo would later use Republica Filipina, or Philippine Republic). Even the Spanish used Republica Tagala to refer to Bonifacio's sphere of influence later on. Of course, it may be argued that the idea of Haring Bayang Katagalugan would only appear the following year, in 1896. At any rate, this declaration of independence is relatively far from the level of either the June 2, 1823 or the June 12, 1898 declarations.

Monument to the 1896 Revolution
at the University of the Philippines
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
August 23
While the exact date may be disputed to this day, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) decided that the date is more likely to be August 23, 1896 when Bonifacio and his fellow Katipuneros torn their cedulas (tax certificates) as a sign of defiance to the Spanish colonial government. This has become known as the "Cry of Pugad Lawin." As early as May of 1896, the Spanish had caught wind of the growing organization ("secret society") that is the Katipunan. Then, Bonifacio was already determined to launch the revolution. However, members like Emilio Aguinaldo opposed a premature start for the revolution. This is where the decision to contact Rizal was made. As history goes, Rizal and Bonifacio had differing views on the conduct of the revolution. May was then part of the harvesting season. It would have been opportune to launch the revolution then, had the arms and men been lacking. A few months later, the revolutionaries are more careful than ever, but an expose at the Diario de Manila publicly revealed the Katipunan. Bonifacio saw this as the trigger to call the revolutionaries and rise up as soon as possible. Thus, the cry happened.

Again, the specifics of the event are in doubt. Initially, it was known as the "Cry of Balintawak", as it was supposed to have taken place in Balintawak (now divided between Caloocan City and Quezon City). Meanwhile, there is also the claim that it took place in Bahay Toro or in Banlat, further north and east of both Balintawak and Pugad Lawin. However, it was decided that it took place in Pugad Lawin. The date is also an issue. While it is decided that the cry happened on August 23, as it would be the only day matching the windy weather described at the time. The following days leading to the first battle of the revolution (August 22 to 28) are all rainy days (according to records of the Manila Observatory). Thus, a call to arms by a number of revolutionaries may not be possible during those days. There are accounts that beg to differ. For instance, Guillermo Masangkay claims that there were two cries, on August 24 and on August 26. At any rate, a concerted attack on Manila was decided on August 24 and the information was disseminated to the revolutionaries in the provinces. On August 26, a skirmish occurred between the Spanish and the revolutionaries in Pasong Tamo. There seemed to be a stronger claim for this as an independence date because it was said that Bonifacio reorganized the Katipunan government (with himself assuming the role of Supremo for the first time) and established the Haring Bayang Katagalugan along with the cry. However, it must again be noted that the declaration would be made earlier than the actual bid for independence (through the revolution). If capturing the capital was the main objective, just like that of the June 2, 1823 and June 12, 1898 dates, then the August 23, 1896 date would also be far from achieving it.

Inauguration of Jose P. Laurel as president
Photo courtesy of Today In Philippine History
October 14
The Republic of the Philippines was established with the sponsorship of the Japanese, now known as the Second Republic, on October 14, 1943. Jose P. Laurel was elected and inaugurated its first and only president. This will be the first instance that the Philippines was granted independence, rather than winning it by means of armed struggle. However, the Second Republic was looked down as a puppet state similar to the rest of the Asian nations Japan has "liberated" and included in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The plan for the said sphere was a dominant Japan, with the rest of the members as subordinates. As expected, only the nations included the sphere recognized the Second Republic.

Again, there are issues to be considered. Despite having a republic in the Philippines, the Japanese Military Administration continued in service, exerting influence on the Filipino government. The ceremonies, such as the Filipino flag raised for the first time since the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) by Emilio Aguinaldo and Artemio Ricarte (two of the last surviving revolutionary leaders at the time), were seen as nothing more than a facade to shroud Japanese intentions. Nevertheless, one can still be moved singing the Hymn of the Birth of the New Philippines (Awit sa Paglikha ng Bagong Pilipinas or Tindig! Aking Inang Bayan) while witnessing the flag raised for the first time in a long time.

Raising of Filipino flag on July 4, 1946
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
July 4
The first independence day to be formally commemorated, the United States of America granted the Philippines independence as stipulated by the Tydings-McDuffie Act (1934) on July 4, 1946, mere months after the end of the Second World War in the Asia-Pacific. The Treaty of Manila was signed by the United States and the Philippines to codify the granting of independence. Manuel Roxas would be the first president of the independent Philippines. This is regarded as the real independence day of the Philippines, especially by critics of the June 12, 1898 date. Of course, even at the time, "granting independence" to colonies as if giving it to them on a silver platter was not conventional. Still, the Philippines may well be among the first to win a bid for independence without armed struggle. This is the second time Philippine independence gained international recognition, the first being in 1943.

Until President Diosdado Macapagal signed Republic Act No. 4166 on August 4, 1964, Philippine independence was officially celebrated on July 4. In a way, the date caused confusion among foreign affairs circles since America decided to grant the Philippines independence on the same date they declared theirs from Britain (July 4, 1776). However, even if this date had a stronger position than most to be recognized as the correct independence day, there are issues to be considered. For instance, America commemorates their independence day on July 4, 1776, way before America won the revolution and obtained international recognition on September 3, 1783 (the Treaty of Paris). Has the bid for independence continued long after the revolution, and has shed its arms, taking a more peaceful form? It seems so. Thus, it has become a continuum, even though the way we won it may be unconventional. To this day, however, the July 4 date is commemorated as Republic Day, as well as Filipino-American Friendship Day.

The Philippine Declaration of Independence
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
June 12 and the concept of independence
On June 12, 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo (as dictator) proclaimed the independence of the Philippines. The declaration itself was signed by 97 Filipino delegates and one American delegate, Colonel L. M. Johnson. Recent research, however, suggests that signatories number over a hundred delegates. This documentary evidence, preserved to this day, may be the strong point of the June 12 date over the preceding declarations. Of course, it cannot be said that all were supporters of the 1898 declaration of independence. For instance, Apolinario Mabini (who did not sign in the declaration) opposed a "premature declaration" because it shows Filipino intentions, while those of the Americans and the Spanish have kept theirs secret. In addition, the revolution was far from over. While Aguinaldo clearly surrounded the capital, Manila, it has not yet fallen. Government reorganization, and even a constitution, is needed. These would only done only after the declaration. In the international stage, the declaration was just that, and the international community would not easily grant recognition to the Philippines even if it was codified.

This brings us to the concept of independence and self-determination. In international law, a unilateral declaration of independence (such as that of Aguinaldo) is not illegal. Of course, there is no assurance that the national law would tolerate a revolution of that scale. However, what is needed for a state to be recognized as one? The Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1933) offers a summarized formula for statehood, albeit a political one. The first article states that:
The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications:
  • a permanent population
  • a defined territory
  • government
  • capacity to enter into relations with the other states.
In addition, the third article states that:
The political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states. Even before recognition the state has the right to defend its integrity and independence, to provide for its conservation and prosperity, and consequently to organize itself as it sees fit, to legislate upon its interests, administer its services, and to define the jurisdiction and competence of its courts. The exercise of these rights has no other limitation than the exercise of the rights of other states according to international law.
This is supported by the sixth article, which states that:
The recognition of a state merely signifies that the state which recognizes it accepts the personality of the other with all the rights and duties determined by international law. Recognition is unconditional and irrevocable.
While the convention was ratified only by members of the Pan-American Union (later Organization of American States), it only codifies the norms of international law and foreign relations already observed in the world at the time. This is also consistent with the practice of states such as America commemorating their independence day on July 4, not on September 3, since the declaration of independence proclaimed the existence of the state. The United States was not formed by the Treaty of Paris alone. It was formed by the union of the population inhabiting a certain territory under a single government. International recognition, though a vital element for a state to become a person of international law, is not necessary to affirm its existence. Essentially, it seemed that international recognition would be the demarcation line separating the state (from Latin status, or standing) and the nation (from Latin natio, or birth). Becoming a state means having a standing in the world stage, but the lack of recognition would not change your homeland, your place of birth. This realization can be seen for Bonifacio as observed in his work, Pag-Ibig Sa Tinubuang Lupa:
Ah! the land it is that gave us birth,
Like a mother, and from her alone
Came the pleasant rays like the sun's
That warmed the benumbed body.
To her we owe the first breath
That enlivened the breast oppressed
And smothered in the abyss
Of pain and grievous suffering.
With the love of country are coupled
All dreams and all ideals,
From joyful, restless childhood
Till the grave receives the body.
The same goes for the Philippines. The awareness of a nation has been present long before 1898 (e.g. Bonifacio's Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog), but how about the realization of statehood? Mabini may have a point that recognition and government reorganization must be taken into account. The declaration may not be a magical document which gives birth to a state in a second. However, as General Arthur MacArthur once remarked in 1899, "I have been reluctantly compelled to believe that the Filipino masses are loyal to Aguinaldo and the government which he leads!" The conditions for statehood are met as far as the First Philippine Republic was concerned, save international recognition, which only came on July 4, 1946. Independence delayed? How about applying this on Bonifacio and the Haring Bayang Katagalugan? How about applying this on Novales and the Philippine Empire? Again, why June 12, 1898, and not July 4, 1946, or August 23, 1896, or June 2, 1823, or some other day?

"May we never forget that freedom is not free"
Photo courtesy of Romeo Lupascu
Freedom is not free
In the Filipino language, freedom and independence can well be represented by a single term, kalayaan. However, there is another Filipino term for independence, kasarinlan. Needless to say, while they tend to overlap at times, these are two different concepts. Freedom comes from the Proto-Indo-European term preyH-, which means love. Meanwhile, independence comes from the Proto-Indo-European term pend-, which means to hang or to suspend. Therefore, being free may not be equated with being independent. For instance, you may have freedom of speech and expression, but you are not independent. One may be independent, but not be free from poverty or free from violence. Jose Rizal noted in his work, The Philippines A Century Hence, the following:
What colonies have become independent while they have had a free press and enjoyed liberty? Is it preferable to govern blindly or to govern with ample knowledge?
So we see no serious reason why the Philippines may not have representatives. By their institution many malcontents would be silenced, and instead of blaming its troubles upon the government, as now happens, the country would bear them better, for it could at least complain and with its sons among its legislators would in a way become responsible for their actions.
Now, applying these considerations to the Philippines, we must conclude, as a deduction from all we have said, that if their population be not assimilated to the Spanish nation, if the dominators do not enter into the spirit of their inhabitants, if equable laws and free and liberal reforms do not make each forget that they belong to different races, or if both peoples be not amalgamated to constitute one mass, socially and politically homogeneous, that is, not harassed by opposing tendencies and antagonistic ideas and interests, some day the Philippines will fatally and infallibly declare themselves independent.
Nor may it be said that we shall partake of the fate of the small American republics. They achieved their independence easily, and their inhabitants are animated by a different spirit from what the Filipinos are. Besides, the danger of falling again into other hands, English or German, for example, will force the Filipinos to be sensible and prudent. Absence of any great preponderance of one race over the others will free their imagination from all mad ambitions of domination, and as the tendency of countries that have been tyrannized over, when they once shake off the yoke, is to adopt the freest government, like a boy leaving school, like the beat of the pendulum, by a law of reaction the Islands will probably declare themselves a federal republic.
If the Philippines secure their independence after heroic and stubborn conflicts, they can rest assured that neither England, nor Germany, nor France, and still less Holland, will dare to take up what Spain has been unable to hold.
Perhaps the great American Republic, whose interests lie in the Pacific and who has no hand in the spoliation of Africa, may some day dream of foreign possession. This is not impossible, for the example is contagious, covetousness and ambition are among the strongest vices, and [Benjamin] Harrison manifested something of this sort in the Samoan question.
Very likely the Philippines will defend with inexpressible valor the liberty secured at the price of so much blood and sacrifice.
Rizal observed that civil and political freedoms do not necessarily equate to independence. He was even giving Spain ideas on how to retain the archipelago, albeit in a pretty sarcastic means. The Philippines may well remain as territory of Spain provided these rights are given well. Perhaps Novales also took this into consideration, which may be reason why it took them time before taking action. Notice the introduction of his speech:
You all know during the French invasion of Spain the revolutionary Cortes [Parliament] acknowledged overseas subjects to be Spaniards of equal rights with peninsulars. And you cannot have forgotten that on King Fernando VII's return from captivity His Catholic Majesty specially thanked us Filipinos for our loyalty to him.
Bonifacio also seemed to have the same idea at first, before the revolution was launched:
Since then, for more than three hundred years, we have supported the race of Legaspi most bountifully; we have allowed them to live lavishly and grow fat, even if we ourselves suffered deprivation and hunger. We have expended our wealth, blood and even our lives in defending them, even against our fellow countrymen who refused to submit to their rule; and we have fought the Chinese and the Dutch who tried to take Katagalugan from them.

Now, after all this, after everything we have done, what benefits have we seen bestowed upon our Country? Do we see them fulfilling their side of the contract which we ourselves fulfilled with sacrifices? We see nothing but treachery as a reward for our favors. Instead of keeping their promise to awaken us to a better life, they have only blinded us, contaminated us with their debased customs and forcibly destroyed the good customs of our land. They have instilled in us a false faith, and have cast the honor of our Country into a mire of corruption. And if we dare beg for scraps of compassion, they respond by banishing us, by sending us far away from our beloved children, spouses, and aged parents. Every sigh we utter is branded by them as a grave sin, and is instantly punished with brute force.
In a way, the formation and implementation of these freedoms tend to be part of the process of building the nation. Having freedom means having what you love (to do, to be with, and so on). This is why we fight for freedom so fervently, because we fight for something (or someone) we love. How come freedom is not free? This does not only stand for freedom fought for and won by those who came before us. Too much freedom kills freedom. At best, one can only have limited freedom. As John Locke once wrote, "For in all the states of created beings capable of laws, where there is no law, there is no freedom. For liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others, which cannot be where there is no law." Freedom does not necessarily mean you would not need others, and you can do what you want, when you want, and where you want. However, while we will be constrained in a sense, having freedom means having something to bind us together, something that may even go beyond laws and constitutions. For instance, the 1898 Constitution was ratified only after the declaration of independence. Who wants to be killed? Who wants to be stole upon? Who wants to be cheated? Who wants to be maltreated? This experience of having commonality in what we love (or as Benedict Anderson put it, an "imagined community") is a step towards nationhood, and with it, statehood as well. Are the problems faced by our young nation today repercussions of her abrupt birth? Has the process been disrupted instead of accelerated by the revolution? Is this why colonial mentality has stuck with some of us? Still, not one article can discuss it all. See the references used here.

Let us think about all these as we commemorate once more our independence and our freedom. Is there really something to celebrate or is it just another typical date in our calendars? Have we achieved independence only in political terms? How about economically? Socially? Culturally? We may be independent, yes, but are we free? We may be free, yes, but are we independent? Did the fighting finish then or has the struggle carried over to this day? I know that some may not be able to appreciate a conclusion which brought more questions than answers, but the main point is to contemplate what we commemorate. Memorials and holidays are supposed to make us remember and value what we have now, but why does it seem that we still tend to forget and take for granted?

"Love alone realizes wonderful works, virtue alone can save! No, if our country has ever to be free, it will not be through vice and crime, it will not be so by corrupting its sons, deceiving some and bribing others, no! Redemption presupposes virtue, virtue sacrifice, and sacrifice love!
When our people is unprepared, when it enters the fight through fraud and force, without a clear understanding of what it is doing, the wisest attempts will fail, and better that they do fail, since why commit the wife to the husband if he does not sufficiently love her, if he is not ready to die for her?"
(from Jose Rizal's El Filibusterismo)

Freedom is not free: A look into Filipino Independence Day Freedom is not free: A look into Filipino Independence Day Reviewed by Al Raposas on Thursday, June 08, 2017 Rating: 5

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