Postscript to the observance of Independence Day

By Buddy Gomez

Posted at Jun 18 2015 02:23 AM | Updated as of Jun 18 2015 10:23 AM

The history of why we officially celebrate the anniversary of Philippine Independence Day in the way we do will always remain fraught with lingering ambiguity. Even oddity. And here is why.

An earlier proclamation of Independence

What we now observe yearly every June 12 is the anniversary of General Emilio Aguinaldo’s proclamation, or declaration if you please, of Philippine independence from Spain, a patriotic struggle for emancipation still far from truly settled at that moment. 1898. Lest we forget, such declaration was not the first such act of patriotism. Remember “Sigaw sa Pugad Lawin?” (Cry of Pugad Lawin which in much earlier school days was known as “Cry of Balintawak”) Andres Bonifacio, leading the tearing up of the cedulas (individual certificates of residency), a symbolic performance, shouted: “Long Live Philippine Independence!” Was the “Cry of Balintawak” not a proclamation of independence? That was August 23, 1896. The truth is that was not even the first time such a declaration was shouted. A year earlier inside a cave in Montalban, Rizal (then still known as Morong province) led also by Andres Bonifacio, Katipuneros scrawled on the wall: “Long Live Philippine Independence!”

There is a tremendous difference between the act of proclaiming independence and the fact of being independent. To be precise about it, what we celebrated last Friday was the anniversary of Aguinaldo’s proclamation. Not the beginning of our sovereignty. The centerpiece of that event was “The Act of the Declaration of Independence” which was in flowery Spanish written and read by Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista. Indeed, it was a document declaring the Filipinos’ “ right to be free and independent…free from all obedience to the crown of Spain.” At that moment , the declaration could only be aspirational. Additionally, in unequivocal terms, such dreamed of independence was curiously to be “under the protection of the mighty and humanitarian nation, North America.”

It was almost like throwing a birthday party and nobody came. There was not a single nation in the world that recognized Philippine independence as declared in Kawit, Cavite on June 12, 1898. Furthermore, the ensuing government was an avowed dictatorship! As an inevitable nuance, it could honestly be said that we celebrate the anniversary of the proclamation of our sought for freedom, under a dictatorship! Okay, okay, so it was a revolutionary government.

The change

So short lived was the First Philippine Republic. Soon enough that ‘mighty and humanitarian nation’--America--effectively unmasked its premeditated imperialism, imposed by superior force of arms, albeit, tempered by a ‘policy of attraction’ and ‘benevolent assimilation.’ The Philippine Islands had become a territorial possession of the United States, a tutee-colony, then in 1935 a Commonwealth until July 4 1946, when the United States withdrew, as promised, its sovereignty over the Philippines and recognized our independence. As America’s Stars and Stripes was lowered at the Luneta, the Philippine flag, exactly as described in Aguinaldo’s Declaration of Independence, was hoisted, accompanied by the strains of our national anthem, first played publicly in Kawit on June 12, 1898. Since then, Philippine Independence Day was celebrated on July 4, until the Presidency of Diosdado Macapagal (1961-1965).

July 4 did have vestiges of June 12. Nonetheless, President Macapagal, for reasons he sincerely believed to be more properly patriotic, proclaimed that henceforth Philippine Independence Day ought to be celebrated on June 12 ( Presidential Proclamation # 28, May 1962). This was followed by the passage of Republic Act 4166 – August 1964). July 4 has since been relegated to a new designation. The Philippine Republic Day, also known as Filipino-American Friendship Day. President Macapagal felt that “July 4 was not inspiring enough for the Filipino youth.” July 4, in his estimation, “recalled mostly the peaceful independence missions to the US.” June 12, on the other hand, “would be a greater inspiration to the youth”…..recalling “the heroes of the revolution against Spain and their acts of sublime heroism and martyrdom.” Hence, a step towards “honoring our distinguished forebears and notable periods of our history” changed the date for the commemoration of Philippine independence day.” So, there!

Be that as it may, there is also a nearly forgotten background to what finally precipitated this Presidential decision, at least, as to the timing of the change from July 4 to June 12. It had something to do with the US House of Representatives rejecting a bill appropriating funds as additional compensation for Filipino World War II veterans. But that is another story.

Grant or recognition?

It is commonplace to use the word “grant” whenever Philippine independence from the US is spoken of. It is a fact, however, that the document titled “Proclamation of Philippine Independence” signed by US President Harry S. Truman and read by US High Commissioner Paul V. McNutt on July 4, 1946 does not mention the word “grant,” at all. Citing provisions of the Philippine Independence Act (March 24, 1934) which created the Philippine Commonwealth by which law the US was to “withdraw and surrender all rights of possession, supervision, jurisdiction, control or sovereignty” over territory and people of the Philippines…… “the United States of America should recognize the independence of the Philippines….” “… therefore, I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, acting under and by virtue of the authority vested in me by the aforesaid Act of Congress, do proclaim,”…..”I do hereby recognize the independence of the Philippines….”

By the way, 27 nations sent official delegates to witness the July 4, 1946 event. July 4 likewise marked the United Nations’ recognition of the Philippines as an independent Republic. The Commonwealth was a founding member-state, one of the original 51 members, as of the previous October when the UN was formally inaugurated.

Beware of revisionists!

Macapagal, whatever justification he was able to harness, did what he did because as President of the Philippines, by fiat, he could legally do it! What would have been a more apt act of commemoration that adheres to historicity without reinterpretation or redirection, he altered. He was confidently riding a tide. Sentimentalist nationalism, just like “city hall,’ you do not fight!

Oftentimes, nationalist rhetoric that ends embedded, inextricably at times, in the pages of history as taught to school children have a way of skewing historical reality. There are instances when it is perpetuated innocently by uninspired lazy academics or concocted with malice by some revisionists. Philippine history is replete with such instances. In fact, today we beware and are now alert to the surreptitious attempts, already at work, of photoshopping Ferdinand E. Marcos. To my mind, historical truth when shaded is deviant.

Were we purchased or was Spain reimbursed?

Speaking of independence and Philippine-American relations, for over a century now we have been told, and we have accepted unquestioningly, that as a consequence of losing the war, Spain did not merely cede possession and sovereignty over ‘Las Islas Filipinas’ to the US. Either Spain simply sold or, conversely, that America purchased the Filipino people (7.8 million in 1898) and the islands for $20,000,000.00, spiced up with the inflammatory derogation that Filipinos were sold like animate chattel. Over the years, to think or argue differently was regarded unpatriotic and an affront to nationalism. This is pure political rhetoric, the antecedent of which was spawned in Boston by the Anti-Imperialist League, an organization virulently opposed to America’s colonial expansion. In fact, in the US elections of 1900, the colonization of the Philippine islands was at the very core of Democratic Party presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan’s campaign platform. He lost. America kept the islands.

The culprit seems to be the last line of Article III of the 1898 Treaty of Paris between Spain and the United States. Although it is apparently unequivocal--“The United States will pay to Spain the sum of twenty million dollars ($20,000.000) within three months…..”--nowhere in the entire text of the Treaty does it specifically indicate what the money was for! Hence, conclusions via conjectural history is what we have learned from our history books.

[It is to be noted that apart from the $20,000,000, the Treaty was very precise about the preservation and protection of the rights of all inhabitants of the ceded territory as well as providing a guarantee of admiralty and mercantile accommodations in assistance to a vanquished rival.]

Beyond the letter of the Treaty itself, there are voluminous records of the negotiations, back and forth among the commissioners from both sides covering a couple of months, that will need to be assiduously mined in the archives of the US Library of Congress in order to arrive at the untarnishable truth. After all, there was much exchange of proposals and counter proposals that also involved reimbursement for physical improvements undertaken by Spain in the islands which will indeed benefit the new sovereigns.

In his classic 2-volume opus “The Americans in the Philippines,” James A. LeRoy indicated in the footnotes a stark coincidence concerning the amount of $20 million. The first public debt of the Philippines as a country, a juridical entity under the sphere of Spain, was a “special guarantee of the Philippine customs and general guarantee of the nation” in a bond flotation, authorized by the Spanish Cortes, in the amount of 40,000,000 in Philippine pesos (20 Million in US $!!!) “at six percent interest, payable in forty years” to shore up Spain’s dwindling resources being used in the increasingly hopeless pursuit of defense against insurrectionary advances. This public debt figured in the negotiations and had an influence in connection with the payment of $20,000,000. (Subject to verification, if physical evidence is still extant, Bank of the Philippine Islands and the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank may have been bondholders!)

Let me call that a relevant digression.

June 12 is simply being Filipino

As a supreme act of independence, President Macapagal did show the world (and the USA, of course) that the exercise of sovereign privilege can include the ability to alter history either out of patriotic pique or to suit the fervor of nationalism. There are indeed times when nationalist rhetoric slants athwart of facts. And so, not just as an aspirational proclamation unrecognized by international community and comity, Philippine Independence Day is commemorated every June 12. That is today’s reality.

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