MANILA (UPDATE) - Officials and residents on Pagasa Island, the seat of the Kalayaan municipal government in the West Philippine Sea, also celebrated Sunday the 124th Independence Day of the country, the military said.
Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command, led the commemorative rites that included a flag-raising ceremony, the military unit said.
"This Independence Day, we render our snappiest salute to the children, men and women of Pag-asa who remained in the island despite the security and safety risks from other claimant countries and of natural disasters! Your presence in our farthest occupied territory is in itself a great display of heroism," Carlos said, according to the statement of the AFP WESCOM.
Pagasa, known internationally as Thitu Island, is part of the Spratlys in the South China Sea in which the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam have overlapping claims.
China, whose historical claims over almost the entire body of water has been invalidated by an arbitration court in 2016, is the most aggressive among the claimants. It has repeatedly committed incursions in Philippine waters despite protests by the government.
Aside from Philippine government forces, Pagasa island is also home to civilians who are constituents of Palawan’s Kalayaan municipality.
"We render our salute to the unsung heroes from the rank and file of the Western Command, who day in and out, committed to safeguard our nine Philippine detachments in the Kalayaan Island Group. Your quiet but noble service asserts our freedom and the righftul ownership of Philippine territory and sovereignty," said Carlos.
"Perhaps there is no better way to celebrate our 124 years of Independence than to raise the Philippine Flag in the farthest municipality of our country. Our very presence here is an affirmation of our sovereignty and unwavering commitment to serve and protect the Filipino people,” he added.
The country’s Independence Day was mainly celebrated at the Rizal Park in Manila, with President Rodrigo Duterte leading the events.
A flag-raising ceremony at the balcony of the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite was also held, with House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez spearheading it.
Incoming Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio, meanwhile, took part in the Independence Day celebration in Davao City.
Duterte-Carpio, the city’s outgoing mayor, will take her oath there as the country’s second highest official next Sunday, June 19.
Militants groups took the opportunity to stage a protest, calling the country’s liberation a sham as other countries, according to them, continue to interfere in Philippine affairs.
Members of Bayan Cavite and of other progressive groups from Southern Tagalog gathered at the Binakayan Market in Kawit for their protest action.
In Davao City, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Southern Mindanao (BAYAN SMR), Kilusang Mayo Uno-Southern Mindanao (KMU SMR) and others held a demonstration at the Freedom Park.
They lamented what they regard as the killing of democracy by those acting puppets of the United States and China, the alleged vote buying, red-tagging and other irregularities during the recently held elections, the P13 trillion debt, and the apprehension of the Tinang 91 in Concepcion, Tarlac.
In Pampanga, local officials led the flag-raising and wreath laying ceremony at the Museo ng Kasaysayang Panlipunan ng Pilipinas in Angeles City.
In his speech, Angeles City Mayor Carmelo Lazatin Jr., said the celebration is centered on honoring heroes and leaders who offered their lives for the Filipino people’s freedom against the Spaniards, the Americans and the Japanese colonizers.
“And today, we face another battle, fighting the invisible enemy which claim the lives of thousands. Ordinary people, nurses, doctors, medical technologists, midwife, police officers, government employees took center stage as they sacrifice their lives and time with their families in helping our kababayans to endure the wrath of the global pandemic,” Lazatin said.
Sunday's events commemorate the Philippines' independence from Spanish rule, although it subsequently became a US colony for several decades or until 1946.
- With reports from Michael Delizo, Hernel Tocmo, and Gracie Rutao, ABS-CBN News