Independence Day

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MARIT STINUS-CABUGON

WATCHING part of former US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey’s testimony at the US Senate intelligence committee hearing, I was struck by his passionate emphasis oo the independence of the agency that he used to head. Comey staked his career to guard that independence. He felt that President Donald Trump had tried to “create some sort of patronage relationship” by making him (Comey) ask for his job, and by demanding personal loyalty from Comey at the expense of the “FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch” (from Comey’s prepared written testimony to the Senate committee).

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As the Philippines celebrates Independence Day, independence as an object of reflection is timely. What does independence—and freedom—mean to us?

Being independent, according to www.quora.com, is “merely a state of not being subject to the authority of an external agent. “ The website www.rabe.org defines independence as being “free from outside control.” Freedom, on the other hand, “is basically the ability to think and act as you see fit” (quora.com) or “the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint” (rabe.org). “Independence can lead to freedom” (www.quora.com).

Our national hero, José Rizal , seems to have been concerned more with personal freedom than independence from the colonial power, Spain. This has made some say that he isn’t a real hero. I’m no expert on Filipino heroes but to me, Rizal’s reflections on freedom continue to hold universal relevance for all. Isn’t the foundation of a truly independent nation its equally free citizens—the likes of the Young Women of Malolos to whom Rizal wrote his famous message in February 1889 while in Europe?

“God gave each one his own mind and his own conscience so that he can distinguish between right and wrong,” Rizal wrote. “All are born without chains, free, and no one can subject the will and spirit of another.”

“(Men) were not created by God to be enslaved, neither were they endowed with intelligence in order to be misled, nor adorned with reason to be fooled by others. It is not pride to refuse to worship a fellow man, (it is not pride) to enlighten the mind, (it is not pride) to reason out everything. The arrogant one is he who wants to be worshipped, who misleads others, and wants his will to prevail over reason and justice.”

“It is not goodness to be too obedient to every desire and request of those who pose as little gods, but to obey what is reasonable and just, because blind obedience is the origin of crooked orders and in this case both parties sin.” Blind obedience exempts no one from responsibility.

The “little gods” of José Rizal’s Philippines were, of course, some members of the clergy.

Rizal speaks of enlightening the mind and reasoning out everything. He was himself a well-educated and very well-informed person, taking interest in almost everything under the sun. It is sad to note that in today’s world where amazing technological advances have made unlimited access to news and information from all corners of the world available to all, fake news and misinformation—deliberatedly manufactured and planted, shared by gullible, ignorant or blindly obedient people—are steadily increasing their influence on people’s perception of local and global events. What is the use of freedom to “reason out everything” if the information made available to us is meant to mislead and fool us? In such confusing times it is paramount that our leaders—Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd included—lead the way in providing accurate and clear information, particularly on matters concerning national security and political stability. Democracy is the ultimate victim when public discourse is manipulated and contaminated with misinformation. But then again, isn’t the real purpose of fake news precisely to undermine the very foundation of democracy?

The Philippines’ national independence supposedly means that the nation has real choices in terms of economic development, system of government and foreign policy. We have told the Americans that we don’t need them and have turned to China and Russia for military and economic cooperation, trade deals, investments and aid. However, the acts of China, using its superior military strength and economic power, seem to negate that the Philippines’ renewed cooperation with our big neighbor is an expression of our newfound independent foreign policy. This is today’s geopolitical reality. We are still better off than Qatar.

Personal freedom, like national independence, is not absolute. Even in a perfect world we need others. Relationships ideally are built on mutual respect and not on control and subjugation. “Don’t close the valves,” Rizal wrote in The Truth for All, “don’t drown human conscience. Air, though a very weak and very compressible substances explodes and bursts nevertheless when it is compressed too much.”

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