THREE days ago, the nation commemorated the 119th anniversary of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence. As usual, the national holiday was marked by official ceremonies in various historic landmarks, highlighted by flag- raising and singing of the national anthem, honors for those who sacrificed their lives and liberty to protect the country, and rhetoric from politicians on the need for a new age of heroism. On the other side of the fence, the ever vigilant social reformists conducted their own rites—that of liberally exercising their right to protest injustice in all forms, decry economic dislocation and deprivation, and lambast government for its failures in just about everything, ranging from territorial disputes to the so-called war on drugs.
Year in, year out, Independence Day is rerun like a well-loved classic movie, with some additional cinematic trimmings here and there, because it is popular, tugs at the heart, and begs to be perpetuated. From a romantic and nationalistic point of view, nothing wrong with keeping alive in the national consciousness that part of our history when Filipinos first asserted their right to be treated and respected as self-governing people. It is a source of pride to be able to reckon one’s identity by the acts of heroism and self-determination of those who came before us.
Dodging altogether the issue of whether it is June 12 or July 4 that should be the correct date, or whether the revolutionary leaders are the rightful heroes, a more fundamental question that begs answering is what does this state of independence mean to Filipinos now? Indeed, against the backdrop of modern-day assaults on all fronts of Filipino life—territorial, religious, political, and economic, that are continually threatening what we hold dear as essential to our identity as citizens and a nation—sovereignty, personal liberties, freedom, human rights, and constitutional rights, however one may call this state, the term “independence” takes on different, if not multiple, meanings.
Turning to social media, with a bit of “crowdsourcing,” a rapid appraisal or survey of sorts to get a broad spectrum of insights or ideas on hot topics, it would appear that present-day Filipinos have basically departed from the romantic notion of independence that is heralded when one sings the national anthem, into a more realistic, jaded, and quizzical view. Consider the following insights gathered via Facebook:
• Does the Philippines have the choice to make its own decisions? If yes, then it is independent. The word truly can be interpreted in many ways.
• In the real sense of the word, no state is just based on the political science definition, but many states are.
• The Philippines is not truly independent; even in everyday life, chances are you may have something on you that was made elsewhere.
• To be truly independent means freedom to travel the world without visas or relying on results of bilateral talks.
• No single nation is truly independent; we have to build mutual relationships with other countries.
• We still somehow depend on other countries in some ways—health aid, military supplies, and even something as basic as rice because we can’t meet our own demand.
• Yes, we are independent. But where is this taking us? We are not united as a nation and without a single vision, we are torn in different directions.
• Our political independence is still nominal and our leaders or the state still allows the intervention of an external power in matters of security.
• The world has become so small and interconnected with each other the concept of independence needs to be rethought.
• The easy flow of information has made our world smaller. Territories can be reached virtually even without actual physical presence. The one thing that must remain independent: our thinking.
As it turns out, people do have a firmer handle, a more discerning view of what independence means to them. It is not just some ceremony. Next year, when June 12 comes around again, hopefully we won’t be seeing a rerun of the movie but a new edition created by Filipinos who are actively expressing their freedoms responsibly and, with a purpose that affects the greater good. We can then all sing “Lupang Hinirang” with a real sense of gratitude for being a free nation.
Arlene Donaire is an economist and travel photographer-writer who completed her MPA at Harvard Kennedy School in 1999. She is grateful to friends who shared their insights that became part of this article.