Are we Filipinos truly independent?

Are we Filipinos truly independent?

As we celebrate Independence Day, let’s reflect briefly on our own notions of freedom and nationhood.

“Mamamatay akong hindi nakikita ang ningning ng bukang-liwayway sa aking Bayan! Kayong makakakita, salubungin ninyo siya, at huwag kalilimutan ang mga nabulid sa dilim ng gabi.”

— Elias, Kabanata 63, Noli Me Tangere


Philippine independence is no easy matter to assess, given our history and recent developments. The debate rages on regarding the former, whether it be an issue of when we should celebrate independence day, or what exactly we’re celebrating independence from.

What constitutes our freedom is a complex topic that requires careful evaluation. Is it liberation from colonial forces? Do we celebrate our independence as a state, or as a People? Was Jose Rizal the first “true Filipino,” or is it not that simple? These are just a few factors we consider.

Discussions surrounding our country’s current political, economic, and cultural state only make pinning down a definition for our freedom harder. US military bases are still around, and still carry histories and narratives of abuse. Land reform is still a moot issue in many haciendas. Nearly a third of our countrymen live below the poverty line. Our economy is still paying off Marcos-era debt and still hasn’t fully recovered from its horrors. This article is in English, not Filipino.

In searching for evidence by which to prove our independence, I found instance after instance arguing against its existence. If there’s a common theme to everything cited so far, it is a past rooted in slavery — to fear, colonizers, confusion — and a present mired in divisive conflict and tragedy. However, I think the issue regarding our independence has more to do with our perceptions of it, than its non-existence.

Independence itself is a constant cycle of struggle and evolution. As much as we want to imagine independence as a neat “day of reckoning,” our history suggests it is quite the opposite: numerous painful realizations paving the way for (very) gradual acts of heroism and liberation. This is reflected in the modern day heroes, success stories, and martyrs we honor.

Efren Penaflorida’s “Kariton Klasrum” program has expanded to educate more than 1,600 street children in 84 sites all over the country. It is a far cry from the program’s humble beginnings in 2009, but nowhere close to sufficiently addressing the educational needs of all the country’s street children.  The people of Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte overcame poverty and illiteracy by drawing out their concerns to their mayor. Even then, it still took the municipality over seven years to bring their poverty incidence levels up to national standards.

Rather, I believe independence is a constant process of committing to the “right choice,” whatever it is. It is the commitment to that choice in spite of conflict, as much a question of resilience as it is one of political or economic shortcomings.

Pro-regime journalist Primitivo Mijares chose to make an about-face, and expose Martial Law atrocities with his book “The Conjugal Dictatorship,” knowing the fate that awaited him: his death, his son’s savage mutilation. Knowing all this, I’m sure it took him many days of reckoning to make the choice to defect, let alone write the book.

In short, there is no one specific day or moment that defines our independence. Rather, I believe independence is a constant process of committing to the “right choice,” whatever it is. It is the commitment to that choice in spite of conflict, as much a question of resilience as it is one of political or economic shortcomings. That we continue to do something about our shortcomings proves we are free in some form.

Don’t get me wrong though: the operative words here are “some form.” The presence of heroes and success stories do not invalidate the fact that many of our countrymen still lack access to quality social services. Many more still do not enjoy their basic rights, let alone the ability to do anything about our national predicaments. The balance of political power in our country still skews towards Luzon.

Yes, this notion of freedom I espouse is very well a dream, albeit one that fuels the actions of heroes yesterday and today. It compelled Rizal to defy our colonizers, regime cronies to speak up against the dictatorships they were paid handsomely to serve, push those like Efren to continue educating kids on the streets though the task’s scope grows more daunting by the day. It’s why our government is set to once more discuss the approval of the revised Bangsamoro Basic Law in a few days time, despite recent developments in the region.

My assertion of independence is very well a dream, but one that redeems itself through those it liberates. Whether that constitutes actual liberation of our nation today is moot. Too many of our countrymen’s lives have been given in service of this dream, and too many of their lives have been freed because of this dream. I commit to my assertions of our freedom, if not for evidence, then knowing many more will become free through it.


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