Sunday, 12 June 2011

Philippine Declaration of Independence (?)

Photo from 

      Today marks the 113th Philippine Independence Day since the famous declaration at the balcony of Gen. Emilio F. Aguinaldo’s house at Kawit, Cavite on 12 June 1898.  Filipinos here and abroad are celebrating this date commemorating the end of an almost 300 years of Spanish domination of the Philippine Islands. The Declaration of Independence was written by a revolutionary named Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, War Counsel of the Aguinaldo government. The reasons justifying the severance of ties from the colonizer were enumerated in this Acta de la Proclamacion de Independencia del Pueblo Filipina, particularly, political crimes ranging from unjust imprisonments, deportations, and death to Filipinos who fought against Spanish tyranny. In hindsight, even those who were just suspected of being anti-Spain were also heavily punished.
     Given the status of Philippine education, not everyone has access to the contents of the Acta de la Proclamacion. I’m afraid that only a handful has seen the original document, not even it’s facsimile. Historical papers and documents were confined to those who are into higher academic degrees and must be knowledgeable of Spanish to fully understand the text. It’s just wishful thinking also that our countrymen can lay their eyes on this document posted in the internet. In any case, as a historian by profession, choice and interest, it is my noble task to share and criticize the contents of one of the most important documents that shaped the Philippine nation.

     First, a brief historical review of Spanish experience in the Philippines from Magellan to the Spanish Adelantados up to the last Governor-General was recounted. Parallel to this was the story as to how the natives amiably accept the Spaniards by means of blood compact only to be betrayed in the process by their blood brothers. For centuries, the natives have suffered from injustice and maltreatment from the hands of the colonizer until it was already too much to bear – patriots (Rizal, et. al.) offered their precious lives for the birth of this nation. The document did recognize that the cries for a revolution were first heard in August 1896. However, the writer deliberately forgot that it was the bravest moment in our history because we have already declared our independence in that Cry of Pugadlawin. Clearly, politics had set in even in the discerning of our independence as a nation. 1896 was a Bonifacio-led “himagsikan” while 1898 was an Aguinaldo-led “revolution”. Bonifacio was safely dead in 1898 so no one will contend against Aguinaldo’s leadership.

     Second, the document is a declaration of independence, Filipinos will have sovereign rule and is entitled to all privileges accorded to every independent state. Interestingly, the document also recognized that the Philippines is under the “protection of the Mighty and Humane North American Nation”. Isn’t it ironic, declaring independence while enjoying protection from another country? Politically, this shouldn’t be the case. No country is allowed to hover over an independent country. Sovereignty is at stake in this situation. Enjoying this status diplomatically means that a state is a protectorate of another, therefore, it is not independent at all. Would this surmise that 12 June 1898 is nothing but a drama of sorts, that is was done to usher in American rule without suspicion and resistance from die-hard revolutionaries? If it is so, then, we have been betrayed with our eyes wide open by our fellow countrymen in the most celebrated moment of our history. Shame to those who have affixed their signatures, shame to the Aguinaldo government! Others may say that the fellows were not mindful of the contents of the Declaration then, but for a people who struggled hard for liberty, it is just proper and vital to be very careful and mindful of an act that will affect the course of the nation.

     Lastly, the colors and features in the Philippine flag were given explanation. I believe that every citizen of this noble country should know the symbolic meaning of our flag being the foremost insignia of our nationhood. The Katipunan will forever be remembered as represented by the white triangle. The sun symbolizes progress and civilization while the eight rays signified the first eight valiant provinces that rose up against Spanish domination – Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Laguna and Batangas, respectively.  The three stars, however, are Luzon, Mindanao and Panay? All the while, since day one of my elementary years, I was made to believe that the stars were the three main island groups of the Philippines, only to find out that it pertains only to the island of Panay and not to the entire Visayan islands. This is something hard to unlearn because it singled out Panay from the rest of the Visayas as the only island that have contributed to the revolutionary movement. What about the rest of the Visayas? Weren’t they one with the revolution in its struggle to free the Philippines from Spanish rule? Early revolts led by Tamblot, Dagohoy, Sumuroy as well as that of Leon Kilat and Papa Isio happened in different Visayan islands. What then was the basis of singling out Panay from the rest of the Visayas to be worthy of that star in our flag? I find no justifiable answer except special endowments of Panay people to the Aguinaldo government. I find this very unfair, sad to say.

     As we continue to celebrate 12 June as Philippine Independence Day, let us review the document and re-view the events of the past. It is important to have an Independence Day as it reminds us of our sovereignty as a people, however, we have to correct historical blunders to strengthen our nation. There are issues worth pondering and rethinking in the Acta de la Proclamacion, we have to be critical in our study of history. As I reviewed the past, I vehemently refuse to believe 12 June 1898 as our Independence Day. The Philippines was not at all independent that day. In retrospect, I agree very well that we have declared (as sovereign people of the Philippines) our independence in August 1896 with the symbolic tearing of cedula at the Cry of Pugadlawin – an eventful moment sans the pomp, sophistication and prestige of the June 1898 declaration.

     Viva la Independencia!!! -  Pugadlawin, August 1896