June 12, 2016 marked the 118th anniversary of the day on which the leaders of the Filipino people, unafraid of challenging a powerful foreign adversary, declared this country’s independence from its longtime colonial master, Spain. Like the other June 12s since 1963, June 20, 2016 truly was a day of national independence: The Philippines was completely free to chart its own course, was independent of any external entanglements other than the international and bilateral treaties—especially the United Nations Charter—into which it had entered and was respected and loved by members of the entire international community, whose norms and rules it had chosen to accept.
June 12, 2016 was a day of independence for this country, like the 53 June 12s that preceded it. The same cannot be said of June 12, 2018. Today should be observed as Dependence Day, not Independence Day.
Why do I make this seemingly outrageous statement? Because, while the Philippines may factually and legally be an independent nation, the reality is that it has over the last two years become a servient State, a vassal, a country incapable of freely exercising its rights as a sovereign member of the international community.
Consider the situation in the West Philippine Sea. If this country still possessed the will of a fully sovereign state, and if today were still Independence Day, it would have taken all the necessary and feasible steps to assert the rights confirmed by a UN-sponsored international arbitral tribunal. But the Philippine government, like a veritable wimp, has not taken those steps. Instead, it has, in true un-independent fashion, accepted China’s so-called undertakings (1) that it would make no more encroachments on Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea, (2) that it will make no more militaristic moves on or against Philippine territory and (3) that it would not drive Philippine fishermen away from their historic fishing grounds and (4) that in general, it would maintain the status quo. That can hardly be characterized as a display of independent action by a sovereign country.
Consider, next, the situation with regard to the relations between the Filipino people and the rest of the international community. The citizens of a country that calls itself a democracy should have the independence to maintain friendships with other well-intentioned and freedom-loving peoples. But the present government of this country has chosen to maintain a foreign policy that makes Filipinos disdain the peoples of countries that have done the Philippines no harm and that have in fact been its allies. On the other hand, the Filipino people have been directed to be friendly with the peoples of countries that do not have a history of closeness to and partnership with the Philippines. And Filipinos are supposed to consider themselves independent on a day that is meant to celebrate independence?
Finally, there is the state of Philippine relations with the leading institutions of this world. Were the Filipino people free to decide for themselves the international institutions with which they desired to have friendly relations, they would today be on the best of terms with the United Nations and the organization of 27 European nations, the European Union, and similar institutions. But under the present administration that choice is no longer the Filipino people’s to make. It has been taken away from them by a President who, claiming to be acting on behalf of the citizens of this country, has insulted, badmouthed and demeaned those institutions and their representatives. The Filipino people wish to be good citizens of the world and to have friendly relations with all well-intentioned institutions and peoples.
Until June 12, 2016 the citizens of this country could celebrate a day of true national independence and wish one another Happy Independence Day. Two years later they no longer can.
Happy Dependence Day, everyone.