"The tragedy of our times is that our freedom has been reduced to a set of legal and moral entitlements that we have begun to selfishly demand."
For 16 years, Independence Day was observed every July 4 to recall the end of American sovereignty in the Philippines. This changed on May 12, 1962 when President Diosdado Macapagal issued Proclamation No. 28, series of 1962, which moved the annual observance from July 4 to June 12, this time marking the anniversary of the establishment of the First Philippine Republic. Congress later on confirmed Macapagal’s executive issuance with the passage of Republic Act 4166, formally designating June 12 as Philippine Independence Day.
President Macapagal’s decision was not without controversy. Historical purists pointed out that the Philippines gained status as an independent state only in 1946 – when in addition to the people, territory, government, it achieved the fourth element required of independent statehood – sovereignty.
On the other hand, when President Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine independence on June 12, 1898, it lacked the sovereignty and the legitimacy that comes with the recognition by other foreign states. In fact, the Spanish and later on, the United States colonial government continued to exercise control over the greater part of the of the country, effectively stifling any little hope for international recognition and contributing to the premature demise of Aguinaldo’s revolutionary republic.
There may have been more pragmatic reasons behind President Macapagal’s decision to move the date of the Philippine Independence Day. July 4, of course, is the same date of the United States Independence Day. As a result, foreign diplomats would usually skip the Philippine Independence Day reception in favor of attending the US embassy celebration. Celebrating its Independence Day on the same date as the US national holiday appeared to reinforce the historical circumstance that our country’s independence was simply bestowed by an act of the US Congress, who was only too eager to absolve itself of the herculean task of post-war reconstruction.
A country’s true independence day rightly marks its birth as an independent nation. For Macapagal, this means recognizing June 12 as the proper date when Filipinos proclaimed their independence from colonial rule – and not when it actually gained sovereignty. Similarly, July 4, 1776 is the date of the American Declaration of Independence, but it would take seven more years before the British Crown would formally recognize the independence of Thirteen Colonies.
June 12 rightfully marks our country’s independence day, because on that day, the Filipino people did not only break free from the shackles of colonialism, but as one nation, fully exercised their right to determine its own national destiny, choose a political system based on the principles of democracy and pursue its own path of social and economic development.
If there is one important lesson to remember from Macapagal’s decision to recognize June 12 as our country’s independence day – it is that freedom cannot be simply bestowed upon by another foreign state or consequent upon an act of another country. A nation has to claim its freedom for itself. The people have to decide to take action in order to achieve it.
Freedom is not something that is freely given. It has to be earned – and there is a price to pay. All throughout history, that price has been paid through the selfless sacrifice of countless men and women who heroically gave up their life – or those who selflessly lived their lives – so that our generation today can “secure to ourselves and our posterity, the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality.”
But what does that mean to Filipinos today?
Simply put, it reminds us – our freedom is not for free. In fact, freedom is not something that we can easily claim as if it was our shared birthright. The tragedy of our times is that our freedom has been reduced to a set of legal and moral entitlements that we have begun to selfishly demand from the government, the economy, and from the wider society but fail to exact from our own selves.
Independence Day reminds us that freedom is an everyday choice we must make. We are as free as we make ourselves to be. But his choice is shaped not by the mere exercise of our rights, but by the decisions we make to preserve the freedom we enjoy. Our rights and liberties are defined by the freedom that we enjoy – and that entails in equal measure how we live out our responsibility and obligations as Filipinos. In the same way that heroes paid the price of our freedom in blood, our freedom today can only be preserved and strengthened only by acts of citizenship.
Today, many Filipinos speak of our rights as natural entitlements in a democracy, but we spend very little time talking about our responsibilities in a democratic society. We easily forget that our obligations as citizens are just as important and that our civic duty form the foundations upon which a free society is built upon. When we miss our obligations as citizens – to vote, to pay taxes, to work gainfully, to participate in government, to follow the laws, to ensure that others live in dignity, to promote justice, equality and solidarity – we fail to pay the price that our freedom entails.
There is a chorus of voices who believe that today our freedom is in grave risk. That our rights are being suppressed. That the powers of government are being abused. That politicians in office corrupting our coffers. That the opposition is being terrorized. That dissent is being outlawed. But that the truth is, isn’t freedom always in graver risk – not only when rights are being suppressed, but when our obligations as citizens are left undone. Not only when the powers of government are being abused, but when the voters sacrilegiously desecrate the sacred power of suffrage. Not only when politicians corrupt public coffers, but when profit becomes a blind economic obsession. Not only the opposition is terrorized but when wanton partisanship begin to shred our political institutions into tatters. Not only when dissent is silenced, but when we fail to see the good as much as we see the wrong in our society.
Independence Day should remind us that, even in our time, we have to pay the price of our freedom – that ultimately we are all accountable for the good or the bad that happens in our country. That what we do, or the things we leave undone can have an impact on our entire nation. Freedom cannot establish deep roots in society until the citizens don’t complement fundamental rights with their fundamental duties. Our freedom should mean more than our moral and legal entitlements, but it requires from us to make an active contribution to a flourishing society and nation as a whole.
Freedom is a word often heard today,
But if you want to keep it there’s a price to pay.
Each generation’s got to win it anew,
‘Cause it’s not something handed down to you.
Freedom isn’t free! Freedom isn’t free!
You’ve got to pay a price,
You’ve got to sacrifice
For your liberty.
(Up With People, Freedom Isn’t Free)