Last June 12, 2013, we celebrated our 114th year of Independence. 114 years ago (1898), the shackles that bound us to the Spanish government were broken, and our first-ever president, Emilio Aguinaldo, waved our flag for the first time in Kawit, Cavite.
Last June 19, 2013, we celebrated the 152nd birthday of our national hero, Jose Rizal. Born and raised in Calamba, Laguna, his books – Noli Mi Tangere (“Touch Me Not”) and El Filibusterismo (“The Filibuster”) helped in sparking the revolution that led to our freedom a couple of years after his death on December 30, 1896.
It’s interesting to note that these two important events in Philippine history occurred within days of each other. It is more interesting to note that no big nationwide festivities were held to honor our day of Independence nor Jose Rizal’s birthday. Flags were displayed on lampposts across major thoroughfares, small concerts were held around Metro Manila, and the government commemorated Independence Day in Kawit, Cavite, but that was it. No big fireworks displays nor star-studded parties in the metropolitan cities.
A friend asked me early that day if it was really a happy day, and if we were truly independent. It was a happy day for me at least, but I couldn’t speak factually for Filipinos living in country on what they felt that day. However, for all the projections of pride, I could sense that Filipinos here still aren’t as happy given our current societal situation.
Many Filipino personalities and cultural aspects have made us proud by making a name globally or regionally – Jose Rizal (author, doctor, civic leader), Carlos P. Romulo (diplomat), musical and design talents both homegrown and foreign-grown (Lea Salonga, Arnel Pineda, Charice Pempengco, Christian Bautista, Urbandub, Slapshock, Jessica Sanchez, Apl.de.Ap, Monique Lhuillier, Oliver Tolentino, Robin Tomas, Rafe Totengco, Josie Natori), athletes (Manny Pacquiao, Django Bustamante, Efren Reyes, Ronato Alcano, the Philippine AZKALS), models and beauty titlists (Gloria Diaz, Margie Moran – Floreindo, Precious Lara Quigaman, Gwendolyn Ruais, Danica Magpantay, Venus Raj, Shamcey Supsup and Janine Tugonon), cuisine (Aling Lucing’s Sisig, balut), brands (Jollibee, Bench), heritage sites (Calle Crisologo in Vigan, Banaue Rice Terraces, Palawan Underground River) and islands (Coron, Puerto Princesa and Cuyo in Palawan, Bohol, Davao and Caticlan in Aklan to name a few).
However, patronage politics, bureaucracy, inadequate provision of quality basic needs, lack of job opportunities, environmental degradation, poverty, heavy traffic and flooding, impractical and unappealing urban planning designs, rising crime rate, “crab” mentality, mediocre entertainment and the lack of basic discipline and ethics are continually frustrating Filipinos here and abroad. In addition, many of us Filipinos aren’t organically supportive of homegrown brands and underground music, because we have been disillusioned by the more famous yet mediocre personalities and types of entertainment. We also continue to be problematically ethnocentric – defensive of our race, and offensive against others. And these are the reasons why I think majority of us didn’t feel or celebrate those days. Some of us might even think that our heroes are turning in their graves for all the issues that we are currently facing and for our blatant favoritism towards foreign-produced goods – “What is the point of celebrating Rizal’s birthday, if our current situation would shame him?”
Independence is another, more complex matter. Sovereignty is a political concept, and current territorial dispute issues (Sabah, Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands) bring this concept to the forefront of academic discussions. Moreover, we ourselves are still dependent on foreign aid and bound to foreign ideologies from both sides of the political spectrum, from communism to religious conservatism. We can’t seem to find ourselves in a happy middle.
Despite everything, I continue to be thankful to Jose Rizal for all he has written and done, and I continue to be loving and hopeful towards my country. This is my motherland and my home. This is where my heart and soul is, and where I choose to build my career to make it a better place. This is where I will foster happiness and build my independence.
I am happy! I am independent! And I am proud to be Filipina!