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Luis Zuriel P. Domingo

September 12th, 2023

A history of Philippine Independence Day

0 comments | 22 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Luis Zuriel P. Domingo

September 12th, 2023

A history of Philippine Independence Day

0 comments | 22 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Recognising the Philippine Revolution and its revolutionaries as the zenith of Filipino assertion of power and identity, Macapagal continued to speak about the unfinished revolution during the day of recognition of Filipino revolutionary heroes like Andres Bonifacio, writes Luis Zuriel P. Domingo

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On 12 June 2023, Filipinos celebrated the 125th anniversary of Philippine independence. Despite the warning of potential thunderstorms brought about by the southwest monsoon, the national and local government in Manila pushed for the ceremonial flag raising and wreath laying at Luneta Park. The government had specified that the 125th anniversary would inaugurate a three-year celebration of Philippine independence and nationhood centred on remembering the founding of the Republic in 1898 until the capture of its president by the Americans in 1901.

Historically, the Philippines has had three independence days. But, of course, the country only celebrates one. The first is 12 June 1898, the current date that the Philippine government recognises and the one celebrated months ago. In 1898, General Emilio Aguinaldo, the revolution’s leader, declared independence at Kawit, Cavite, ending the more than 300 years of Spanish colonial rule in the Philippine Islands; the following year he was declared President of the First Republic under the Malolos Constitution. The second was during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. The Empire of Japan sponsored the Second Republic on 14 October 1943, with Jose P. Laurel as its president. It was a kind of revival of the First Republic that was short-lived in 1901 when the United States interrupted the Philippine revolution and newfound republic. The third was on 4 July 1946. Right before the Second World War ended in the Pacific, the United States reclaimed the Philippines from Japan. Reinstating their rule and keeping their promise of independence, the Americans “granted” the Filipinos their long-aspired independence on 4 July 1946, the date of United States Independence Day, as a sign of American nurturing and upholding their civilising mission of the Manifest Destiny and the White Man’s Burden.

The question, however, is why Filipinos celebrate the 12 June 1898 day of independence and not the 4 July 1946. Interestingly, the changing of Filipino Independence Day from 4 July to 12 June had its history to tell.

Following the Second World War, some Filipinos were disappointed with the idea that the Americans “granted” Filipino independence as a sign of gratitude in the face of the colonial experience. For them, while the United States had given the Filipinos political independence, the country remained economically and militarily dependent on its former colonial master. For instance, from their point of view, the signing of treaties with Washington kept the Philippines under the American sphere of influence during the Cold War: The Bell Trade Act (1946) and the Military Bases Agreement (1947).

These nationalist Filipinos, mostly statesmen and intellectuals who were part of the Second Republic or members and sympathisers of the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, have argued that the Americans have only given the Filipinos their desired independence in minimalist terms but have remained in effective control over the country’s sovereignty. This was the beginning when neocolonialism or imperialism became their point of contention against the country’s continued regression and anaemic economic development in the postcolonial setting.

From their point of view, this so-called American neocolonialism and imperialism have remained the cause of problems for the Philippines. Teodoro Agoncillo, a Filipino historian, even dedicated a chapter tackling neocolonialism and imperialism in his Philippine history textbook, History of the Filipino People (1960). According to Lisandro Claudio (2017), in his preface to the second edition of State and Society in the Philippines, Agoncillo’s oeuvre is more than just a textbook. It became sort of a bible for the anticolonial-nationalist movements in the Philippines in the 1960s-70s.

With this zeitgeist of anti-Americanism came the changing of the date of independence in the Philippines. In 1962, nearly two decades since the country had been celebrating the 4 July day of independence, President Diosdado Macapagal, in an unprecedented move, issued a proclamation  moving the day commemorating Philippine Independence from 4 July to 12 June.

The reason behind Macapagal’s decision was his souring relationship with the United States. Historian Joseph Scalice has argued that Macapagal’s bold move stemmed from the Harry Stonehill scandal, followed by a falling out with Washington, which affected the Filipino veteran’s pension benefits in return for their service in fighting against the Japanese during the war.

Historian Reynaldo Ileto (2016) also shed light on this historical narrative. Ileto discovered that the Philippine Historical Association (PHA), one of the biggest historical organisations in the country founded in 1955, was also behind the idea of moving Independence Day from 4 July to 12 June. The PHA and its members, mostly historians who were antipathetic to the United States, wanted to bring into public discourse the concept of the so-called “unfinished revolution.”

How did the PHA play a part in Macapagal’s decision? Gabriel Fabella, the PHA’s first president and chairperson of the University of the Philippines history department at that time, was the architect behind the idea. The PHA and its members wanted to promote and revive the concept of the Philippine Revolution in the late 1950s, and they saw an opportunity in 1962.

As for Macapagal, he used the “unfinished revolution” to express his bitterness against the United States. But for PHA and its members, changing the day of independence back to the First Republic’s Day of Independence declaration was consciously critical, especially for nationalist historians in the PHA like Fabella and Agoncillo.

From then on, Macapagal started using the same language and grammar as the nationalist intellectuals who had long questioned American neocolonialism and imperialism. In his words, Macapagal has stated that it is only correct to recognise 12 June as the day of independence, as the Philippines was “the first successful national revolution in Asia since the coming of the West, and the Republic to which it gave birth was the first democratic Republic outside the Western hemisphere.”

What is also interesting to consider is Macapagal’s Independence Day speech the following year in 1963, where he first coined the term Unfinished Revolution: “Our national revolution may thus be said to have been interrupted six decades ago, so that today and for a time to come we are faced with the remaining tasks of the Unfinished Revolution.” Macapagal, like the PHA, reminded the Filipinos that the duty and vision of the nineteenth-century Philippine Revolution remain unfinished; hence, it is right to remember the glorious revolutionary past.

Recognising the Philippine Revolution and its revolutionaries as the zenith of Filipino assertion of power and identity, Macapagal continued to speak about the unfinished revolution during the day of recognition of Filipino revolutionary heroes like Andres Bonifacio.

Macapagal was more than a nationalist. According to Scalice (2020) and Ileto (2016), the fallout with the Americans also shifted Macapagal’s international interest. In this case, Macapagal made an effort to ally himself with Indonesia’s Sukarno. Although coming from a liberal-conservative political party, Macapagal found a similar “revolutionary” path that was comparable—sharing a similar rhetoric—with Sukarno’s idea of a revolution. But Scalice has argued that it was only a political move, given that Macapagal was eyeing support and alliance from a newly reborn Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas and the Left in the 1960s.

Since that time, the Philippines has continued to recognise and celebrate its day of independence on 12 June every year. From a postcolonial vantage point, we can assume that Macapagal’s move was favourable and commendable. It was a strong imposition of Filipino identity in a period when the Philippines was attempting to decolonise and distinguish itself on the regional and global theatre.

But the more important question is how Filipinos have come to regard the idea of independence. Does it remind them of the patriotism and nationalism that it achieved? Perhaps, a celebration of freedom? Or is it just a mere holiday?

In a country where the study of history appears to be in danger because of massive disinformation and the removal of Philippine history as a subject from secondary education, these questions not only require answers but also reflect Filipino aspirations towards true freedom and independence as well.

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*Banner photograph of Philippine flag by iSawRed on Unsplash

*The views expressed in the blog are those of the authors alone. They do not reflect the position of the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre, nor that of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

About the author

Luis Zuriel P. Domingo

Luis Zuriel P. Domingo is with the Department of History and Philosophy of the University of the Philippines Baguio. He received his BA and MA History from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. His research interests focus on the history of nationalism in Southeast Asia, emphasising the Philippines.

Posted In: Connectivity | Decolonisation | Governance

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