Three Philippine presidents on independence

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Every year, the sitting President of the Philippines offers his or her thoughts on the event that has shaped, and will continue to shape, the country’s identity — its independence from foreign rule. Here are some of the most notable remarks of several presidents.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who celebrated his first Independence Day as head of the country last year, had a short message that began with a reminder of the losses that the freedom Filipinos are enjoying today entailed. “More than a century ago, thousands have laid down their lives so that we may live with the dignity and rights befitting a free nation. The journey to freedom was a long and arduous one — which our countrymen paid for with blood, sweat and the ultimate act of selfless sacrifice,” Mr. Duterte said. He continued, “Despite the insurmountable hardships, the patriotism and undaunted spirit of the Filipino led to our triumph against the shackles of slavery and abuse.”

He then asked Filipinos to take inspiration from “our forebears who valiantly fought and offered their lives so that we may have the liberties we enjoy today.” And the specific actions he urged Filipinos to take in homage to their heroism were to preserve the country’s sovereignty and to perform their civic rights and responsibilities. “After all,” Mr. Duterte said, “it is our inherent duty as citizens to ensure that the Philippines fulfills its destiny as a great and prosperous nation.”

The Independence Day speech of the late former President Corazon C. Aquino took on a deeper meaning because when it was delivered, in 1986, the country had just reclaimed its independence from the dictatorship of Ms. Aquino’s predecessor, the late former President Ferdinand E. Marcos. “Free and hopeful sum up the state of the nation as of Independence Day in 1986. Despite lack of funds and firepower, Filipinos were able to stand up to a dictatorship of 14 years and liberate their country once again. Hard resolve and unbelievable courage gave them strength,” Ms. Aquino said.

“Today we celebrate meaningfully our freedom and independence as we have not been able to for the past 14 years. But what is more important is that today, tomorrow, and in the months and years to come, we shall be able to exercise our freedom and independence as we were never able to. The Philippine independence of 1896 was too brief. Our independence of 1946 was quickly misused and finally betrayed by our leaders. But today we have another chance, our third try, to make something of the freedom and independence for which so many Filipinos have sacrificed and died.”

Ms. Aquino emphasized that independence came “purely by Filipino effort,” but lamented that it had to be won — not from foreign invaders, but from fellow Filipinos. Following through on her promise of summing up the state of the nation in two words — free and hopeful — she said, “We are free because we decided collectively to be free. Nothing could stand in the way of our freedom thereafter. And we have reason to be hopeful because now we realize that united we have the power to accomplish what we wish.”

When the late former President Ramon F. Magsaysay delivered an Independence Day speech, in 1956, the historic event was still being celebrated on July 4. (It was only in 1962, by virtue of a proclamation issued by the late former President Diosdado P. Macapagal, that June 12 was made the official Independence Day of the country).

“Ten years ago today, by the grace of God, we realized a dream for which Filipinos had fought and died for hundred of years. On that day was born the Republic of the Philippines, a sovereign nation of free and independent Filipinos. The road we traveled to reach that goal was long and hard. On that road our fathers and their fathers before them fought and died. During the past half century the end of that hard road came in sight. The marks of our struggle changed from blood and steel to persuasion and principle. Our final victory was won with reason rather than violence,” Mr. Magsaysay began his remarks.

He noted how the country, at the turn of the 20th century, had to shake off “the grip of one foreign country only to come under the sovereignty of another.” It seemed to come as a relief to him, however, that the last sovereign nation that took control of the country  the United States  was one that held in “the freedom and dignity of man among its most cherished traditions.” “Within the framework of this tradition we developed our case for self-determination and independence. Our case prospered. And on July 4, 1946, in an atmosphere of mutual respect and warm friendship, the stars and stripes of America were lowered; and the flag of our Republic proclaimed to the world that we stood at last as a free and sovereign people in the community of nations,” he said.

Looking ahead, he encouraged Filipinos to express positive or true nationalism. “Positive or true nationalism is that which places the national good above personal interest, bias, or prejudices. It seeks, discloses, and cultivates what is good in the community and the nation, knowing that the stronger growth of what is good will choke out the weeds of what is bad. The true nationalist does not ignore or conceal national shortcomings, but works hard to correct them; he does not advertise them to feed his own vanity,” Mr. Magsaysay said.

Despite being aware that the country’s course was perilous, in that everything Filipinos held dear would be lost should they become careless or relax their effort, Mr. Magsaysay was sure of something. “If freedom is destined to survive at all upon this earth, I have the fullest faith and confidence that we Filipinos have the wisdom and energy which, with Divine grace and guidance, will keep us securely on our course,” he said.