An ‘Independence’ story

Published June 13, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Dr. Jun Ynares


Dr. Jun Ynares
Dr. Jun Ynares

Every year, Rizaleños celebrate two successive “Independence Days.”

Every 12th of June, they mark the Nation’s Independence Day together with the rest of our countrymen.

A day before that, June 11, Rizaleños celebrate another “Independence Day” – the day that the province of Rizal was created after choosing to be independent from what was supposed to have been a giant “Province of Manila.” This year, Rizal province is marking its 120th year of that stand for “Independence.”

Here’s a short look-back into that story.

Prior to June 11, 1901, there was no Rizal province.

Based on historical accounts, in February of 1901, the then-American supervised government of our country decided that it would redefine the geopolitical subdivisions of the Philippines. The colonial government wanted to create a more civilian type of government. On that day, more than 200 delegates to the Philippine Commission gathered and engaged in a heated debate on that matter.

One of that convention’s most controversial and divisive agenda was a proposal to merge the then-province of Morong with the province of Manila. The advocates of the proposal argued that Morong was “not strong enough nor fit to be an independent entity.”

The delegates of Morong stood their ground. Rizaleños would always remember that among those who fought for a province independent from a Manila Province were two distinguished gentlemen: Don Hilarion Raymundo and Jose Tupas who would later become governor of what eventually became Rizal province.

There was a strong argument from those who stood for a merger with Manila. After all, Manila was then already the center of government and commerce. It would have been convenient for the people of Morong province to agree to live in the shadows of the bigger, richer neighbor.

The “First Rizaleños,” however, made a firm stand. Against major odds, they fought for an independent province.  On June 11, 1901, the Philippine Commission approved the creation of an independent province. They named it after the man who inspired Philippine Independence – Dr. Jose Rizal.

At that time, Rizal Province was easily one of the “biggest” in the country.  It was comprised of 29 municipalities. It touched two bodies of water: Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay. It shared boundaries with four of the country’s biggest provinces: Quezon (then Tayabas), Laguna, Cavite in the south; and, Bulacan in the north.

It included then what were later on to become some of the country’s top business centers: the cities of Makati, Taguig, Caloocan, San Juan, Mandaluyong and Pasig, among others.  However, what started as a province with 29 municipalities was dismembered following the creation of Metro Manila in 1975. The province’s richest municipalities and cities taken away to become part of a National Capital Region.

The elders of Rizal used to say that the 1975 debacle was the exact opposite of what happened in 1901. They said that, in contrast to the brave and heroic stand for independence in 1901, there were leaders of the province who “surrendered” the province to the powers-that-be.

They said they never forgave the political personalities of the province who agreed to its dismemberment in apparent exchange for juicy political positions. They said they looked forward to a time when those who turned their back on the province would be “punished” in a political sort of way.

Those who have not forgotten that 1975 dismemberment said that such “punishment” on those who allowed it had already come.

They also recall cynics predicting that Rizal province may end up as nothing more than a “backward neighbor” of the bustling metropolis.

It appears that the cynics have been proven wrong. The province, which survived with 13 municipalities and one component city, has marked major achievements beyond expectation.

It did not allow itself to be reduced to nothing more than an independent but backward province. Instead, Rizal transformed itself into one of the richest, most competitive local government unit in the country today.

For several successive years, it topped the list of the country’s most competitive provinces. The top honors mean that Rizal has surpassed all others in the following criteria: economic dynamism, government efficiency, infrastructure and resiliency.

Rizal province has experienced the setback of being the next-door neighbor of Metro Manila. The frenzied construction activities in the National Capital Region meant that Rizal province’s natural resources have to be tapped for raw materials, often causing damage to the sustainability and quality of the province’s environment.

The province has also become the preferred home of business executives, employees, entrepreneurs and laborers who continue to do business in the National Capital Region. This is why Rizal province immediately felt the impact of the spread of the COVID-19 virus transported by its residents who often contracted the infection at their respective work places in the bustling metropolis.

Ironically, Rizal province is considered a mere “outskirt” of the National Capital Region. It does not enjoy the same priority treatment as the cities and municipality which comprise Metro Manila.

This reality has become even more glaring recently. Rizaleños were dismayed when they learned that the province is not in the priority list of recipients of the precious supply of anti-COVID-19 vaccines. Metro Manila is the priority – even if a significant number of those who comprise its workforce come from outskirts like Rizal Province.

Rizaleños will have to wait for whatever is left of the vaccine supply after the “priority” areas have been given their allocation.

This is a consequence of “independence.” This is the result of the stand that the leaders of the province took in 1901.

No regret.

After all, our national hero after whom the province was named has always emphasized the need for the Filipino to prove that he is worthy of independence.

Perhaps, he meant to ask us ask whether or not we saw independence both as privilege and responsibility. Part of “responsibility” is accepting and embracing the consequence of independence.

For the past 120 years, the province named after him has done exactly that.

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