Thanks to President Diosdado Macapagal, we no longer celebrate our Independence on the very same day that the USA does, July 4. Although June 12 seems more appropriate than July 4, it may not be as accurate as you may wish it to be. The Declaration of Independence (Act of Proclamation) dated June 12, 1898, written in the florid style of the 19th century, enumerated our grievances against Spain. For instance, the harsh treatment of the guardia civil, arbitrary arrests, the reign of the friars, cruel banishment instigated by the clergy and religious orders, the unjust execution of the secular priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, of Jose Rizal and other patriots. It also stated that Rizal foretold our redemption and that Don Emilio Aguinaldo was the instrument of our salvation. It affirmed the legality of the Revolution and heralded its triumph in many provinces in Luzon and the Visayas.
More importantly, it affirmed that Filipinos had the right to be free and independent and that the Philippines is a sovereign nation as witnessed by the “Supreme Judge of the Universe.” How mystifying that this watershed of a declaration ended with a discordant phrase which placed us “under the protection of the mighty and humane North American nation.” (One of the signatories was an American soldier!) Who could have inserted those unfortunate words? It could not have been a member of the Hong Kong junta because early on they were wary of the USA’s true intentions. Was it Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, the designated reader of the declaration? Was it Aguinaldo himself? While in Hong Kong, he would meet with the Americans who convinced him that the USA was both friend and ally. As ineluctable proof, he was given a shipment of arms through the US Vice-consul in Hong Kong. Aguinaldo was totally unaware that while Rianzares read the Declaration of Independence to a euphoric multitude in Kawit, Cavite, the invincible US naval fleet was already steaming towards Manila Bay with instructions to occupy the Philippines.
Apolinario Mabini had been summoned by Aguinaldo himself, upon the advice of Felipe Agoncillo. He arrived in Kawit on June 12, carried in a hammock, with Gen. Paciano Rizal as body guard. Both gentlemen had been analyzing the rise of the USA as an imperial power; they must have been alarmed by that ironic phrase offering the Philippines as a protectorate while declaring itself independent of Spain.
Mabini’s influence was immediately felt: On June 23 there was another proclamation declaring a revolutionary government (in lieu of a dictatorial one previously announced by Aguinaldo), and that a “true republic” will be established. No mention was made of the USA nor of any protector nation. Should we then celebrate our Independence on June 23, instead of on June 12?
As mentioned earlier, the Anti-Imperialist League (AI) was vehemently against the invasion of the Philippines and its annexation as a colony of the USA. Not many of our historians know that the activities of the AI elicited some comments from a Russian revolutionary by the name of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin. Although he called them “the last of the Mohicans of bourgeois democracy” he agreed that the annexation of foreign territories was a criminal act in violation of the US Constitution and that the betrayal of Aguinaldo to whom they had promised independence was “Jingo treachery,” a phrase used by the AI.
On the heels of the Philippines, many other colonies in Asia embarked on their anti-colonial wars of liberation and self-determination. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Communist International (Comintern) was founded in 1919 and revolutionary movements the world over were invited to join the founding congress. There were extensive reports about China, Japan, India and Indonesia, but only an oblique reference to the Philippines in the First Congress of the Peoples of the Far East (Jan. 1922). The list of enslaved nations included the “Pacific Isles” which encompassed the Philippines.
Independence was a dream that never left our forebears; it did not seem to matter that the politicians then were not sincere in their pursuit of it. Independence missions were sent to the USA in 1918 and 1919, carefully filleted episodes to obtain the promises of the Jones Bill of 1916. Whether the occupant of the White House was a Republican or a Democrat, Philippine independence was dead on arrival. Between 1921 and 1927, about 6 missions crossed the Pacific to the USA, but all came back empty-handed.
In 1927, the Philippine legislature passed a bill for an independence plebiscite which President Calvin Coolidge, reputedly a progressive Democrat, promptly vetoed. He said the plebiscite would be unconvincing, and bad for business. “The Filipino people are by no means equipped, either in wealth or in experience to undertake the heavy burden which would be imposed upon them with political independence.” (Agoncillo and Alfonso) No one dared defang the argument.
After 50 years of colonization, when WW II was over and the Philippines reduced to rubble, the USA finally restored the independence we had declared twice in June 1898 and which they stole soon after with their mighty Krag. The precious dream was returned to us, not on a silver platter, but with an extremely onerous caveat, the Bell Trade Act. That was another rocky road.
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