OF TREES AND FOREST
I know our nation is currently faced with a tremendous challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic has been ravaging our lives and our economy for close to two years now. Individually, people are confronted with the daily grind of making sure they can safely go to work, some have been suffering economically, physically and mentally because of the lockdowns that have been imposed and the sheer uncertainty that these times bring. These are difficult times but I am certain we will endure. Our nation, our republic, has survived many challenges in the past. We have endured wars, conflicts, political crises (both local and international), economic shocks and the like.
On Sunday, Jan. 23, we will be celebrating the 123rd anniversary of the First Republic of the Philippines that was inaugurated in Malolos, Bulacan. Pandemic or no pandemic, we should be proudly commemorating this important event. The establishment of the First Philippine Republic was the crowning achievement of Filipinos who sacrificed their lives for freedom and independence.
Imagine what our people had to endure then. For more than 300 years, we were under Spanish rule. While Spain contributed a lot to our history and culture, many of our people suffered from persecution, oppression and abuse. Jose Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere, was an indictment of abuses committed under colonial rule. When I was in school and was required to read the novel as part of the curriculum, I remember the caricature that is Padre Damaso and the anger I felt as the fictional work revealed the brutality and corruption of Spanish rule. In a way, that was their pandemic, a pandemic of colonial rule.
Through the writings and works of Rizal, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, and Graciano Lopez Jaena, the Propaganda Movement fought for the equal treatment of Filipinos and their just representation in the Cortes, the Spanish legislature. It was the beginning of the dream to become a nation, free and independent from colonial rule.
The Propaganda Movement showcased the importance of education; but not just formal education. The Filipino elites did get topnotch education from topnotch institutions of learning but it was the knowledge that they acquired through reading and observing the conditions of other countries that led them to conclude that the Filipinos deserve better. These ideas were passed down and developed further by other nationalists at that time. Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto would later form the Katipunan, a revolutionary movement that took up arms and fought for independence from Spain.
The revolution would experience defeats and triumphs, acts of unity and betrayal but the revolutionaries would persist. This persistence of the Filipinos would lead them to eventual victory that paved the way to the declaration of Philippine independence on June 12, 1898. I can only imagine how Filipinos felt during this momentous event.
Then on Sept. 15, 1898, the Malolos Congress began the difficult task of crafting a Constitution that would encapsulate, in a formal and legal document, the emergence of a new nation-state. President Emilio Aguinaldo approved the final draft of the Constitution on Dec. 23 of that year. It was then formally adopted by the Malolos Congress on Jan. 20, 1899, and promulgated by President Aguinaldo on Jan. 21, 1899. Then two days later, on Jan. 23, 1899 the First Republic of the Philippines was formally established: With three branches of government, a constitution, and territory under the authority of a government. It was a proud moment in Philippine history. It should make us proud now, 123 years later.
It was a glorious moment in our story as a nation. We continue to define and redefine ourselves as a people, we have changed our Constitution many times, and, we have changed numerous governments over the years, the one thing that is constant is our desire to become a nation and a republic that is genuinely independent and sovereign, and free from poverty.
This battle against COVID-19 is perhaps our very own revolution. But just like the 19th century revolutionaries, victory will require us to battle not just the enemy, but our own discords and bickering. We can only win this fight as one nation, as one resilient republic.
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