I could only vaguely remember now the Philippine Centennial thirteen years ago. We used to have a commemorative pin that I would wear to school to show off to my classmates. Boy, was it such a source of school-yard pride that the only other person who sported the pin was the teacher!
Even though I studied in public schools, I’ve never really attended any public celebration of the Philippine Independence. And though I did fairly well in Sibika, and knew the both the old and new versions of the Panatang Makabayan by heart, I never brought Philippine flags and hung them in the classroom window. The only flag I remember ever bringing to school was the flag of Israel during a United Nations Day program in grade four. When I was growing up and watching all these Hollywood movies I had a hard time understanding why so many Americans get so crazed about July Fourth celebrations.
Now, many History courses later, I’ve sort of come to an understanding why a lot of Filipinos don’t really get as hyped up about our Independence as we ought to be. It’s because after one hundred and thirteen years of our “sovereignty”, we don’t really have much to show for it. Freedom remains almost just a textbook concept for many of our poor countrymen, for whom economic opportunities remain scant. Indeed you have to wonder at the incredulity of it all—our forests denuded and mountains carved for valuable minerals that we have yet to see even the slimmest glimmer of; our own staple food imported from countries we ourselves used to train in agriculture.
To say that a man is free just because he is able to cast his ballot on election day is bordering on hilarity. Freedom should also mean being able to earn a decent living without having to leave your own country; it should mean being able to equally share the bounties of the land, with not one group or individual taking advantage of the labors of another.
We could stage grander and grander celebrations of Independence Day every year, and we could make our children memorize every single fact about the 1896 revolution, but until such time that progress is truly felt by all, we will always find it hard to dream about the future without our boxers, singers, and beauty queens.