124 years ago, on June 12, 1896, we declared independence from Spain after 400 years of colonial rule. But this independence was short-lived, as the country soon found itself a colony again at the turn of the 20th century, this time of the United States, through the Treaty of Paris.
The American colonial period stretched for more than more than four decades, broken only by four years of Japanese occupation, before the nation declared itself independent again in 1946.
Independence today means many things other than freedom from colonial domination.
When we speak of independence today, we refer to an entity, the Philippine Republic, that is free to run its own affairs.
Independence has allowed us to build a government structure and political institutions that suit our particular characteristics as a nation and as a people.
We have a government that can make decisions on its own, without interference by other nations or by foreign institutions. And we have a people who are free to choose what kind of political, economic and social system they want to have based on their own history, culture and traditions.
We now have a fully functional republic anchored on democratic ideals and a system of checks and balances.
Our people are free to choose their leaders from the national level down to the smallest political unit—the barangay—in free and fair elections.
And the country stands proud among the international community, and freely relates with other countries on the basis of mutual respect, mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence.
Beyond the enjoyment of formal political independence, however, there is the imperative to give full play to the substantive aspects of freedom.
This means extending full protection to human rights and giving the widest possible leeway for the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom to peacefully assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances, among others.
At the same time, we face the grim reality of roughly one-fourth of all Filipinos still living in poverty. We must pursue more aggressively the war against poverty and uplift the standards of living of those standing on the margins of society.
We must intensify efforts to ensure freedom from poverty, hunger, ignorance and disease by creating jobs, achieving food security, and improving the welfare and over-all quality of life of the people.
On the 124th year of Philippine independence, we believe that real freedom consists not only in asserting our sovereignty as a nation, but more important, in giving our people the means by which we can all face the future with hope, dignity and confidence.