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Friday, July 19, 2024

Safeguarding our independence

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“Our fishers have fought bravely for our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea. The task now is to provide the support they urgently need”

ON JUNE 12, 1898, we declared independence from Spain after 377 years of colonial rule.

But the independence represented by the inauguration of the First Philippine Republic in Kawit, Cavite was short-lived as the country soon found itself a colony again, this time of the United States, through the Treaty of Paris between the US and Spain later that year.

The American colonial period stretched for more than four decades, broken only by four years of Japanese occupation, before independence was restored in July 1946.

We commemorate our Independence Day today with appropriate ceremonies that rightly extol the sacrifices made by our forebears and re-affirm our commitment to freedom and democracy.

When we speak of our independence, we refer to an entity, the Philippine Republic, that is free to run its own affairs and is anchored on democratic ideals and a system of checks and balances.

We have a people who are free to choose what kind of political, economic and social system we want based on our own history, culture and traditions.

Filipinos can choose leaders from the national level down to the smallest political unit – the barangay – in generally free and fair elections.

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 are also giving the widest possible leeway for the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution, like freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom to peacefully assemble, among others.

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 political freedoms, the greater challenge now is to extend this freedom to the economic and social realms, so we can ensure freedom from poverty, hunger, ignorance and disease.

We can do this by creating jobs, attaining food security, and improving the welfare and over-all quality of life of millions of Filipinos still trapped in poverty.

For us, real freedom consists not only in asserting our sovereignty as a nation, but more important, giving our people the means to improve their lives so they can expand the limits of the possible and look forward to the future with hope and confidence.

Safeguarding our EEZ

Real threats to our national sovereignty and territorial integrity require not just a response from government but also from the whole of society.

That’s the key reason the civil society group Atin Ito has launched an “Adopt-a-Payao” campaign to assist Filipino fisherfolk affected by Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

A payao is a traditional fishing device designed to lure and catch fish.

Atin Ito and Akbayan party-list group are urging the business community and other sectors to support fishers through the “Adopt-a-Payao” campaign by sponsoring the manufacture and deployment of payaos.

Through this campaign, they hope to encourage individuals and organizations to directly impact the lives of fishing communities, enabling them to continue to pursue their livelihood despite challenges.

They are right: Each payao deployed is not just a means of supporting our fishers but also an act of patriotism, a symbol of solidarity for fellow Filipinos, and a firm stance against China’s unlawful actions in the West Philippine Sea.

Another civil society group, the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, believes it is time for the public to support the livelihood of Filipino fishers who have been severely affected by Chinese encroachment in the West Philippine Sea.

It is true our fishers have fought bravely for our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea. The task now is to provide the support they urgently need.

Atin Ito announced its new campaign after leading a civilian convoy to Scarborough Shoal in the WPS, where it installed symbolic markers within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone and distributed food packs and fuel to Filipino fishers in the area.

Will other civil society groups and the business sector follow suit? We really hope so.

Our fisherfolk in the country’s western flank need all the support they can get to protect their livelihood and secure their future. (Email: ernhil@yahoo.com)

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