"These dates leave us with valuable lessons that each nation must never forget."
On July 4, 75 years ago, crowds assembled at the Independence Grandstand, a temporary structure constructed in front of the ruined old Congress building, witnessed the US flag being lowered, and the Philippine flag finally raised to fly alone, a fitting symbol to culminate decades of the country’s struggle for independence. Finally, the United States has recognized our nation’s independence, 48 years since our forebears took off the shackles of the Spanish colonial power.
The Fourth of July, however, is best known around the world as the US Independence Day, commemorating the date when the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, rejected the authority of the British king and formally declared the 13 colonies as united, free and independent states.
But on the same date, more than a hundred years later, the United States has forgotten its colonial past, and guided by ill-conceived ideas of manifest destiny, it became the colonial master it once derided. Few remember that unfortunate day of July 4, 1902, when then US President Theodore Roosevelt issued an absolute pardon and amnesty to all Filipinos and declared the cessation of all hostilities resulting from the “insurrection against the Government of the United States.” The same act, however, consequently established US colonial authority over the Philippines Islands.
Ironically, that same day celebrating the Declaration of Independence became a day of conquest that later intertwined the destinies of the two countries—a relationship that continues to this day.
Forty-four years later, this historical irony would later be corrected with the United States formally recognizing the independence of the Philippines. This ended a process which began as early as 1916 with the passage of the Jones Act that guaranteed eventual recognition of Philippine independence and the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934 which provided for the creation of the transitional Commonwealth of the Philippines.
On July 4, 1946, Manuel Roxas took his oath as the President of a truly independent Republic of the Philippines.
Interestingly, until 1962, July 4 was the date when Philippine Independence Day was celebrated every year, and for many years the Philippines shared its independence day with its former colonial master.
In many ways, the overlap in the dates left the date of Philippine independence largely unnoticed, and greater attention, of course, was given to the United States. This was especially true in diplomatic circles, when the traditional fete in honor of the Philippine Independence Day would often be anticipated or belatedly celebrated in deference to the US holiday.
On the other hand, June 12, was celebrated as Flag Day, commemorating the first time the national flag was first unfurled in Kawit, Cavite. Not only were the political leaders of that time felt that the nascent attempt to establish the Philippine Republic in 1896 a failed democratic experiment; they were also hesitant to give undue attention to the revolutionary old guard, former President Emilio Aguinaldo, and of course, the entire political establishment of the Malolos Congress.
Finally, July 4, 1946 became a reckoning date for the establishment of the republic’s new institution. The former Congress of the Commonwealth of the Philippines was replaced by the first Congress of an independent Republic of the Philippines. All public officials were asked to re-take their oath of office, now eliminating the pledge of allegiance to the United States of America which was required prior to independence.
It was in 1962, though, when President Diosdado Macapagal issued Proclamation No. 28, which transferred the date of Philippine independence from July 4 to June 12. The late president argued that “the establishment of the Philippine Republic by the Revolutionary Government under General Emilio Aguinaldo on June 12, 1898, marked our people’s declaration and exercise of their right to self-determination, liberty and independence.”
This act by former President Macapagal gave credence to a once minority from historians and many political leaders who believed that June 12 was the original foundational date of the nation, and the later date of July 4, was simply a restoration of that independence.
However, moving the date of Philippine independence was not devoid of the political issues of the day. On May 28 early that year, the US House of Representatives rejected a proposed additional war reparation bill amounting to 75 million US dollars. This rejection caused indignation among Filipinos, and forfeited American goodwill in the Philippines. This provided him the opportunity to push the change in the date of Philippine independence, a longstanding campaign promise that he made before he ascended the presidency.
Two years later, the Congress of the Philippines passed Republic Act No 4166 formally designating June 12 of every year as the date of Philippine independence, commemorating the birth of the first democratic republic in Asia. The same legislation designated July 4 as Republic Day, to mark the establishment of the modern and independent Republic of the Philippines. Until 1984, Republic Day was celebrated as a non-working national holiday.
The more familiar Philippine-American Friendship Day can be traced to Proclamation No. 212, issued by President Ramon Magsaysay in 1955 originally designating November 15 as “Philippine American Day.” The following year, in accordance with Proclamation No. 363, that one time observance became a yearly event.
In 1984, with the end of martial law and the full promulgation of the 1973 Constitution, President Ferdinand Marcos deemed it inaccurate to celebrate Republic Act on July 4, which was based on the former 1935 Constitution. Instead, he issued Proclamation No. 2346 declaring July 4 as the yearly commemoration of the Philippine-American Friendship Day.
After the EDSA Revolution, President Corazon Aquino formally abolished the yearly practice of celebrating both the Philippine—American Friendship Day and Philippine Republic Day as a non-working holiday. When the 1987 Administrative Code was passed, the list of non-working national holidays did not anymore include July 4.
It is interesting how dates in history can weave together not only the destinies of nations, but even one nation’s conquest over another and a people’s struggle for liberty. In the same way that July 4 could mean liberty or conquest for some, some snippets of history would tell different, and often diverging, stories. But in the end, they leave us with valuable lessons that each nation must never forget—that of liberty, conquest and friendship.