One hundred twenty-three years after Emilio Aguinaldo unfurled the Philippine flag on his balcony in Cavite, we ask again: Have we become really and truly independent?
The context in those days was independence from a foreign power. For centuries, Filipinos were made to feel inferior in their own land, existing to serve the needs and whims of the colonizer. We could not chart our own destiny nor speak out when oppressed.
In 1898, however, that appeared to have ended.
The operative word is “appeared.” Over the next decades, what happened to the Filipino people has been well documented. We went through two more periods of colonization, martial law by a strongman, and in between, we figured out which governance models worked and which did not.
It seems we are still grappling.
This year’s Independence Day commemoration is marked by the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic including an economic recession, persistent lack of government accountability, untrammelled bullying by a giant neighbor, and the specter of national elections a mere 11 months from today, among others.
Given all these issues, it might be good practice to reflect on our grasp of the word “independent.”
Do we understand, for instance, that an “independent” foreign policy does not mean shunning all advice and criticism from other nations while taking in all that a preferred neighbor says and does even if it is detrimental to our interest?
Do we appreciate that one’s ability to be an effective leader is independent of one’s wealth, connections or prominent family name?
Do we comprehend that poverty is not a result of inherent laziness but a result of untapped potential and missed opportunity?
Can we imagine that independence is about thinking critically based on verified information, instead of parroting lines fed by the herd or propagated by spin doctors?
Finally, independence is about speaking the truth no matter who might feel offended or alluded to.
There is nominal independence, of course. But there is a substantial, meaningful side to independence we all must aspire to every day, in our individual and national lives.