The Philippines: Its Hard-fought for Independence

If it were not reverted to June 12 in 1962 by the late President Diosdado P. Maca­pagal with the passage of Republic Act 4166 by Congress, Filipinos to this day would still be celebrating Independence Day on July 4, twelve hours before Americans wake up to it.

The Philippines gained independence from the United States on July 4, 1946 as promised on Aug. 29, 1916 in the Jones Law, which was amended in March 24, 1934 by the Tydings-McDuffie Law. Were it not for the outbreak of World War II which drew an unprepared Philippines, the Filipinos would have gained yet another independence from foreign rule earlier.

For it did gain its independence from Spain after a revolution that began in 1896, which in truth turned out to be a mere culmination of a series of 41 recorded revolts from 1574 to 1888—not including a revolt waged by Princess Urduja in Pangasinan whose army fought the Spaniards from 1680 to 1692. This is according to Bobby Reyes who claims in his blog that “July 4 is the Philippines’ true independence.” Going by his account, the Filipinos hardly submitted to foreign rule, and that includes the brief British occupation.

It is a known fact that fifty years before America granted the Philippines its independence, the country has already proclaimed it on June 12, 1898. This happened on the balcony of General Emilio Aguinaldo’s house in Kawit, Cavite; among the revolutionary leaders who had died in the wake of separate fierce fighting, General Aguinaldo survived with an even bigger following. The Philippine flag was first raised on that day and the national anthem, played.

That day supposedly ended 300 years of foreign domination by the Spaniards. But apparently, in an event larger than the sphere of politics the Filipinos could grasp, Spain in its defeat during the Spanish-American War waged in Latin America “ceded the Philippines to the United States in the 1898 Treaty of Paris, in consideration for an indemnity for Spanish expenses and assets lost.” The Americans controlled the Walled City of Intramuros after their May 1, 1898 naval victory at Manila Bay, also called the Battle of Manila Bay but more commonly dismissed as a ‘mock battle’.

Still in January 1, 1899 Aguinaldo was declared President of the Philippines — the only president of what would be later called the First Philippine Republic. He later organized a Congress to draft a constitution. But tensions between the Philippine and the American governments continued because of the conflicting movements for independence and colonization, aggravated by the feelings of betrayal on the part of Aguinaldo. The Malolos Congress declared war on the United States on June 2, 1899, with Pedro Paterno, President of Congress, issuing a Proclamation of War.

The war officially ended on July 4, 1902. However, remnants of the Philippine Army, and other resistance groups continued hostilities against American rule until 1913. The U.S. conquest of the Philippines has been described in some accounts as “a genocide” and resulted in the death of 1.4 million Filipinos (out of a total population of seven million).

During that two-year period, U.S. President William McKinley reiterated “the intention of the United States Government to establish and organize government—essentially popular in form—in the municipal and provincial administrative divisions of the Philippine Islands. In line with this, he confers upon the Second Philippine Commission, headed by William Howard Taft, the authority to exercise the legislative power of government beginning 1 September 1900.”

In the Letter of Instruction dated April 7, 1900 sent through Elihu Root, Secretary of War and transmitted to the Congress on the December 5, 1899, McKinley said, speaking of the Philippine Islands: “As long as the insurrection continues the military arm must necessarily be supreme. But there is no reason why steps should not be taken from time to time to inaugurate governments essentially popular in their form as fast as territory is held and controlled by our troops. To this end I am considering the advisability of the return of the commission, or such of the members thereof as can be secured, to aid the existing authorities and facilitate this work throughout the islands.”

In the wake of World War II where Filipinos and Americans fought a fierce war against the Japanese, representatives of the United States of America and of the Republic of the Philippines signed a Treaty of General Relations between the two governments. The treaty provided “for the recognition of the independence of the Republic of the Philippines as of July 4, 1946, and the relinquishment of American sovereignty over the Philippine Islands.”

To this day as America’s skies blossom, boom, and pop with pyrotechnics, debates often rage among Filipinos as to which date—June 12, 1898 or July 4, 1946—marks the Philippines’ true independence.

“Papa,” the last time

His gaze lingers, unblinking, as if he were seeing me for the first time. I wonder if I don’t look grotesque in the closeness of an ambulance cab we have been packed into. And yet his eyes graze every spot I worked at concealing like a bug-shaped mole on my upper left cheek and a shallow dimple he couldn’t possibly find because I, too, am gazing down at him baffled, unsmiling.

His cheeks defined by sharp high bones like mine, now webbed with track lines of the years have been drained of anxiety—some perhaps his own of his younger years and mine of evenings he waited for me to come home. His lips held by a round chin like I have, a bit wide like a woman’s flaked—they always did from some kind of vitamin deficiency like mine—and slacked as if about to say something but stays mute.

The paramedic edges closer and leans towards me. He whispers, “Say something to keep his mind awake. His hearing is still sharp.” But his thoughts like mine could be drowning in the rhythmic rise and fall of the siren as the ambulance hurtles into space that for the first time do not pull us apart like they did when as a child his visits home seemed years away. 

What could I tell him now? “I love you” or words akin to it that we never did exchange? He did sign letters I received as a child, “Love,” answers to letters I scrawled that asked for dolls—he sent books instead, saying these were easier to find: the first ever on my eighth birthday, Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper he dedicated with a noble quote beyond a child’s grasp: “Education supplants intelligence but does not supply it.” 

He worked in the city a whole evening away and schooled nights, too. I remember birthdays I waited for him to step off the only bus trip that got to our town—it did stop at our gate for the driver to drop off a parcel of golden delicious apples and walnuts and a greeting card every time all those years that I read only recently: “Darling Baby…” 

“Papa” was a word I could say properly accented in the last syllable the Spanish way my mother taught me. But as it was foreign to my friends who sat on their father’s lap whom they called by the native term not “Papa”, it was a mere idea for me—the absent arms that could have caught me when I fell from the stairs once and scraped my knees or whom I imagined brought home chico, a brown fruit I craved during my malarial delirium, the figure who should have pinned my ribbons in grade school when I attained first honors, and who could have led fans as I rode on the open top of a bedecked convertible being muse of our Senior Class. 

When chosen to represent our school in a regional secondary oratorical contest, he descended like Zeus into my existence—writing my piece, training me in elocution, whipping me with his serious stance as he listened to me recite every evening on our balcony to a phantom crowd. Like a sword dangling in the night sky instead of the moon, a gold medal he had aimed for me haunted the hours—my stomach churned acids that kept me in the bathroom retching every morning. His presence had turned so venomous that I refused to go to the competition if he stayed—in the battle of wills I won; he left on the eve of the contest. I got a silver medal. He wired a note and sent me my first gold wrist watch. 

By the time he could afford to bring my mother and sister over to the city and we lived as a family, I had started working in the publications office of a university. He critiqued any piece I wrote—I faced every blank page terrorized by standards he pointed out in books he shoved at the dinner table. I broke down one evening tossing out the books, raging at his indifference to the child he doesn’t know for whom he wasn’t present ever. He had cried, quivering as he is now. 

“What’s happening?“ I rasp. The paramedic whispers, “a slight convulsion, don’t worry. We have it under control. Hold his hand.” I take his left hand in mine. 

It is the first time our hands clasp—his feels so fragile, so light like butterfly wings. I am tempted to squeeze it, to drain that power he had so held me in rein but the hand fluttered like a fallen wing. 

Is that a blink of one of his eyes? “No,” the paramedic tells me, “just muscle contraction.” The gaze continues to lie on my brow. 

What could be missing that he seems to search beyond me? I realize I don’t have time to ruminate, as he would call indulging in thought. With words, alien words, English words were how he kept me as a child clasped to his without being there, without being present.    

Discombobulate, was another word he loved. When he tore up tangled phrases and sentences I wrote, he hammered the rules of clarity. Work on language that paints pictures, he later added, as he earmarked pages of books on the craft of fiction writing. By then, my writing had turned murky—I had fallen in love and my emotions kept me etherized. But love was a word that he never talked about. 

The sirens wind down to a whine. “Papa,” I hear my voice and it sounds like a child’s. He blinks again and is that an attempt to squeeze my hand? The cab doors fling open. Paramedics push out the gurney and I let go of his hand. His gaze moves to the sky. Out on the hospital lobby, a river of moving legs seems to flow ever away, bringing my father.

It has been two decades since and here I am writing the way he would have loved, present in each moment that I craft words.

Copyright © 2010 by Alegria Imperial

Published in Timeless Spirit Magazine Vol. 7, Issue #4, May 2010

A different kind of election issue
June 2, 2010, 5:52 am
Filed under: opinion | Tags: , , ,

As allegations of election anomalies rage in the Philippines and myriad issues for the survival of communities as well as layered concerns for the recovery of national integrity and respect assail its citizens, Filipinos in every part of the world follow unfolding scenarios with mixed feelings. Hope is high on the list but this is as fragile as spring blossoms that now lie like torn rags after the rains and winds. Concerns closer to home like racism have since taken over.

More than a hundred years ago since Filipinos started settling in almost all parts of the globe, most communities are still struggling with racism. In Canada where nurses and other professionals have settled since the 60s and where 97 percent of caregivers–in a change of professional demographics–practically raise Canadian children today, the issue remains a gaping wound as Silangan News and Views editor Ted Alcuitas wrote in his column, Magkape Muna Tayo, last March.

‘Adding salt to such wound’ is how he describes the Vancouver City Council’s rejection of a resolution to join the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination. This follows on the heels of the Vancouver Olympics and its exclusion of minorities in its opening ceremonies and merely presenting the Four First Nations Host. His fire stoked like no other, here is how Alcuitas has unraveled the deepening imbroglio:

“To think that two Chinese Canadian councilors played significant roles in blocking the coalition’s approval is beyond me. In responding to the outcry, the two told the Georgia Straight that they wanted the resolution ‘vetted’ first by the city’s own multicultural committee.

But why did the two think of this issue just now? When we researched about the coalition, it turns out it was launched in 2005 by no less than the UNESCO. About 20 municipalities have since joined the coalition including Calgary, Toronto, Winnipeg, Windsor and Montreal among others.

Why in heaven’s name does Vancouver choose not to join it after all these years?

The answer to my mind is a question of class bias. The so-called minorities in this city (by the way, if these councilors need to be reminded, we are no longer ‘minorities’) do not see any need to protect people from racism or discrimination. Even if they come from the Chinese community, they do not seem to see themselves as belonging to the ‘class’ that needs laws and regulations to protect them. Perhaps, these two councilors feel that the Chinese belongs to a class other than or higher than ‘minorities’. Maybe they have never experienced racism or discrimination in their lives, and that’s why they cannot empathize with the issue.

While I am appalled at the conduct of these two politicians—and joining it would have been symbolic at best—I have no high hopes for the coalition. In the 70’s, cities used to have race relations committees, which purported to ‘improve’ the municipalities’ relations with its citizens.

In fact, as it happened in the City of Winnipeg’s so-called Mayor’s Race Relations Committee, it was nothing but mere window dressing. It was an inutile body stacked by the mayor’s appointees who were more interested in their own than the interest of the people they were supposed to serve. In the end the committee died a natural death.

I have long ago accepted the fact that in the struggle against racism and discrimination, we in the minorities should not be fooled into believing that ethnic politicians will fight for our issues.

Years ago, when the federal government under the Conservatives took away the tax deductions for monies sent to help dependants abroad, not a howl was heard from politicians of ethnic backgrounds including a Filipino Member of Parliament. The same thing happened when the Conservatives started charging for immigration. You can hear their silence from sea to shining sea.

Ethnic voters should be more questioning when these politicians come around begging for their votes, never failing to remind them of their ethnic roots. Some non-ethnic politicians would even don a traditional Chinese dress or the Filipino barong in order to win votes.

True, they are not elected just for Filipinos or Chinese alone. We are not saying that they should only take up these issues, but if we cannot depend on them to speak for us, who will?”

Racism as an issue remains unchanged in most parts of Northern America. It is as New York-based Filipino feminist, activist, novelist Ninotchka Rosca says, “a monkey on our backs,” that no matter what Filipinos do, especially its women, such as study, work, even attain high marks as they are told, its grip seems tighter as decades come.

In a multicultural society, which Vancouver is turning out to be and where Filipinos have been pulled out as a now visible minority, racism as Alcuitas has presented has taken on a more complex nature–an invisible divide has thickened between Asians.

But would Filipinos rather go back home than stay and suffer through a persistent token-visible status? Random interviews have revealed indecisiveness among long-time immigrants. Nostalgia for “the free life back home” is a constant thought but when confronted with realities they have long left behind such as corruption in government and mismanagement of resources that have led to chronic unemployment, which have driven most to leave comfort zones for alien sometimes hostile grounds, they favor staying no matter the often unspoken feelings of denigration from racism.

NOTE: some names in the quoted text have been edited. filipineses09