This year’s celebration of national independence reminds us that the Filipino nation that was born on June 12, 1898 is now 120 years old.
There was a time when we marked national independence on July 4, the birthday of our former colonial ruler, the United States of America.
The major reason for that is the fact that the United States explicitly chose to restore Philippine independence on July 4, 1946. So there followed a time when we blindly marked our independence day on the fourth of July.
It was not until June 12, 1963, during the term of President Diosdado Macapagal, and on the urging of the Philippine Historical Association (PHA), that the Filipino nation finally recognized the Act of Proclamation of the Independence of the Filipino People by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo on June 12, 1898 in Kawit, Cavite, as the true beginning or birth date of Philippine independence.
Behind the confusion over the dates is the fact that 1898 was also the fateful year when the US defeated colonial Spain during the Spanish-American war and ventured to take the Philippine islands. On December 10, 1898, through the Treaty of Paris, and for the paltry price of $20 million, Spain ceded dominion over the Philippine archipelago and other Spanish colonial possessions to the US.
It was thought that with colonial control, America could very well dictate the administration of the Philippine islands and the governance of the small Filipino population at the time.
It was dismissed from memory that soon after America decided to annex the Philippines, the Filipino people, who had earlier launched a revolution against Spain and were on the cusp of victory when Commodore George Dewey sailed into Manila Bay, mobilized to fight and evict the American occupiers from their homeland.
As a result, the Filipino-American war broke out in February 1899, and the fighting would continue until July 1902, when President Theodore Roosevelt (who succeeded the assassinated William MacKinley) proclaimed a general amnesty, which effectively ended the hostilities.
At that point, the Americans had more than 70,000 troops fighting in the Philippines. The US could not rightly proclaim an end to the war, because from the very outset it refused to admit that there was a war, let alone a Filipino-American war.
The historian O. D. Corpuz, in his two–volume work, “The Roots of the Filipino Nation” (Aklahi Foundation, Quezon City, 1989), commented; “If there was no war the Americans could not declare that a war was over … Their solution was to declare that they had established “peace.”
This self-deception continued for years and did not end until 1907, when William Howard Taft as US secretary of War came back to the Philippines for the inauguration of the Philippine Assembly, and finally stated that there had been a war, after all.
He said: “The civil government was inaugurated in 1901 before the close of a war between the forces of the United States and the controlling elements of the Philippine people.”
Besides American control, there were other factors that contributed to the Filipinos’ slowness in adopting June 12, 1898 as the true date of national independence.
Among them was the presence of a discordant note and fateful misjudgment in the proclamation, as it said the Filipinos were “under the protection of the mighty and humane North American nation.”
It would take a while before the great American nation would be banished from the official papers of Philippine revolutionary forces. This finally happened due to the contribution of another Filipino revolutionary leader, Apolinario Mabini.
Today we mark the 120th anniversary of our freedom as a sovereign nation, but there remains much work for Filipinos to do to clarify the origins of Philippine independence. More importantly, this is an opportune time to remind ourselves to get our act together as Filipinos to strengthen our sense of nationhood and advance our status in the international community of nations.