Why June 12, not July 4?
A people without history,” T. S. Eliot wrote in Four Quartets, “is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern of timeless moments.”
Redemption seems far off from where I write, for every year, in June and July, I receive messages asking, sometimes arguing, why we celebrate Philippine Independence on June 12 instead of July 4. I patiently answer all these messages with a heavy heart realizing how far off we are to even imagine ourselves as a nation.
Next month, Buwan ng Wika, will roll out to be noisily resisted by those who rightly defend their regional languages against the inevitable inroads of Filipino. All Philippine languages should be allowed to flourish. Filipino is not the enemy. When I try to persuade friends in the regions to accept Filipino as a common language over English, I am dismissed as speaking from “Imperial Manila” where I was born and raised. With over 7,000 islands and 175 ethno-linguistic groups, the Philippines is like the biblical Tower of Babel. Slowly built by an undivided people who had one language and culture, the tower threatened to scrape the sky and God’s personal space. The tower was not completed because God intervened: “Come, let’s go down and confuse the people with different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other” (Genesis 11:7). So we are an archipelago with many languages, cultures, and histories.
I was nine months old when Diosdado Macapagal signed the proclamation that moved Philippine Independence Day from July 4 to June 12. I learned in school that after the devastation left by the Japanese Occupation and the 1945 Battle of Manila, the United States of America recognized the independence of the Philippines. My teacher emphasized that the US did not give or grant the independence of the Philippines, it was recognized as an independence stolen from our First Republic under Emilio Aguinaldo, who, unfortunately, is the national hero every Filipino loves to hate.
The US acquired the Philippines from Spain in 1899 after winning the Spanish-American War. Since the US could not, in principle, openly take colonies, she treated the Philippines under a program of “Benevolent Assimilation” and set out to Christianize, educate, and civilize the Filipinos and prepare them for self-government. In 1916, the Jones Law was enacted promising recognition of Philippine independence. In 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie Act stipulated a 10-year transition period to independence that was derailed by World War II. During the Japanese Occupation, from 1941-1945, the Philippine Commonwealth Government went into exile in the US with Manuel Quezon as president, succeeded in 1944 by Sergio Osmeña who served as president till 1946 when Manuel Roxas emerged the victor in the first postwar elections.
It is not well-known that Roxas took two oaths of office: first as third and last president of the Commonwealth on May 28, 1946; second, as first President of the Third Republic on July 4, 1946, after Philippine Independence was recognized. The First Republic was the stillborn nation under Emilio Aguinaldo, the Second Republic was established under the Japanese Occupation with Jose P. Laurel who has unfortunately gone down in history as the “puppet president.”
What most people know about Roxas, aside from his being the lolo of Mar Roxas, they get from the P100 Philippine banknote. Roxas and Quezon have been consistently on our banknotes since 1959: Roxas originally appeared on the P500 bill before he was demoted to P100 and Quezon on the P200, before he was demoted to the P20 bill that will soon be replaced by a P20 coin. Those who are old enough to remember the former P100 bill (New Design Series 1987-2013) should know that some people objected to the US stars and stripes appearing on our currency. Misplaced nationalism blinded them to the fact the image on the banknote was the lowering of the US flag and the raising of the Philippine flag on July 4, 1946.
Reading what passes for Philippine history on social media I see in the contentious comments individuals insisting on the version of the past they want to be, even if it is wrong. We seem far from redemption, confused without seeing the pattern in timeless moments that is our history.
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