Happy Fourth of July!
As a Filipino American who migrated to the United States thirty-four years ago and became a naturalized citizen five years later, I celebrate the Fourth of July with mixed feelings, grateful to my adopted country and hoping for the best for the country of my birth.
By Simeon G. Silverio, Jr.,Publisher & Editor, San Diego Asian Journal, The Original and First Asian Journal in America
San Diego, California, July 1, 2016
On Monday, July 4th 2016, we will celebrate the anniversary of the American Independence Day. There will be the usual parades in the main streets of America, barbecue and picnics in the backyards, beaches, or parks all over the country, and multi-colored sparkling fireworks will light up the American sky in the evening.
To us Filipino Americans, the Fourth of July is like a double-edged sword, a phrase with a double meaning. Many years ago, until the early 1960s, we used to celebrate the day as our own Philippine Independence Day anniversary. This occurred until then Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal, the father of todays President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, issued a presidential proclamation changing the countrys Independence Day anniversary from the fourth of July to the twelfth of June. He also proclaimed that since then, July 4th would be observed in the Philippines as the Philippine-American Friendship Day.
How did this come to pass? It is quite a long story, which many of us baby boomers, those who witnessed the Philippines observed July fourth as its Independence Day, can still vividly recall.
In the late 1890s, the Filipinos rebelled against the Spaniards who colonized them for about 500 years. With bolos, firearms and improvised weapons like pointed bamboo poles, coupled with courage and bravery, they succeeded in defeating the mighty Spanish army. At that time however, the Spanish-American war erupted. Rather than just giving up the Philippines and lose their honor, the Spaniards, who were also at the losing end in the Spanish-American war, secretly agreed to turn over their colony to the United States. The decrepit Spanish Armada under Admiral Montojo staged a mock battle against the modern day American Navy commanded by Admiral Dewey. After the incident, which formalized the defeat of Spain, the Treaty of Paris was signed, with Spain ceding to the Americans the Philippines. By that time however, Filipino rebel General Emilio Aguinaldo had declared the Philippines independence in the balcony of his home in Kawit, Cavite, on June 12, 1898. The Filipinos freedom was short lived though, as the Americans, with their modern day weaponry, marched into the country and cornered General Emilio Aguinaldo and his ragtag troops in the hills of Palanan, Isabela. History books now attest that the Americans committed one of the worst atrocities and human rights violations in defeating the courageous Filipinos.
The next fifty years saw the colonization of the Philippines by the United States. It was a mixed blessing though. While the Americans undoubtedly introduced positive concepts in the country like the government and public school systems as well as the English language, some critics say that graft and corruption and wrong sense of values came hand in hand with the benefits. They argue that because of the U.S. domination, the Filipinos were not allowed to fully develop their nationalistic and indigenous values that would have made them more disciplined and sacrificing like the Japanese who became a dominant world power, both politically and economically, with nary a foreign influence messing up their culture.
The Philippines is like a girl who spent 500 years in the convent (under Spain) and 50 years in Hollywood (under America), thus its people had a warped, if not confused sense of values and identity, one observer noted.
The Filipinos, especially the illustrados, the Filipino educated elite, became like, as one writer described them, Little Brown Americans, dressing like their colonizers and speaking the English language with such proficiency that the best Filipino writers in English were developed during this period. The credit to the English proficiency should go to the Thomasites, a group of American teachers who came to the Philippines aboard the ship Thomas to introduce the English language to the Tagalog, if not Spanish-speaking Filipinos.
During the 1930s, Filipino politicians like Manuel L. Quezon, a Spanish Filipino mestizo, and Sergio Osmena, a Chinese Filipino mestizo, rose to prominence. They lobbied for Filipino self-rule and independence from the Americans,
I would rather have a Philippines run like hell by the Filipinos than one that is run like heaven by the Americans, Quezon famously proclaimed. Today, he got his wish, and many Filipinos now wish he spoke for himself!
To appease the Filipinos, the United States agreed to a transition period. The Philippines would be declared a commonwealth under the Americans, with Manuel L. Quezon and Sergio Osmena as president and vice president respectively. Complete independence was promised eventually.
But then, World War II intervened. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, the Americans were embroiled in the war. As an American colony, the Philippines was invaded by the Japanese hours later with American troops in the country having their first taste of battles.
The ill-equipped and ill-trained Filipinos proved their courage and bravery by defending the country side by side with the Americans in the legendary battles of Bataan and Corregidor. Through the three-year Japanese occupation of the Philippines, the Filipino fighters consistently proved their heroism by staging guerilla warfare and eventually helping the invading Americans liberate the country.
Today, the few remaining Filipino World War II veterans are still lobbying the U.S. government for the benefits they were promised at the outset of the war. Sad to say, however, their pleas continue to fall on deaf ears, and many, because of their old age, may not see the day when their demands would be granted.
During the war, Quezon died of tuberculosis in Saranac Lake, New York and his vice president, Osmena, who was also in exile, succeeded him to the presidency.
When the Americans regained control of the country, it only took two years, on July 4th, 1946, before it granted independence to the Philippines, with Manuel Roxas, who bested Osmena, in a bitterly fought, and some say, fraudulent election, as the first president of the Republic. But not without enormous concessions. The Americans awarded themselves with parity rights, meaning they could explore the countrys natural resources during the next fifty years just like any other Filipino citizen. Moreover, they were allowed to station troops in the country for a certain period of time. Some say that because of this, the Filipinos were not actually independent. The Americans got so much concessions that it was impossible for the Philippines to develop economically because it was dependent and at the mercy of the United States through economic imperialism.
I remember as a young boy when our family used to go to Luneta, the countrys national park located in Manila, to observe the celebration of Philippine Independence on July 4th. A civic and military parade would be held after lunch, with the president of the republic and other high government officials observing in the grandstand. The president would then deliver his Independence Day speech and in the evening fireworks will light up the sky over Manila Bay to the delight of those in the park.
In 1956, the celebration was rained out. I remember being huddled inside our car parked in front of the grandstand with my family, as we listened to the speech of then President Ramon Magsaysay as the rain was pouring down outside. It was Magsaysays last Independence Day speech. He would die when his plane, Mt. Pinatubo, crashed on Mt. Manunggal in Cebu, on March 17, 1957.
In a way, the decision of President Macapagal to change the observance of Philippine Independence Day from July 4th to June 12 was a soul-cleansing experience for the Filipinos. We proved to ourselves that we were an independent people before the Americans colonized our country. It proved that the sacrifices, courage, bravery and heroism of our revolutionary heroes were not futile for they were able to achieve their goal, the attainment of Philippine independence. It made as very proud as a people, one with rich and colorful history, a noble legacy which we, no matter how corrupt many government officials and how warped the values of many Filipinos are today, can proudly pass on to our children.
As a Filipino American who migrated to the United States thirty-four years ago and became a naturalized American citizen five years later, I celebrate the Fourth of July with mixed feelings, grateful to my adopted country and hoping for the best for the country of my birth. AJ