Thursday, June 12, 2014

Celebrating Independence, Struggling for Freedom

It's June 12 and if you're even remotely close to being a jeepney-riding, Jollibee-eating, peso-spending, kayumangging Filipino worth your balut, you would know that we are celebrating Philippine Independence Day. Heck! Even the search giant Google showcased a Philippine-themed Doodle to commemorate the event.

I have a confession to make, though.

I almost went out of the house wearing a shirt with a USA design printed on it. Of all days! If it weren't for my son donning his barong outfit I might've inadvertently made a mockery of our "Araw ng Kasarinlan"; prancing about town with the Star-Spangled Banner splashed across my chest. Talk about awkward!

Why was my son in barong? There was an assembly at a nearby local mall, SM Center, and he was picked to represent their school. It was the mall's way of celebrating Independence Day. It was probably meant to be a crowd-drawer with the program set to be held at the parking lot outside in full view of the main road. Apparently, SM organizers missed the weatherman's memo that the rainy season has already started.

Thus, the festivities we're moved inside the mall about half an hour before the morning's heavy downpour. Too bad there weren't that many spectators because it actually wasn't too shabby a show. Traditional dances, native costumes, patriotic songs -- apt symbols that we are no longer under foreign rule. Good thing to do as a regular reminder even if it is only once a year.

There is one thing I want to ponder for a bit here -- celebrating indepedence vis-a-vis struggling for our freedoms. Year in and year out, especially during Independence Day activities, many people raise the question, "Tunay nga ba tayong malaya?"

Now, while kasarinlan (independence) and kalayaan (freedom) are largely synoymous, there seems to be a subtle move towards using the term kasarinlan more than kalayaan when referring to Philippine independence. Maybe there's a realization that while we may be technically a sovereign state in relation to other countries, there are yet many freedoms internally that are at best questionable within our society and the "gatekeepers" might simply want to skirt away from that issue.

Freedom from poverty, corruption, abuse, nepotism, injustice, and also freedom to access education, healthcare, jobs, opportunities befitting a progressive nation -- these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the things we need to strive for as a society. One might say that 116 years of self-rule is a long time, why have we not yet achieved a better Philippines?

In reality,116 years pale in comparison to more than 3 and a half centuries of subjugation from the Spanish, Japanese and Americans. And in the grand history of democracy itself, with it's origins in ancient Greece, we are but toddlers trying to make our way on wobbly feet. We need a few more centuries to grow up and mature before we can run at full stride enjoying every freedom afforded to us.

Just as all of life needs to struggle in order to grow and perpetuate, we as a society need to struggle for our rights in order to be a truly independent nation. We need to make better choices, sound decisions and work towards improving not just our own lot and that of our family but also that of our community.

For example, making a very conscious effort to not wear a USA t-shirt on Independence Day, or choosing to buy local goods instead of foreign-made imports, or electing able, patriotic citizens into office instead of sons and daughters of famous celebrity politicians, choosing sustainable energy solutions instead of depending on fossil fuel, making a stand on an issue instead of ignoring it and hoping it will just go away – the choices we make today determine our society’s DNA in the future.

Similarly, we need to teach our children and our children's children to make the same sound decisions and work towards those ideals. In fact, we need to teach them now and prepare the next generations to be themselves the better leaders that our society deserves.

In the meantime, let's not expect to achieve a better Philippines overnight. Such thoughts have historically led to much bloodshed. Instead, let us keep celebrating Independence Day each year without taking for granted that we must struggle everyday to be a truly sovereign people.

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