Monday, June 13, 2011

Independence Day 2011

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

Yesterday was the 113th anniversary of the Declaration of Philippine Independence, more popularly known as Independence Day. One wishes that we all get the hang of calling the occasion Araw ng Kalayaan, but not many Filipinos even know that is the appropriate translation. Even better, one wishes that the occasion were given more significance particularly in light of the fact that love of country is supposedly the bedrock of this administration. To my mind, if we want everyone in this country to do rise to the challenge of becoming better citizens, we need to do a much better job of reminding them of the many reasons why we should love this country and how.

Apparently, the birthday of the national hero is far more important because a special day has been set aside this year as a non-working holiday supposedly to enable Filipinos to celebrate the occasion. To be fair, this year is a milestone year in terms of the annual celebration of Jose Rizal’s birthday, it being the hero’s 150th birth anniversary. Furthermore, the practice of “downgrading” the significance of national holidays was really the handiwork of the previous administration, which seemed to believe that the concept of “holiday economics” was far more important than remembering history or propagating national pride.

It is still disturbing to note that Independence Day is something that holds very little meaning to Filipinos today. There was very little—if at all—media attention given to the occasion. The celebration of Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, even Father’s Day seemed far more important because most media organizations came out with ads and teasers to remind people about the occasions. Our television networks even came out with touching ads to commemorate these occasions. Most commercial establishments also came out with special displays or merchandising efforts to mark the occasions.

Sure, some malls did display the Philippine flag (many of them inappropriately or in flagrant violation of the law) but the effort seemed halfhearted. But overall, there was very little media attention to this year’s celebration—no waving of Philippine flags to the strains of Bayan Ko being shown on television, no commemorative features on our national heroes, not even a cursory discussion on nationalism. The major television event on Independence Day was a debate on divorce!

Some media reports justified the low-key celebration as being in keeping with the “simplicity” and no-nonsense tack of this administration. I didn’t know simplicity was synonymous with meaning; or that a no-nonsense approach meant reducing the significance of important national holidays.

Rousing national pride and love of country is probably more important today in light of the many challenges this country is facing. If this administration is really serious about harnessing the support of Filipinos in the service of its various programs, it has to do a better job of nurturing and keeping alive nationalistic fervor.

In fact this year’s celebration of Araw ng Kalayaan was made—should have been made—more significant by the brewing crisis in the Spratly area, which we have now named (belatedly, I am afraid) West Philippine Sea. Unfortunately, our leaders were more interesting in strutting around like peacocks in heat rather than in making sure a well-reasoned, better thought-out, more scholarly pronouncement on the crisis surfaced. It was embarrassing to note that our leaders were really unsure about what we should be saying and doing in the event the dispute escalates into a real conflict. I was aghast to witness the Senate President do the metaphorical equivalent of a puppy trying to be ferocious in the presence of a lion.

I am not sure it is to our best interest to openly express confidence that we have our backs covered by the United States of America. First of all, I think it is very presumptuous to make that kind of assertion because we are not Americans, for crying out loud. Second, I don’t think anyone can categorically claim with a hundred percent certainty that the Americans would rally to our side given the fact that we did kick their military bases out of the country. Third, we might be “good friends” but the US has far more to lose economically if they go against the largest country in this planet; lest we all forget, economics is a far more compelling argument than friendship.

I doubled over in laughter when a newscaster commented on public television that the USA would have to help us against China because we have many Filipinos in America. What rock has she been hiding from all these years—did she think the many Chinatown districts in the major cities of the USA were a recent phenomenon?

And as it is, the leftists in this country have already beaten everyone to the draw by denouncing possible US intervention in the matter and reminding everyone of the evils of US imperialism; not that we listen to them anyway.

There are those who are prepared to simply give up the country’s claim on the islands of West Philippine Sea despite the fact that many of the islands that we are claiming are clearly within Philippine territory—they are closer to Palawan than they are to China, for crying out loud. In short, simply cower in fear because a bully is threatening us with a high-powered firearm. We have practically given up our claim on Sabah despite the fact that the Malaysian government had been paying rent to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu—how do we explain the fact that we seem to have accepted the continuing deportation of Filipinos from the island?

I am not saying we should readily pick up firearms and prepare to die to protect our sovereignty although that’s exactly what we vow to do every single time we sing the national anthem: “...aming ligaya na pag may mang-aapi, ang mamatay ng dahil sa yo (it is glory ever when thou art wronged, for us thy sons to suffer and die).” But we should at least put up a good fight, not simply cower in fright in the face of provocation. Then again, we cannot even seem to care about our freedom and independence as evidenced by the lackluster attention to the 113th anniversary of Philippine Independence.

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