YESTERDAY, in various venues all over the country, contesting expressions by various groups over who wields the true narrative of the nation were staged on the occasion of the annual Independence Day celebrations.
Declared as a national holiday, every 12th of June was set to commemorate Aguinaldo’s declaration of independence from Spanish colonial rule curiously right at the onset of the period of American colonialism. The timing of the declaration could not be more confusing and a 116 years hence, the date continues to spark controversy about where we have been and where we are headed as a nation. The celebrations yesterday indicate the competing interpretation in this battle of narratives that also demarcate the multiple fissures that divide us as a nation.
In front of government establishments, municipal halls, and military camps, civic groups, the military, and politicians honored the Philippine flag and lay wreaths to remember those who have sacrificed for the birth and defense of the so-called Philippine republic. The political elite then and now attend these ceremonies in formal Filipiniana attire, proud heirs of a national intelligentsia that arose from landed power and colonial collaboration in the midst of centuries of landlessness and imperialism. The pomp and ceremony of these activities are meant to legitimate official power, a state power that has dubious historical roots.
Meanwhile, in other unofficial spaces, are those that challenge the state-sanctioned narratives. In the streets of Manila yesterday were modern-day Bonifacio and Gabrielas insisting on an alternative take about the Independence Day celebrations. More than a hundred years after, there has been no genuine freedom, the rallyists cry. Contemporary issues such as the pork barrel scandal and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US are merely manifestations of the same decades-old social cancers of landed-elite rule and imperialism. Corrupt and landed government officials go well with the interests of imperialism who want our economy to continue producing cheap agricultural raw materials and skilled warm bodies for export.
These two narratives clash not just in the realm of ideas. They assume a violent physicality as represented by phalanx upon phalanx of Filipino riot police armed with truncheons, fire trucks, and guns ironically defending the citadel of the esteemed ex-colonial ruler along Roxas boulevard versus fellow Filipinos on Independence Day.
Over at Ateneo de Naga, where the current haciendero leadership decided to officially commemorate the holidays, a brave student activist, Emmanuel Pio Mijares, 19-years old, stole the thunder from the president’s speech by shouting, “Patalsikin ang Pork Barrel King! Walang Pagbabago sa Pilipinas!” before a stunned audience of officialdom. He was reportedly manhandled and collared by the PSG and still remains in detention with the local police as of this writing.
In Muslim Mindanao, the annual Independence Day celebrations passed by without fanfare and incident. They couldn’t care less perhaps for historically they have always successfully defended their territory versus colonial aggression. They have never been colonized, that is their pride unlike their Northern brothers whose leaders were quick to capitaluate to silver, land, and the cross centuries ago. Unfortunately, their slow integration into national life in the past decades has seen some of their leaders surrender to the all-powerful influence of internal revenue allotments, government contracts, and externally-sponsored peace talks.
This nonchalance is shared by the general population actually. There is very little cause to bring forth feelings of national pride in times like these. It’s either you benefit from the current system or is angered by the irony of it all in order to muster strong feelings about nationhood nowadays.
One wonders if this “Araw ng Kalayaan” resonates with the thousands upon thousands of Filipinos forced to work away from home and their families because our elite-led government has been unable to provide decent employment for them here.
What about the thousands and thousands of indigenous people, who before they can even begin to suture their story into the national narrative, are already physically displaced by state-backed war, agricultural capitalist expansion, and foreign-owned mining and logging operations in their ancestral lands?
And where did the rest of the nation find themselves on this day which fell on Friday just at the heels of the end of the summer season? A significant number of Filipinos was found in the mall spending the remaining balance of their mid-year bonuses in a last ditch shopping spree before the next holidays a few months for now.
It was just another day in the life of the nation apparently. Apart from the righteous historical anger that some nationalist sectors remind us to feel on this day, it was more of the same self-serving pride of the political and economic elite and the social malaise of many Filipinos that make this event ordinary.
(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)