Philippine Independence Day: The date Debate
I wonder if you also see the beauty in it as much as I do: the red and blue fighting to get attention; the pure white cutting in between the two contrasting colours; the shy yellow stars and the proud sun adding a dash of joy in the rectangular cloth. Simple and powerful. Can you see it? But more importantly, why am I pointing out the colours of the flag to you?
It’s because we are celebrating Flag Days for the past week, and my family had just decided to dust out our flag and display it proudly from our home before Independence Day on 12 June. I hope you weren’t too busy to forget!
It’s easy to forget if you were confused about the dates though, as I believe our parents and grandparents were during the turn of the century. Why? Because the date of our Independence Day has been moved several times through the years.
Don’t believe me? Well, grab a cup of coffee and read on as I take you to the Spanish-Philippine War up to the end of World War 2 and answer: when is the real date of Independence Day?
The death of Bonifacio and the Katipunan gave rise to the revolutionary government headed by Emilio Aguinaldo which was, on the second half of 1897, exchanging more gunshots with Spanish troops. To evade capture, Aguinaldo quickly left the old Katipunan headquarters in Batangas to form another base in Biak-na-Bato, Bulacan. It was here that the first ever republic was formed, complete with a constitution and peace pact with Spain: the pact of Biak-na-Bato.
One of the provisions of the pact was to allow Aguinaldo and the leaders of the Biak-na-Bato republic to leave for Hong Kong on a voluntary exile. They left on 23 December 1897, carrying with them money paid by Spain for the exile. Contrary to the pact, Aguinaldo did not plan to dally in Hong Kong. Instead, he re-grouped his leaders and bought more weapons, preparing for the next round of fighting.
But history had other things in mind, and the weapons meant to fight Spanish troops would later be used for another invader that entered the picture by April of 1898.
On 30 April 1898, American ships were spotted off the coast of Subic. Within 24 hours, these ships engaged the ailing Spanish fleet, resulting in the historic Battle of Manila Bay. Spain was crushed, in another part of the world, Cuba, where the Spanish-American War started.
Days after the confrontation, US Navy Commodore George Dewey brought Aguinaldo and his group home from Hong Kong in a bid to give America leverage among the Filipinos. He did not know that Aguinaldo had other things in mind, like re-igniting his revolutionary troops into action. Actually, the Americans and the Filipinos had their own agendas in mind as Spain was preparing to bolt out of the Philippines.
Back in the Philippines and feeling newfound confidence in the revolutionary cause, Aguinaldo took some bold steps to convince the invaders and the Filipino people that the country can stand on its feet. One of these steps is the declaration of independence.
12 June 1898
Between 4 to 5pm of 12 June 1898 at the balcony of his home in Cavite el Viejo (Kawit), Aguinaldo unfurled the Philippine Flag made by Marcela Agoncillo, Lorenza Agoncillo and Delfina Herboza in Hong Kong. The Philippine National Anthem was played in the presence of military, civil officials and a huge crowd of Filipinos as the flag was hoisted.
The Act of Declaration of Independence prepared by Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista was read that afternoon and signed by 98 people, including US Colonel of Artillery LM Johnson. A few days later, Aguinaldo established a dictatorial government then changed his mind and created instead a revolutionary government headed by him.
But all these actions did not gain traction with the people that mattered: the Spaniards and the Americans.
Simply put, the Declaration of Independence of 12 June was not recognised by Spain. The act that had been so desperately craved by Filipinos was regarded as a mere child’s play and ignored. In Spain’s eyes, the Philippines was still theirs, and they planned to give what was theirs in exchange of safe passage.
On 10 December 1898, America and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris that finally made the Philippines officially free from Spanish hold. However, we were not really free yet because the treaty only passed power from Spain to America. This meant that Aguinaldo’s Independence Declaration wasn’t binding.
The Philippine Independence of 12 June was a premature declaration. In fact, Commodore Dewey did not even report the events of 12 June to Washington. It wasn’t that important, he probably thought.
We’re skipping over the Philippine-American war and the official First Philippine Republic to talk about what the Filipinos did every 12 June after Aguinaldo’s declaration of independence was ignored.
For almost 20 years since that fateful June day in 1898, celebrating Independence Day was not allowed and, well, pointless. How can the Filipinos then celebrate independence when America was dictating the country’s every move? That wasn’t freedom at all. But America took some steps to make the Filipinos feel like they were friends and not invaders.
In 1919, America legalised the Philippine Flag and proclaimed the observance of Flag Day in October. Another 20 years later, in 1941, Flag Day was moved to 12 June to commemorate the date the flag was first waved in Kawit, Cavite.
Flag Day served to remind Filipinos that there was pride in fighting for the country and served to encourage them to continue the fight for freedom. A fight that reached a climax during World War 2 and a victory that finally led to freedom from Japanese grip and American control.
4 July 1946
Less than a year after the War in the Pacific ended, the Federal Government of America and the Republic of the Philippines signed the Treaty of Manila on 4 July 1946, declaring the Philippines free of American rule. The treaty was signed by Ambassador Paul McNutt of the United States and President Manuel Roxas of the Philippines and became effective on 22 October the same year.
4 July… does this date ring a bell? Fourth of July is the date of America’s Independence. In a way, the similarity in the date showed that the Philippines still had ties to its American brothers. Our grandparents and parents celebrated Independence Day on 4 July a few hours before America celebrated theirs with picnics and fireworks.
Our Independence on 4 July 1946 had more sense than Aguinaldo’s premature declaration on 12 June 1898 because the 1946 treaty completely made the Philippines free of any colonial or imperial rule. However, 4 July didn’t seem quite right because it did not carry the same Filipino pride and nationalism inspired by 12 June 1898.
This is why President Diosdado Macapagal decided to do something about it.
On 12 May 1962, President Macapagal issued Presidential Proclamation No 28, asking Congress to create a law that will move the date of Independence Day celebrations from 4 July to 12 June ‘in commemoration of our people’s right to independence.’ The president also declared 12 June 1962 a special public holiday in preparation for the moving of the dates.
Independence Day was not yet officially celebrated on 12 June that year although the proclamation was already in place. But 1962 marked the first year when Filipinos publicly celebrated Independence Day on 12 June.
Two years after President Macapagal announced his intention to move the date of Independence Day, he signed Republic Act No 4166 on 4 August 1964. The act officially proclaimed 12 June as our Independence Day and turned 4 July to ‘Philippine Republic Day.’
The issue of dates did not end in 1964. Many years later, under President Fidel Ramos in 1994, Flag Day was turned into a 2 week celebration starting 28 May to 12 June. During this time, all Filipinos are encouraged to display the Philippine flag in homes and offices as a sign of solidarity and love of country.
So, do you have a Philippine flag displayed in your home right now? You know what makes me jealous of Independence Day in America or National Days in Europe? It’s the enthusiasm the people in these nations show every independence or national day by displaying their flag on their homes or wearing their colours.
I don’t know about you but, in my eyes, many of us have forgotten that sense of bubbling pride for our independence. The forgetful would have been forgiven if we presently had confusion in the date of our independence, as what happened in 1898 and the 1960s.
But we are 50 years past the official declaration in 1964. Why, President Ramos even gave us two weeks preparation for Independence Day when he extended Flag Day to 2 weeks!
I cannot change how you may feel or celebrate Philippines Independence Day. But I hope this day’s hiStory-telling session reminds you the value of our freedom and the struggle our leaders took to get it.
We’ll talk more about this again in our next Independence Day special!