The meaning of independence


Today is the Philippine Independence Day.

The day when our flag was first raised and our National Anthem was played by the band of San Francisco Malabon. Our leaders back then read our freedom from a 21-page-document, and although we run by these details during our Araling Panlipunan classes, why is it that I feel like some things are still lost on us?

The why and what only became obvious to me, and achingly so, as I read Carmen Guerrero Nakpil’s account of “The War” last night.

“I spat, but I was dry-throated and he was not aware of my scorn. I had not eaten or slept for more than a week. My husband had been tortured by the Japanese soldiers in my presence and then led out to be shot. Our home had been ransacked, put to the torch, its ruins shelled again and again. I had seen the head of the aunt who had taught me to read and write, roll under the kitchen stove, the face of a friend who had bee crawling next to me on the pavement as we tried to reach the shelter under the Ermita church obliterated by a bullet, a legless cousin dragging himself out of a shallow trench in the churchyard and a young mother carrying a baby, plucking at my father’s sleeve, “Doctor, can you help me? I think I’m wounded” – and the shreds of her ribs and her lungs as she turned around.”

She lived during the worst of times. Somewhere in between the American Rule and the Japanese Occupation. It was wartime and she was a native of the very land where the battle was sorely being played out. It would still take a few years before this hellish situation ends.

My own grandfathers suffered from the darkest of hours preceding our freedom. The one from my father’s side walked the Death March. The one from my mother’s side,  was shot dead at dinnertime by a Hukbalahap (Hukbong Laban sa Hapon) member. My mother had to hide in a chicken coop in order to preserve her life. It was only 1947 and Filipinos were then very new in the independence game. Moreover, the chaos and confusion that comes with colonization were still very much around. People were still killing people.

Carmen and my grandfathers have names which you’d never find in history books or lessons because they were only commoners. No Aguinaldos, no Bonifacios, yet they suffered the wars and oppression the same. They were the ones to trudge through years when independence seemed so desirable, but also so far and impossible.

Independence to these people meant survival. It meant death or life. Do we know independence this way? Do we value it as much? Or is it just empty nationalism from our end?

I know we can never replicate or even manufacture an experience we’ve never had, so I settle that some things will really be lost on us who have not gone through any war or pain of the same magnitude. But at the very least, I think we should internalize that independence meant much more to these people than just doing whatever they wanted; that is, bloodshed can be put to rest, so is the abuse of our countrymen, and the continuous rape of our wealth, people, and land. That’s what it meant for Carmen. That’s what it meant for my grandfathers. That’s what it meant for my mother. They all lost things and lives to the sad and mad colonial years, and independence meant the hope of losing no more.

We need to hear this. This generation and the next ones need to hear about this. The kid in the photo above, who is able to enjoy learning in this time of peace has to know that much has gone before us and we have but the slightest idea about the ground which we are standing on.

Let’s not make this daylight. Let’s not make our independence shallow. Let’s continue to show those who have suffered that they have not done so in vain.


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