Why Isn’t Independence Day in August?
We're legalistic and confuse heroism with sainthood.
(SPOT.ph) Chances are you only thought about National Heroes Day in terms of it making a long weekend possible. And now, you’re looking forward to another long weekend thanks to our Muslim brothers and sisters. That’s great. But before your long weekend hangover gives way to the next one, pause for a bit and look at this work of art.
The title of this horrifying picture is “Saturn Devouring His Son” ("Saturno
This image brings to mind Pierre Vergniaud, who issued a warning to his fellow revolutionaries in France on March 16, 1793. “Citizens,” he said, “we now have cause to fear that the Revolution, like
We are children of revolutions, which we consider romantic and glorious. After all, they are launched against tyranny; they are fought to achieve freedom. What we are less often taught, because it’s messy, is that revolutions have a price. As the Polish journalist Ryszard
The French Revolution inspired our own revolution against Spain in 1896, just as the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and of the dictator Baby Doc Duvalier in Haiti in early February 1986 was taken by Filipinos as a sign of things to come—correctly, as it turned out, as Ferdinand Marcos fled the Philippines two weeks later. In 1896 and 1986, revolutions led not just to disappointment, but to the defeat of many of those who had sacrificed most in the struggle. Many reasons are given for this except, perhaps the most obvious one: It’s in the nature of revolutions to eat their own children, as that French politician warned, just as it is in the nature of revolutions to destroy many of the principles that inspired them, as they proceeded to demolish the regime they hoped to replace, as the Polish journalist pointed out.
August 1896 may include National Heroes Day, but one has to ask, why doesn’t it include our independence day? After all, the revolution began in August 1896. What we now celebrate as independence day, June 12, took place in 1898 when the revolution resumed, having been fought to a standstill by the Spanish in 1897 and our leaders going into exile in Hong Kong that same year.
Formerly, we celebrated independence day on July 4, which is the day in 1946 when the independence lost to the Americans was finally recognized by the Americans and global community of nations—that is, until Diosdado Macapagal threw a tantrum with the Americans over payments to our veterans, and, already disliking July 4 because more people would go to U.S. Embassy parties than Philippine Embassy ones when he was a young diplomat, and also, seeing
So, to this day, there remain proponents of both dates. But surprisingly, relatively few, if any, who insist it should be in August.
Why should this be? There are two reasons, I think. The first is that as a people, we are legalistic. Or at least our leaders and some influential scholars are. On the other hand, we also tend to confuse heroism with sainthood, so it’s difficult to take any position about significant figures in our history without it getting bogged down into something that surely resembles the debates and hearings held by the Catholic Church when it deliberates on whether to proclaim someone a saint.
Here’s the legalistic point of view. Proponents of June 12 like it because it was a formal occasion. There was a proclamation of independence written in flowery language; there were officials waving from a window. There was a band, and it performed a national anthem. A national flag was presented to the people. A dictatorship was proclaimed, too. A lawyer’s, military officer’s, local official’s, and protocol minder’s delight. But again, it was not the start of our revolution, it was the resumption. Nor was it the height of achievement, if you want to measure these things according to documents and institutions. Apolinario Mabini, as nit-picky a lawyer as you would have ever hoped to meet, was in the audience and had a fit.
First of all, he said, in a Monty Pythonesque moment, a bunch of cronies standing by a window is no basis for a proclamation of independence. Who made you the determinants of our national destiny, anyway? Second of all, why did you proclaim a dictatorship and worse, one that was a protectorate of the United States when you didn’t have a shred of evidence the Americans would recognize whatever it is you just proclaimed here in Kawit? So changes had to be made, including not one, but two rounds of ratifications of the proclamation of independence, and the transformation of the dictatorship into a revolutionary government that sounded more serious than a scene out of an operetta. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 1899 that we became what we now repeatedly take pride in pointing out to others: the first constitutional republic in Asia.
Here enters the question of sainthood. The father of the Revolution was Bonifacio. We consider our first president, officially, at least, to be Aguinaldo. Aguinaldo was able to obtain this title by means of a showdown over the leadership of the revolution in which Bonifacio not only
Still, to be sure, when it resumed, the revolution succeeded—against Spain. This is what we commemorate on June 12, on Aguinaldo’s terms, as he made sure no one would forget by turning his own home into a
The problem is that
Here is where what seems to me a rather irrelevant argument over secular sainthood muddles the picture. Both Bonifacio and Aguinaldo were tough men. Both were ruthless in what each believed was the national cause. Revolutions require tough
If you go to Don Bosco Mandaluyong, on the wall of what used to be a
Now there are accounts that claim Patiño was actually instructed to spill the
When the revolution, once it began, did better in Cavite than it did in the vicinity of Manila, and when the Katipunan broke into two factions in that province, the stage was set for what was essentially a coup d’etat against the existing Katipunan government. What we now know as the Tejeros Convention saw Bonifacio out-maneuvered at every turn by a simple stratagem. Deny your opponent, in this case, Bonifacio, his previous advantages, by insisting on new rules of the game you’ve already mastered. The proposal to succeed the Katipunan with a new government made the
But such confrontations—ruthless, scheming, bloody—are par for the course in all revolutions, whether two centuries ago or in the previous century. Remember Vergniaud in 18th-Century France? How about Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, who systematically liquidated all moderate independence figures, until he was the last man standing? Again, it is in the nature of revolutions, which doesn’t prevent all the flawed participants to be recognized for the parts they played in what transpired. Live by the sword, die by the sword.
If this collision of these two perspectives, to my mind, is what’s made it impossible to achieve the consensus required to propose our independence day being in August, we have to add to these two opposing perspectives, a third factor: the inability of historians to achieve a consensus among themselves as to when certain events actually took place. If Bonifacio and Aguinaldo have their ferocious proponents, then actual dates can have equally ferocious proponents. When they’re professors or academic historians, then it can become a battle of definitions.
Today we commemorate the “Cry of Pugad Lawin,” but once upon a time, we used to commemorate the “Cry of Balintawak.” Today we commemorate August 23, but once upon a
Up to 1922, it seems surviving Katipuneros agreed on the “Cry of Balintawak,” and the date August 26. Starting in 1922, a group of Katipunan veterans insisted the “Cry of Pugad Lawin” was more precise. Since 1962, this has been official, dating the start of the Revolution to August 23, including the tearing of
So the battles that began in 1922 took place among increasingly elderly individuals with long memories for grievances but less than precise ones for places and even dates, and over time historians would pick and choose which faded memories to prefer over others. It is a fascinating story, one that historian Jim Richardson has tried to summarize online (with the able help of the younger generation of Filipino historians).
You should read what he, and many other gifted, passionate, historians have worked hard to resolve over time. Personally, I think it is only a matter of time before we reach the level of maturity, as a society, when we can be more judicious, and therefore fair, to all concerned: not least in recognizing what revolutions are and that complexity is more interesting than secular sainthood. But for now, the confrontations of the past continue to have echoes in the position papers and books of our historians. But this means, and explains, why we haven’t yet had that national light-bulb moment when we can all sit up and say, “Why, independence day should be in August!”
Think about that over the coming long weekend.
Some additional readings, if you’re up to it:
I’ve mentioned Jim Richardson, who has been writing amazing things about the Katipunan—and making them available online. Visit his website Katipunan: Documents and Studies. If you have some money for a book, get a copy of The Cry of Balintawak: A Contrived Controversy, by Soledad Borromeo-Buehler.
There’s other stuff you can access online, too. You can read about the Katipunan, Bonifacio, the Tejeros Convention, and the First Republic in Heroism, Heritage, and Nationhood. You can look at the ebb and flow of the first and second phases of the Revolution against Spain and the Philippine-American War, in The Historical Atlas of the Republic. Personally, if you only have time to read one book on the Philippine Revolution, then do read Apolinario Mabini’s La Revolucion Filipina, translated by the late Leon Ma. Guerrero.