The long road to independence
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - June 9, 2019 - 12:00am

121 years ago, we declared our independence from Spanish colonial rule, cementing our place in history as the first republic in Asia.

Some people may have forgotten that the observation of Independence Day originally fell on July 4 – the day when the United States officially gave us our independence from American rule in 1946. It was specifically designed to fall on the same day the Americans celebrate their independence. It was President Diosdado Macapagal who decided to change the date to June 12, pointing out that July 4 was not the day we declared our independence from colonial rule but on June 12, 1898. The fact is, July 4 is the date celebrated by the US to commemorate their proclamation of independence from Britain.

President Macapagal led the celebration of Independence Day, for the first time, on June 12, 1962, although it took two years – on Aug. 4, 1964 to be exact – before legislation would be passed to officially prescribe June 12 as Philippine Independence Day. 

But while we may be commemorating that day when Emilio Aguinaldo proudly waved the Philippine flag and declared our nation’s freedom from foreign oppression, the real road to independence has only just began – because the real essence of independence is not only the people’s ability to exercise the right to vote or enjoy freedom of speech by voicing their own opinions without fear of persecution. A nation, to be truly independent, must have a strong economy and should be able to rely on its own resources to provide the needs of its people. It must have a capable military that can protect and defend it from threats both internal and external.  

In short, a truly independent nation is one that is self-reliant, and whose citizens are free from the bondage of poverty. Obviously, this will require a lot of hard work, but more importantly, this would necessitate unity and cooperation among Filipinos if we want to see our economy become bigger and make it truly inclusive to lessen the income gap between the haves and have nots.

Recent developments give us hope that we are getting closer to the true meaning of independence. International credit watcher Standard & Poor’s Global upgraded our credit rating to “BBB+” with a stable outlook, while Fitch Ratings also maintained its “BBB” rating with a stable outlook, noting the country’s economic resilience to both internal and external headwinds.  

The Philippines is also poised to be an upper-middle income country by 2022 or even much earlier due to the economic reforms being implemented by the government, and is projected to be a trillion-dollar economy by 2032 with per capita GDP reaching $8,200 according to the chief economist for Asia Pacific of IHS Markit. With our population now close to 110 million, the challenge is certainly great to sustain the growth momentum and live up to expectations that the Philippines will become the next economic powerhouse in the region.

On the foreign policy front, the president has also asserted our independence, saying early on that we should “carve our own identity and destiny as a nation” by crafting an independent foreign policy where we are free to engage in relationships with other nations even while maintaining our close friendship with traditional allies like the United States. After all, pursuing an independent foreign policy is enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.

Implicit in our new independent foreign policy is the message that the Philippines stands on equal footing with its peers in the community of nations. It took close to six years, but the government used its strong political will in resolving the problem with the tons of garbage that were illegally shipped from Canada. Of course, we appreciate the Canadian government’s cooperation in resolving the issue. But clearly, we sent a strong message asserting our identity as an independent sovereign nation with the president pointing out, “It’s a matter of respect.” 

In fact, as the Philippine Ambassador, the message I convey to US legislators and key government officials is that I am here to extend a handshake as a commitment to our partnership with the United States – not putting out a hand with the palm up to ask or beg for aid. We are prepared to buy our own military hardware and equipment in order to enhance our capability to deal with internal security challenges, and upgrade our external defense capacity. 

We are steadily getting there – with the recent launch in South Korea of our first brand new missile-armed warship BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) scheduled for delivery in September 2020, followed by its sister ship BRP Antonio Luna in March 2021. These frigates will be fitted with anti-submarine, anti-surface, anti-air and electronic warfare capability missile and will also be deployed for exclusive economic zone protection and maritime patrol operations.

Undoubtedly, nations must be able to take care of their own problems and make its contribution to the global efforts in fighting the scourge of terrorism, drug trafficking, smuggling and other transnational crimes that undermine the freedom and progress of nations. 

We are extremely pleased that our 2019 Independence Day celebration in Washington will be held at the iconic Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after one of the greatest presidents of the United States – John F. Kennedy – whose profound challenge and call to action during his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1961, is the perfect message applicable today: “My fellow citizens of the world: Ask not what America can do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

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