A look back at our independence
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - June 11, 2019 - 12:00am

Tomorrow we will be celebrating our Independence Day. For some this may mean vacations with the family, a day off from work, or even just time to sit back and relax. For those who work in the government and understand the implications of freedom, it may mean a little more but honestly, for the most part, I think we may have forgotten just how important this holiday is and the countless lives lost to achieve our independence from those who would seek to oppress us.

We know our history – or at the very least I hope we do. We know why the Philippines mattered so much to countries that colonized us in the past. We were a “beloved” part of the Spanish Empire or a strategic military location for the United States. Either way, our history is steeped in the influences of those who colonized the country and a lot of these influences – for good and for bad – can still be felt today. Celebrating our Independence Day should therefore serve as a yearly celebration of just how precious our freedom is and a reminder of just how quickly we can lose it.

In fact, a lot of people may have already forgotten that our Independence Day initially fell on July 4 – the same day the Americans celebrate their independence. It was chosen by the US specifically to coincide with the date. That was when they officially gave us our independence back in 1946. There are still people alive today who will remember. Then President Diosdado Macapagal decided to change the date to June 12 with the idea that July 4 was not the day we declared independence from colonial rule. This is most likely a forgotten aspect of history, like so many little nuggets of wisdom from the past that we seem to sweep under the rug.

But, not all the things that we don’t talk about in our history are things we should be ashamed of. In fact, Filipinos have done some wonderful things that we don’t teach in our schools too – or at the very least don’t highlight. One of those things was the subject of a film I was recently able to see that reminded me all over again how proud we should be to be Filipino and that we should remember how much good we can actually do if we all come together.

The film, entitled Quezon’s Game, is a smaller budget film and hardly one of the usual Filipino drama or comedy fare pushed by the studios and given tons of money for marketing. As it stood this film had to be pushed by the actors and producers themselves to ensure that theaters in the country would play it and not pull it out in favor of bigger Hollywood blockbusters.

The movie stars Raymond Bagatsing and my son-in-law Nino’s cousin Rachel Alejandro. Bagatsing plays the title role of former President Manuel Quezon while Alejandro portrays his wife Aurora. The film centers around the time when President Quezon put it all on the line to help save thousands of persecuted Jews from Nazi Germany. He not only fought for their freedom, but he opened the doors of the Philippines for them to come here and find safe harbor during the war.

And he didn’t do it alone. (Spoilers for the film are coming at this portion so if you haven’t seen it – and I urge you to – stop reading!) When the US had denied all visas for the refugees, President Quezon risked his own (and the country’s) safe standing with the US (at a time when the Japanese were poised to strike the Philippines at any time) and made a stand. Pleading through diplomatic channels was not cutting it so he, at the urging of his wife Aurora, gave the power to the Filipino people telling them that the Jews needed our help and urging them to stand with him – and they did. In the end, the US had no choice but to give into helping the war refugees in need for fear the Philippine soldiers would put down their arms. What an inspiring moment of unity indeed!

The film was beautifully crafted. Cinematography and direction coupled with powerful acting and a strong script really brought the story to life and in a cinema filled with people of all ages the message definitely rang true for each and every one. In fact, so many people were in tears by the time the credit rolled and some even burst into spontaneous applause. I think it’s because they were reminded about how strong and brave we can be and how we once fought for what was right no matter what the cost.

The reminder couldn’t be timelier too. At a time when the world is too busy building walls we must remember it wasn’t always this way. There was a time when we believed in helping others and standing up for those who could not stand up for themselves. We all need to be reminded of our history if we want to prevent it from happening again and we should all take these lessons and reminders to heart.

This Independence Day let’s take time to remember what really matters. We may be celebrating the day when Emilio Aguinaldo proudly waved that flag and declared our nation’s freedom from foreign oppression, but we are definitely not 100 percent free even to this day. The real essence of independence is not only in our ability to govern ourselves, but also in having a strong and stable economy and a people who can take care of themselves and are free from the bondage of poverty. We have a lot of work to do, but it’s not impossible if we remember what we can achieve if we all work together.

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