FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - June 13, 2019 - 12:00am

As the nation celebrated Independence Day yesterday, the larger and more hopeful crowd was not at the Luneta. It is quite telling that the larger crowd was a few blocks away, at the San Andres Sports Complex in Malate where a jobs and business fair was conducted.

The Trabaho, Negosyo, Kabuhayan (TNK) Jobs and Business Fair had 19,798 vacancies on offer. Hundreds of fresh graduates flocked to this fair, in search of a satisfying job and a better future. They were raring to work, raring to create wealth and, perchance, nurture strong and healthy families.

Everywhere else, the same old same old happened.

At the Luneta flag raising ceremonies, the Vice President gave the usual spiel about freeing our people from poverty and injustice. Officials in their Filipiniana finery showed up at the traditional sites: the Aguinaldo mansion balcony in Kawit, the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan, the Barasoain church in Bulacan and in all the provincial capitols. In all these sites, in tepid ceremonies, the usual clichés about independence were regurgitated dutifully.

No one celebrates Independence Day with such religious fervor as the leftist groups. They turned up, as they always do, at the American embassy to denounce “US Imperialism” and clamor for “genuine” independence. 

We might have gotten American influence out of our hair a generation ago. But for this ideological cult, denouncing “imperialism” is central to the orthodoxy they abide by.

The discourse regarding independence has evolved too slowly over the years.

At least we have stopped using Independence Day as an occasion to parade military hardware in the streets. We used to do that during the time we imagined ourselves an Asian power. Reality has taken its toll on this aspect of our celebration.

To be sure, there is merit in celebrating the brave men and women to rose up in revolt and established Asia’s first republic – no matter how short-lived it was. It took a lot of courage, and folly, to rise up in revolt against an entrenched colonial establishment vastly superior in arms.

Spain was a dying colonial power by the time Filipinos revolted – but it was a power nevertheless. The colonizer had a navy in our waters, a real army to man strong garrisons all throughout the archipelago and a Church ready to condemn rebellion to eternal perdition.

When thousands of Katipuneros marched on the Spanish fort at San Juan (in what is now called Pinaglabanan), they carried sharp bamboo poles and machetes. Withering fire from the fort and the river gunboats mowed down the ragtag army. The Spaniards went after the wounded and bayoneted them in front of their families. The massacre went on for days.

It was a bad idea to attack a fort with inferior arms and ill-trained rebels. In all the early battles, the revolutionary forces were routed badly. Soon the issue of competence became an important one in deciding the leadership question for the revolution.

No doubt, despite their imperfections, we need to memorialize our heroes. They were unskilled but they were brave. They were infected with the idea of independence even if they did not have the slightest clue about what republicanism required, what building a civil society entailed.

Our discussion about independence is in dire need of evolution. We need to lift the discourse out of the quagmire of autarky and chauvinism. We need to stop demonizing some foreign conspiracy and blaming our miseries on their interference.

The discourse on independence must now focus on what we need to do to be capable of self-determination. Freedom is never the outcome of a failed state. Only a nation with a strong and functioning civil order deserves independence.

Therefore, the discourse on independence should now evolve into a discourse on the quality of governance. It is time to liberate the discussion of self-determination from the mythology of malignant foreign influences. We need to reflect more seriously on building up our domestic capacity. Only that will enable self-determination.

Here, some correlations need to be recognized.

The quality of governance we are able to exercise correlates with the quality of independence we enjoy. If the state is unable to secure civil order, our independence will be illusory.

If our economy is not competitive, we cannot be self-reliant. In an interdependent world, we should be able to provide for our needs by means of trade and not by closing borders. The latter option can only bring us scarcity.

If we do not have fiscal strength, the state will have no means to invest in our own society. That will translate into stagnation and widespread poverty. We cannot achieve freedom from want.

If we do not build strong international partnerships, we will be isolated. Isolation is not independence.

Our sovereignty is not diminished if we abide by the global standards of best practices. To the contrary, our sovereignty will be meaningless if we are incompetent. Sovereignty should not mean we throw our society into a black hole.

If governance is weak and the state in ineffectual, our national community simply succumbs to its vices. How meaningful will independence be if half the population is addicted to illegal drugs and the drug cartels define political outcomes? How meaningful will independence be if our society remains under the grip of an oligarchy?

The proposition here is that the domestic discourse on independence, self-determination and national sovereignty ought to be enlightened by social science and freed from the clutches of ancient nationalist demagoguery.

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