FREEDOM, in the Philippines, has a very distinct definition and unique connotation. It has both historic underpinnings and experience-based meaning. And, somehow, it is quite difficult to find a proper definition, without mentioning certain events, even exceptional individuals in the various phases where freedom found meaning among Filipinos.
According to Webster, freedom is a state of being free. Being free, on the other hand, is one’s ability of make a choice. That, of course, pertains to individuals.
Historically, the Philippines had been a colony of Spain for more than three centuries. It’s citizens, called natives by the Spanish colonizers, were from the Malay race – brown skinned, dark hair, dark eyes, and much shorter than the Spaniards.
During those years, freedom has always been a dream among Filipino idealists. And freedom can only be earned if the Spaniards were removed from Philippine soil, by whatever means, even bloody.
So, towards the end of the 19th century, there were pockets of rebellion in many parts of the country. Being an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, coordination among the various rebel groups was extremely difficult, if not impossible.
Be that as it may, the Filipino revolutionaries also failed to realize the impending war between Spain and the United States, which culminated in a battle at the Manila Bay, in the Philippines main island of Luzon. The once-invincible Spanish Armada, the main tool for conquest of the Spaniards, were blown into pieces and sunk by the more superior American Navy.
That was the first time Filipinos shouted to the world, they finally have freedom. But it was not meant to be. It is only having freedom from colonizer to a new power.
When the Treaty of Paris was signed between the United States and Spain, the entire country, the Philippines, was ceded to the former, including all and everything in the islands.
After that, whatever freedom Filipinos were claiming after the last Spanish soldier left the country, was only fleeting. In no time, the Americans have set foothold in the country. Their presence was felt in every part of the Filipinos’ life – in politics and government, in economy, and even in their social life. So, the transition of a Spanish-influenced life shifted to the American way of life. This time, however, there was relative freedom.
That time, the relative freedom granted by the Americans was perceived as total freedom by most.
This became more apparent after the Americans introduced democracy and their own system of government – presidential with three co-equal branches. But that was short-lived as the outbreak of World War II sent the leaders of the American-sponsored democracy scampering to America.
When American soldiers, led by Gen. Douglas McArthur, liberated the Philippines in 1945, Filipinos again relished at the new freedom given to them by their now-staunch ally and friend, Uncle Sam.
Again, the Americans were very instrumental in rehabilitating the war-ravaged country. Although Japan was made to pay reparations – in money and in kind – it was the assistance of America that facilitated the development of the country and its return to normalcy. Once, Filipinos ranted in joy at their freedom, freedom from the Japanese. But American influence loomed large and extremely influential in every aspect of the nation’s life. And that was to be in the succeeding decades until the two American military bases were thrown out of the country.
But before the airbase in Pampanga and the naval base in Zambales were vacated by Americans, Filipinos came under an oppressive martial law regime. In 1972, after being re-elected president of the Philippines, the first to be re-elected in the history of the country, Ferdinand E. Marcos went on to stay longer with the declaration of Martial Law. It took 14 years for Filipinos to muster enough courage to overthrow Marcos with a bloodless revolution called People’s Power EDSA Revolution in 1986. Alas, freedom to Filipinos got another meaning.
But freedom will not be complete while the Americans continue to stay with their two major military bases. Finally, in 1991, a military bases agreement between the Philippines and the United States was abrogated by the Philippine Congress. With that, Philippine nationalists claim that freedom at last reigns in the Philippines.
Now, on the eve of a presidential election, the country and its people are again crying for freedom. This time, the freedom they are seeking is freedom from poverty and freedom from hunger. But first, they want freedom from corruption, which is pervasive in government.