by Gary Labao

Most Filipinos grew up knowing that the 4th of July is Philippine-American Friendship Day. Less known to many, the 4th of July was also day that the US finally recognized Philippines as an independent nation and that Philippine independence was celebrated on the 4th of July since 1946 to 1964. Isn’t it odd celebrating your very own independence from a colonial master on the same day the colonial power is also celebrating it’s own independence from another colonial master, the British?

But Filipinos aren’t dumb to realize that celebrating our own independence day the same day as our colonial master confuses everyone as to what exactly are we celebrating? Was it Philippine “independence” or American Independence? Can you imagine Filipino-Americans marching down Madison Avenue in New York to celebrate Philippine Independence Day on the 4th of July while the rest of the US is having bbqs in their backyards waiting for the evening fireworks to celebrate American Independence? I’m sure the PIDC and the consulate would pick a separate date, but I still find it funny and insulting at the same time.

So, in 1964 (The same year the Kabataang Makabayan or KM was founded) we moved the date of our celebration to June 12th, the day that the Republic of the Philippines was proclaimed independent from centuries of Spanish colonial rule. A date that was never recognized by the US and Spain with the exception of a few such as China’s great revolutionary leader Sun Yat Sen. It was reported that he received diplomats from the newly establish Republic of the Philippines and even vowed to send support in forms of arms and ammunition. But what is intriguing and interesting is that June 12th was not the day Philippines became independent from colonial US nor Japan, it was historically 4th of July, therefore the question of independence from the US shall forever remain a mystery to some. Keep in mind that the Japanese invaders also declared Philippine independence from the US as part of its mission.

So what really is the significance of the 4th of July to Filipinos?

The US remains as one of the primary destination of Filipinos who work abroad. The US is host to the largest Filipino community outside of the Philippines. Filipino workers have been known to come to the US to work for such a long time, even as far back as the days of the Spanish galleon trade. However since the 1960s migration wave (aka the brain drain as a result of the Marcos administrations introduction of the Labor Export Policy or L.E.P.) Filipinos started to work abroad in a more systematic way as designed and imposed by the IMF and the WB. Filipino immigrants in the US are the largest contributor in terms of remittances that keeps the Philippine economy afloat. And for many Filipinos in the US the issue of “immigration” and “legalization” is always a very important issue. Acquiring US Citizenship or a green card is a very important achievement and the 4th of July is the day to symbolically celebrate being an “American” (or simply put, the right to reside and work in the US legally).

It is very important and significant especially to Filipinos who believe and advocates assimilation and who are forever grateful to America. It is a day pro-American Filipinos look back and honor the legacy of the Americans to the Philippine society such as “public education”, “democracy”, Hollywood, coca-cola, etc. A day that reminds us of our “utang na loob”, the eternal debt to the US masters.

There are also thousands if not more Filipinos who are enlisted in the US military service, the 4th of July is one of those holidays they were given recognition.

For some, it is just another long weekend from work and an opportunity to visit friends and families, to cook and boast Filipino style bbq, watch the fire works, get drunk like Americans do, go to the beach, visit the Statue of Liberty, etc. They simply celebrate summer.

In the Philippines, 4th of July is the Philippine-American Friendship Day. It is a day that pays tribute to the US and the long and lasting partnership with the Philippines. It’s supposed to be a day to celebrate being “equals” and being “allies” who lend support to each other. How equal and how friendly this relationship is of course an entirely separate issue for discussion. All we know is the current Philippine President Benigno Aquino III is a very honest and very loyal “friend” of the United States. Just like all the past presidents of the Philippines who all stood and approved policies that always favor the United States, be it economic or military.

This year would be more significant because of the recent issue involving the disputed Spratly Islands. The Philippine government is expected to highlight the US-GPH relationship on its position on the matter.

Meanwhile the progressives take this opportunity to expose and oppose US imperialism, US military presence and intervention (such as the Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA, US military aid), and the unequal relationship with the Philippines and other issues. They also stand in solidarity with other progressive Americans in condemning the unfair policies and brutal actions of US imperialism to its own people and of the world.

Historical significance of the 4th of July

July 4th is the US Declaration of Independence in 1776. Whether you are pro or anti US hegemony doesn’t mean we should not learn about the historical, political and cultural significance of the 4th of July and the positive elements that can be drawn from it without completely dismissing any and all other arguments and debates about it.

The American revolution was a revolution for Nationalism and Democracy of the American people. It was aimed at putting an end to the British colonial rule and establish an independent, nationalist and democratic form of government.

With the Philippine Revolution of 1896 led by Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan, there is no denying of the fact that the American Revolution—a bloody armed uprising of the people to overthrow a colonial super power, the British Empire—was an inspiration and a model in the same pattern as the French Revolution. The US declaration of independence on the 4th of July 1776 sent a very loud message to the world that powerful, seemingly unbeatable and invincible empires such as the British can be defeated if the people are united, determined and decisive. It sent a message to the world that Kings and Queens are not who they claim to be and that they can be defeated by “commoners”.

Let us remind ourselves what a declaration of independence really mean. Let us remind ourselves what an armed revolution can accomplish. Had the Americans merely accepted the British Colonial rule and never asserted her genuine independence politically and economically, who is to say that the US is to become the same US we now recognize? Had the Americans refused to take up arms, join the revolutionary forces and build militias, formed alliances with natives, slaves and others, would the revolution succeed?

The history of the people of the United States is also an evolving and progressive history despite its dark and ugly beginnings (and continuation). Despite the atrocities alleged to the US and its governments and foreign policies, it is not entirely wrong to celebrate and commemorate the 4th of July as Filipinos and Filipino-Americans.

As Filipinos we must honor the early Filipinos known as “Manila Men” who have enlisted and joined the revolutionary forces back in the day when they traveled via the Spanish galleons and jumped ship. We must honor the World War II Filipino veterans, the manongs who volunteered to join the US Army forcing it to establish a separate Division exclusive to Filipinos.

More importantly we must honor the real heroes and heroines of the American Revolution. We must never forget the contribution of the poor Americans, the workers, the peasants and farmers, the Clergy, the slaves and the First Nation (indigenous peoples aka Indians or Native Americans) who took up arms and comprised the army that decisively defeated the mighty British Colonial Empire. We must never forget that revolutions are waged and won by the people, the soldiers who sacrifice and offer their lives for the cause, not just the few leaders on the top of the bureaucracy.

Regardless of your nationality, citizenship, religion, or even political ideology or affiliation, as we commemorate the 235th declaration of US independence let us never forget that the people, “the masses of people alone are the true motive forces in the making of history.”

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