Democracy, Freedom, National Independence, National Sovereignty are but hollow words and phrases that insult our intelligence and rational sensibility and stretch the elastic limits of our forbearance and integrity as a people.

Davao Today

Philippine Independence Day used to be celebrated on the Fourth of July, on the same day the United States of America celebrates its own Freedom Day.

On this day — the Fourth of July — in our land, Freedom Day was always held with rejoicing and fanfare.  Flaglets of varying sizes adorned the houses, buildings, vehicles, lampposts and trees that lined the streets.  In towns and cities all over the archipelago, people from all walks of life joined in the so-called civic parades where floats of different forms and shapes and blinding colors filled the parks, plazas and streets.  And brass bands continuously played martial tunes hours before the culminating literary-musical program started in the public plaza close to the monument of Dr. Jose Rizal.

And everyone — from the super-rich to the doubly poor slum dwellers — oh, how gloriously they cheered and waved their flaglets with wide grins on their faces while their hearts throbbed loud as they sang the national anthem in English.

Pupils in the elementary schools and students in high school and college were made to contribute to the fanfare:  folk dances and Boy Scout fancy drills by the elementary grade-schoolers, choral singing and declamation and oratorical pieces by high-schoolers, and Gala Parade by ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) cadets.  A well-known soprano in the town or city usually rendered a solo in the middle of the program.

And not so far away in the residential houses, dogs barked in synchronous cadence with the festive noise in the air.  And soon a leading politico the city or town mayor — likewise barked with profuse rhetoric of Freedom bubbling in his lips.

On his part, the Chief Executive of the nation, in Manila’s Luneta at the foot of the Rizal monument, delivered his address, again in English, with copious words of adulation to the war heroes of the Second World War.  Not to be forgotten would be the American soldiers — the GI Joes!  And they were very much around on Philippine soil in the US military bases.

This was a mandatory event, year after year after Philippine Independence was proclaimed in 1946.  And after Manuel Roxas, the first Philippine President, conceded the patrimony of the nation to the American imperialists by appending the Parity Amendment to the Philippine Constitution, which entitled American citizens with the privilege of utilization, exploitation and development of our natural resources for a period of fifty years.

Thirty years later, President Diosdado Macapagal moved the Freedom Day celebration to June 12.  At this time, the upsurge of nationalist sentiments among the Filipino people was a phenomenon which could not be ignored.  Certainly, it factored in this move of President Macapagal to alter the date of Freedom Day.  Only the date!

Could it have been a little substantial?

The President must have thought it substantial enough, or he was just spitting out his words to the sky and they fell back flat on his face.  But the other spokesmen of the ruling elite in Philippine society couldn’t have done better. In fact, their shameless gestures of puppetry would have preferred a more extravagant display of canine devotion to American imperialism rather than a show of defiance to what it may have deemed historically established.

Another four decades elapsed and the Freedom Day celebration has been reduced to a mere wreath laying ceremony at some historical site in the country.  It seems everyone is already aware of the bare facts.  Or the naked truth!

National freedom or national independence exists only as an echo of words croaked by   the people residing in Malacañang and those who frequent the halls of Congress and the Courts of Justice.  In short, it is nothing more than an empty proclamation better felt as a bitter joke or mockery.

The bare facts are disclosed in the realities of life and social conditions experienced firsthand by the masses of the people.  And what are these realities?

POVERTY is a wide chasm that separates the less than 10 percent affluent from the 90 percent impoverished.  It is the Mother of all Unfreedoms endured by the masses through the years until the present.

Where Poverty deprives the masses of enough food to eat every day in their lives — there is NO FREEDOM FROM HUNGER AND WANT.  We thrive in the sarcasm of our country being blest with vast tracts of agricultural lands and we suffer from insufficiency of rice, the chief staple food of our people.

Where Poverty deprives the great masses of the right to proper nutrition and health care as well as the right and privilege to avail of medical and other health services, then — there is NO FREEDOM FROM DISEASE AND OTHER HEALTH RISKS AND HAZARDS.

Where Poverty forbids many to own houses or spaces whereon to erect dwellings, then — there is NO FREEDOM OF DOMICILE OR THE RIGHT TO HAVE SHELTER OR HOME.  As a matter of fact the great many of our people are concentrated in slums where they dwell in the ironic reality of being “squatters in their own country.

Where Poverty denies our people of the opportunities for employment and livelihood and have to seek for work in foreign lands as migrants workers where they suffer from untold indignities and inhumanities by their employers which they agonizingly endure just so their families will survive and live decent lives, then — there is NO FREEDOM TO LIFE AND A DECENT LIVELIHOOD.

Where Poverty denies the majority of the people of meaningful education and the opportunities for the development of the people’s mental and intellectual faculties — there is NO FREEDOM FROM IGNORANCE AND OBSCURANTISM.

Where Poverty deprives the many of the significant knowledge and information about issues and concerns and other social problems because of lack of education, then — there is NO REAL FREEDOM OF INFORMATION.

And corollary to this lack of freedom of access to information, the masses are deprived of the channels to know the actuations of public officials and politicians such that during elections, they have no real basis for choice and are vulnerable to vote-buying, and thus — there is NO REAL FREEDOM OR RIGHT OF SUFFRAGE.

And where Poverty denies the moneyless but qualified and principled people from running for public office, the line-up of candidates to an elective post are limited to the wealthy whose interests run counter to the welfare of the poor, compounded by the conduct of the electoral system that gives high premium to the role of money and gimmickry, then — there is NO REAL FREEDOM OF CHOICE.

Where Poverty begets and nurtures criminality and lawlessness — theft, robbery, rape, murder, etc. — there is NO FREEDOM FROM FEAR AND INSECURITY.

Where Poverty deprives the poor people of the capacity to hire lawyers to defend and protect  their rights as complainants or as accused in the Courts  of Justice, especially in cases that involve conflicts between the rich landlords and the poor farmworkers, or between management and employees in factories and business establishments, then — there is NO FREEDOM FROM WRONG AND SOCIAL INJUSTICE.  No equality of all before the law.

Where Poverty prompts the poor masses to assemble and seek redress of grievances and their gathering is dispersed and their organization’s leaders are threatened and killed or summarily executed by the State security forces who roam the countryside in a policy of militarization meant only to protect foreign capitalist interests in the extractive industries such as mining, then – there is NO FREEDOM BUT STARK VIOLATIONS OF PEOPLOE’S HUMAN RIGHTS.

Where Poverty prohibits the moneyless from availing of costly transportation facility, and only moneyed people like Kris Aquino have the luxury of tours around scenic spots of our beautiful country, and the poor don’t even have the time and opportunity to move out within half a kilometer radius from their places of abode until their dying hours, then — there is NO FREEDOM TO TRAVEL OR THE RIGHT TO GO PLACES.

Finally, where the leaders who run the government are obeisant to foreign interests, mainly American imperialist interests, our national sovereignty is compromised, as in fact and in truth, our national leadership caters to the wishes and dictates of these foreign interests, making of our foreign policy a matter of ridiculous happenstance, then — there is NO REAL INDEPENDENCE AND NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY TO SPEAK OF IN OUR LANDS.

To sum it up, Poverty deprives the 90 percent of the Filipino people of their Human Rights as guaranteed in the Constitution, and this is tantamount to denying the great majority of the Filipino people of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.      

Democracy, Freedom, National Independence, National Sovereignty are but hollow words and phrases that insult our intelligence and rational sensibility and stretch the elastic limits of our forbearance and integrity as a people.

Don J. Pagusara is a native of Mindanao, a multi-awarded author and a Palanca-awardee.

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