Are we truly independent?

Independence means freedom to do things President Duterte seized on the concept and declared an independent foreign policy as mandated by the constitution. The presumption was that heretofore we did not have one.

This is not exactly accurate, after 1954 the Philippine government under the Laurel-Langley Agreement amended the terms of the Independence Act which contained so many obnoxious provisions such as parity rights and almost perpetual lease of military bases etc. When President Duterte announced the pivot to China and Russia he forgot that as early as the mid-seventies President Marcos shook hands with Chairman Mao and established relations with the then USSR. In 1991, we made the completely broke away from the apron strings of our former colonial mentor when we unilaterally, if only by the narrowest of margins, removed the U.S. bases from the country. The U.S. bases defined our foreign policy directions and kept this country in the forefront of us security arrangements in the Asia-Pacific.

Indeed the U.S. bases in the Philippines was designed to protect U.S. interests in Asia and in the sense that it was used to contain the spread of communism and preserve democracy in this part of the world, it also served our interest.

But once the U.S. military was solidly embedded on Philippine soil making it the headquarters of the biggest air force base outside of the United States and home of the mighty Seventh Fleet the biggest armada in the West – this country became an indispensable ally which must adhere to security and political designs of the us in this part of the world. And so we kept the Japanese at bay in Bataan and Corregidor at the cost of thousands of Filipino lives and sent troops to Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East to fight side by side with the Americans.

But how independent can a country be in this world integrated by the transportation and communications revolution – in an age that espouses globalization, multilateralism and international solidarity? Has the independence given way to interdependence? Perhaps but the fact is as the late Winston Churchill would quip – there are no permanent friends, only permanent national interest!

But what actually is the national interest? There are obvious ones like territorial integrity, sovereignty, the preservation of the freedoms of religion, speech, conscience, life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness etc, but there are more subtle ones and with these the national interest becomes more hazy. In the U.S. they used to joke that was good for General Motors was good for the States. In this country in Commonwealth days it was said that what was good for the sugar industry was good for the country. During the negotiations surrounding the Independence Act it was clear that the powerful “sugar bloc” bargained away a lot of provisions that had to be amended later.

On Independence Day we reflect on the heroism of the Filipino unknown soldiers and those that did not receive due recognition only because our history books were written by the victors and their protégées. Gaining independence was a costly adventure that showed the world the guts of the Filipinos who battled the American conquerors for three years from 1899 to 1902.

There was Gen. Vicente Lukban and his bolo battalion who wiped out a whole American garrison at Balangiga, Samar. In the the Battle of Plaridel, Bulacan on April 23, 1899, the young General Gregorio del Pilar led a force of Filipino sharpshooters who stopped a U.S. cavalry charge. General Licero Geronimo, and his snipers killed U.S. General Henry Lawton at the Battle of San Mateo on December 19, 1899. In the Battle of Pulang Lupa in Marinduque on September 13, 1900, Lt. Col. Maximo Abad and his troops defeated the U.S. Army under Capt. James Shield. Gen. Juan Cailles, commander of Filipino troops in Laguna dealt a serious blow to the Americans along the Laguna de Bay which was preceded by a war of words with the U.S. commander.

It will take too long to report on the record of other distinguished flag officers who led Filipino soldiers in the battlefield. Suffice to mention them:

·Antonio Luna;
·Tomas Mascardo;
·Maximo Hizon;
·Sevillano Aquino;
·Miguel Malvar;
·Mariano Trias;
·Paciano Rizal;
· Pantaleon Garcia;
· Artemio Ricarte;
· Vito Belarmino;
· Jose Paua;
· Martin Delgado;
· Pascual and Elias Magbanua;
· Simeon Ola.

I might add “Leon Kilat” of Negros Oriental and our Muslim brothers who fought bravely against our would-be conquerors.