Thursday, June 21, 2012

Independence Day?



June 12 was Independence Day here in the Philippines. I usually pay little attention to foreign holidays, but this year I learned that they were celebrating the 114th year of Philippine independence. I had foolishly assumed that Independence Day was an observance of the day in 1946 when the Philippines finally became an independent state. But that day was on July 4, not June 12.

On June 12, 1898, Filipino nationalists declared their independence from Spain after 377 years of colonial rule, thanks to their defeat in the Spanish-American War. Unfortunately, Spain had already ceded the Philippines to the United States for $20M in the Treaty of Paris. The leaders of the titular First Philippine Republic then declared war on the United States, and the subsequent Philippine-American War resulted in somewhere between 34,000 (the American estimate) to a million casualties.
American adoption of the Philippines, first as an “insular area” and in 1935 as part of an American Commonwealth, inspired one of Rudyard Kipling’s most offensive lyrics:


The White Man's Burden

1899

THE UNITED STATES AND THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS

Take up the White man's burden --
Send forth the best ye breed --
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild --
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.


The rest isn’t worthy of being repeated. But America took up the “burden” for the next forty-eight years. Given this sad episode, it is sometimes surprising that any American visitor to the Philippines will notice a marked affection of a majority of Filipinos for Americans. Because of the Japanese invasion in 1941 (the Japanese attacked the Philippines the day after Pearl Harbor), of MacArthur and his “I shall return” promise, which he kept, Americans and Filipinos have a shared history, a shared destiny in Asia.

The Spanish left behind many old churches, the thousands of Spanish words that litter the Filipino language, and the terrible and detrimental macho culture that also afflicts Latin American countries. Spanish colonial rule (via Mexico) left deep cultural traces. But the subsequent years of its insular and commonwealth status left much more significant and important marks on the country. As Stanley Karnow pointed out in his book In Our Image, the Philippines used the example of the United States in the creation of their own Constitution and Bill of Rights, and their own system of government, with the same three branches of Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. Many of their governmental departments have the same or similar names: like the FDA, the NBI (their FBI), and PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency).

Whether or not the Filipino nationalists who announced their country’s independence in 1898 had any of this in mind we will never know. What Filipinos celebrate on June 12 is the beginning of their War of Independence. Ours lasted eight years. Their took forty-eight years to finally win.

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