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Independence Day 2023 Series: We, the sovereign Filipino people

The Philippines will celebrate its 125th year since it declared independence from Spain on June 12, 1898. However, such a declaration was overshadowed by supervening events that immediately allowed American forces to occupy the Philippine Islands. The country used to celebrate Independence Day on July 4 to commemorate the United States granting of independence in 1946.

In a real sense, July 4, much like the American Independence Day, should be the correct date since July 4, 1946, was the date when the republic was formally recognized by the world community as “truly” independent. In 1962, however, then President Diosdado Macapagal correctly changed the date to reflect the declaration made by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo as the one that Filipinos truly earned.

This year’s parade celebration will carry the theme “Freedom, Future, History.” In a nutshell, the celebration is about freedom and the days leading to the occasion will be used to raise public awareness regarding the importance of the nation’s history, heroes of the past to allow Filipinos to see and understand their relevance going into the future.

This approach is clearly an extension of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. (PBBM) calls for unity. His presidential campaign called itself the “UniTeam” – a play on words to reflect the need for the country to work together under his leadership. Since he took office in June 2022, PBBM has repeatedly invoked his “unity” mantra which is clearly directed at the more than 15 million Filipinos who voted for then Vice President Leni Robredo.

Hence, it is really a political unity call. PBBM garnered 31.6 million votes, a landslide by Philippine measure. Yet, the president is putting out the olive branch on every important occasion and Philippine holidays. The fact that “unity” was still his theme during his state visit to the United States and United Kingdom means that he is not making much headway.

Every Philippine president elected to office always makes such a call because by nature, the political democratic exercise called election, is a divisive act that pits voters to choose from among the contenders. Consequently, a unity call is really a form of damage control to heal the nation. The hope is that losing voters will be mature enough to accept defeat, or for the victors to be magnanimous and share the spoils of battle and move on.

In practice, however, the losers use the 6-years lull in between to sharpen their knives for the next battle (or election). They “fiscalize,” a term used to criticize the current dispensation at every turn. Meanwhile, the victors enjoy the spoils by spreading the loot among its adherents. In the words of a Liberal Party stalwart during the administration of President Elpidio Quirino, Jose Avelino, who decried a corruption investigation ordered by the president, “Why are we in power for?” was his infamous declaration. It is truly a vicious cycle.

To break such a cycle of open warfare, a document called “constitution” is put in place to reign in such division. From the charter, the pillars of government are formed, laws are made for the executive to enforce, and for another branch to interpret such laws as to their constitutionality. Thus, a cottage industry is born under the veneer of democratic ideals.

“We, the sovereign Filipino people,” are the first five words of the Preamble to the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines. The rest of the Preamble contains liberal ideas of what the Framers believed the society ought to be. Thirty-six years later, many of these noble aspirations remain just that – aspirations. Thus, the continuing call for unity. What gives?

When a president calls for unity, what exactly is he or she trying to achieve? What are the political benchmarks and milestones that would give rise to such a veneer of unity at peacetime? It must be worrisome for presidents to see or know that Filipinos flock to air-conditioned malls on National Heroes Day or Philippine Independence Day rather than watch a Rizal impostor being shot at the town plaza.

Clearly, many Filipinos could no longer relate (if they ever did) to the import of the day much less feel the fervor of “patriotism or nationalism.” There isn’t a single silver bullet that can slay such a lack of understanding. In the first place, the Philippine Constitution itself is one of the culprits. From “We, the people” from the U.S. Constitution’s Preamble (where the 1987 version was patterned mostly from), the Pinoy version added two words, “sovereign Filipino.” Does anybody out there, the non-lawyer type, really grasp what these two plus three words mean?

“We, the people” is already understood to refer to the people of that country who are called the sovereign. In a democracy, the sovereign is the source of governmental powers because the people’s consent is needed through various means. Elections are a good example. The people collectively vote for who they want to lead the country being a democratic and republican form of government. Additionally, they also vote for the senators and honorable congress people to represent them.

Looking at how elections and campaigns are practiced in the Philippines where vote buying, political killing, and outright cheating through “dagdag-bawas” (vote shaving) or outright calling a COMELEC official to do the bidding for a candidate; do these acts imply true consent from the governed? How about when honorable representatives or senators act to kowtow with the president through a supermajority, truly representative of a representative democracy where the will of the people reigns supreme?

Of course, they’re not. Yet Filipinos proudly cling to democracy as a badge of honor being the first Republic in Asia. Add to that a very powerful lobby from the country’s oligarchs who would want to keep the nationalistic provisions of the Cory “Freedom Constitution” that allow them to accumulate more wealth. Perhaps Muammar Gadaffi’s Third International Theory is spot on as an alternative to capitalism and Marxism-Leninism for Third World countries like the Philippines.

Gadaffi’s theory delves on three vital aspects of existence like solving the problem of inequity under a democracy where the rich get richer and the poor, well, poorer. People Power in a democracy is not really exercised by the people but by those elected on their behalf.

Another is solving the problem of the economy. In a democracy, the word socialism is like cancer that rich people don’t want to hear or be associated with. Wage labor is akin to slavery, according to the theory, that has not kept up with the standard of living. Low wages for employees mean small take home pay that prevents them from satisfying their basic needs.

As envisioned by Harold Maslow, an American psychologist, the hierarchy of needs explains human motivation on the pursuit of happiness based on different levels of needs. From food on the table to addressing health concerns, democracy has shown such inequity. Article 3 of the 1987 Constitution contains the Bill of Rights that echoes the equality of all that is divinely given. (To be continued)


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