“History doesn’t repeat itself, we repeat history.”
It’s my favorite quote by historian Ambeth Ocampo which, to me, simply means that if we do not learn anything from history or our past, we are bound to repeat it. Tragically or ironically or both, we Filipinos seem to have the collective habit of repeating the ‘bad parts’ of our history.
Take yesterday for example, our “Independence Day” commemorating the proclamation of independence by Emilio Aguinaldo 120 years ago. To be clear, that “independence” was from Spain which had colonized and ruled our islands for almost 400 years. We say and put emphasis on “independence from Spain” because shortly after that proclamation at Kawit, Cavite, we came under American occupation and colonization.
Ironically, the Act of Declaration of Philippine Independence contained the following:
“And having as witness to the rectitude of our intentions the Supreme Judge of the Universe, and under the protection of our Powerful and Humanitarian Nation, The United States of America, we do hereby proclaim and declare solemnly in the name by authority of the people of these Philippine Islands,”
Our history textbooks call this “benevolent assimilation”, the US subjugating our islands, robbing us of our independence, pillaging our natural resources and murdering thousands of our forefathers. Ironically, again, the same history textbooks fail and are even completely silent about how the US occupation was facilitated by our past leaders, led by the man who made the proclamation 120 years ago. He did not only proclaim our so-called independence that was “dependend” on a foreign power, he also proclaimed himself “egregious dictator.”
Which brought us to yesterday’s June 12, 120 years later independence still continues to be something complicated for our nation, succinctly captured in this photo by Christine Avendaño for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, taken before Rodrigo Duterte delivered his Independence day speech:
In the ordinary course of things, the photo would have been just one of the many that will serve as a memory of today’s programs. However, in the context of what has happened and what is happening in terms of the Duterte administration’s ‘pivot to China’ vis a vis China’s occupation of territories in the West Philippine Sea, one cannot find it hard to say that we, at the very least our leaders in government are repeating history once again.
We commemorate our ‘independence’ with all the formalities, speeches, parades, photo-ops, holidays, the whole official brouhaha, yet we find our so-called leaders embracing foreign powers that threaten our security, plunder our resources and steal outright from our citizens. We have a representative government yet its Chief Executive has acted and continues to do so in the fashion of a dictator. Dissent and criticism is dealt with violence, political persecution and oppression.
Like Aguinaldo before him, both leaders are surrounded by representatives of the ruling faction of society who has taken turns plundering our national coffers to protect their business interests, propagate themselves in power, collaborate with foreign interests setting aside and perverting the causes for which the Revolution began: freedom to steer our national destiny, taking our place in the family of nations and serving the common good so our people would prosper and our citizens are able to take on the pursuit of happiness.
120 years on, it is clear that the ‘independence’ we commemorate, despite the material and visual trappings, the parades and speeches, remain shallow and wanting. 120 years on our national project remains a complex and complicated work in progress. 120 years on we find ourselves repeating the shameful and disgraceful events of our history. 120 years on, can we not for once repeat something else? Can we not repeat that glorious act we took 122 years back? If you our history, you’d know what I am referring to.