by Rose Churma
On June 12, the Philippines will commemorate the 124th anniversary of the country’s Declaration of Independence from Spain. Perhaps it is time for us to pause and make sense of our present, so we can confront the future?
This book is a compilation of 101 short essays that the author wrote “in a rush to meet the hundred front-page deadlines in the Philippine Daily Inquirer as it commemorated the centennial of Philippine Independence on June 12, 1998.”
The author is known for making history accessible. He took history down from the academic tower and brought it back to the people. For this he was criticized as “trivializing history” and serving it as “mere appetizers” instead of the full meal.
Although the essays were written in 1998, the articles have a long shelf-life and are still valid today and the years to come – the advantage of historical essays. Unless some “discovery” alters historical facts, and in this case the author notes that the shot that sparked the Filipino-American war was not on a bridge in San Juan but in Sta.Mesa in Manila.
Of the enumerable books he has published, the author claims that this volume is one of his favorites. Like his other books, the essays are easy to read. And perhaps, instead of essays, it is proper to call these “stories” – since he uses storytelling as an approach to history.
It becomes not only informative but also entertaining. He humanizes our historical characters, showing them with their blemishes as well as talents. He provides the context of why these events happened with his keen sense of observation and insight into Filipino cultural values.
Stories #3 “RP-US row sparked change to June 12” and #4 “Why Macapagal chose June 12” are the two that I want to focus on. In the early 1960s, we celebrated Independence Day on July 4th – same day as the US. In Baguio City where I grew up and a city established by the Americans in 1901, the event was celebrated by a parade down Session Road. School children were asked to participate and I recall being dressed up in our uniforms and asked to march behind a school band.
Philippine Independence Day was changed to June 12 in 1962. In Story #3, then President Diosdado Macapagal (father of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) wrote in his memoirs – “The opportunity came when the US House of Representatives rejected the $73 Million additional war payment bill on May 9, 1962.”
Although Macapagal had contemplated the date since he entered public life, this rejection of the additional war payments further fueled his intentions. In other speeches, he denied that the change in date was connected to that denial. Whatever the motives were to the change, this historic act ensured that we commemorate the country’s birth as a nation on June 12.
In Story #4, Martial Lichauco, who was secretary to two Philippine Independence Commissions to the US (1930 and 1932) was quoted that the Philippines had the choice of selecting the date for independence as early as 1930. Manuel Roxas chose December 30 in memory of the martyrdom of Jose Rizal, but the US Senate Committee on Insular Affairs chose July 4th—and this date was maintained as Philippine Independence Day from 1946 to 1961.
Macapagal chose June 12 after consultations with various groups, one of which was the Philippine Historical Association where he served as honorary president. He writes in his memoir that July 4 was not inspiring enough to the Filipino youth, unlike June 12 where the youth would recall the heroes of the revolution against Spain and their acts of sublime heroism and martyrdom.
There were some concerns in choosing June 12, since the government established by Aguinaldo on that date was a dictatorship since he was still leading military operations against the new enemy – the Americans. But this provisional government became a republican government in the Malolos Congress in September of the same year.
It should be noted that what we commemorate on June 12 is the proclamation of Philippine Independence, and not the attainment of actual independence. The author’s final commentary in Story #4 is food for thought in these unsettled times of the republic – “June 12 and July 4 stress the fact that it is one thing to declare or win independence but quite a different thing to know what to do with independence.”
The author, Ambeth R. Ocampo’s research covers the late 19th century Philippines – from the birth of the nation to its art, food, and culture. He is a past chairman of the National Historical Institute and is associated with the Ateneo de Manila University’s history department. He also teaches at UP Diliman and the Universidad de Manila.
A prolific writer, he not only is the author of enumerable books but also is a newspaper columnist and sought-after lecturer where he attracts a standing-room-only audience. He was a guest lecturer in Honolulu some years ago where he spoke at the Philippine Consulate General in Honolulu on the history of Philippine bank notes and at the East West Center where he discussed the contents of the Marcos Diaries. He was knighted as “Officier” of the Order of Arts & Letters by the Republic of France.
This book is a must-have for Philippine history enthusiasts. Each story can be read in a few minutes – in the chronology presented (starting from #1 to #101) or in any order. The essence of the stories is not diminished and can be revisited and savored just like prized appetizers.
ROSE CHURMA established a career in architecture 40 years ago, specializing in judicial facilities planning. As a retired architect, she now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books and write about them, as well as encourage others to write.
by Rose Churma