Honoring Our Filipino Heroes’ Legacy, Ancestors and on Philippines Independence Day

by Edwin Quinabo

Hawaii’s annual Philippine Independence Day Gala (Kalayaan Gala) returns this year on Saturday, June 18, 2022, 5:30 p.m. at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort, Tapa Ballroom.  The event is presented by the Philippine Celebrations Coordinating Committee of Hawaii (PCCCH) in cooperation with the Philippine Consulate General in Honolulu.

Organizers say this year’s Kalayaan Gala will center on the theme: “Philippine Textiles: Weaving the Filipino Identity.”  There will be a Philippine Textiles exhibit at the Tapa Palace Lounge. They say Kalayaan 2022 promises to be a wonderful event which will draw the community closer together in a showcase of unity.

Raymund Llanes Liongson, PhD, retired Professor in Philippine/Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii-Leeward, is a member of PCCCH and has been involved in Hawaii’s celebrations of Philippine Independence for the past 20 years.

On the importance of the Philippine Independence for Hawaii’s community, Liongson said “I am looking forward to a Kalayaan celebration that is open and free to the public — not just for those who can afford to pay the cost of a pompous gala. Philippine independence was won through the bravery of every Filipino who selflessly offered their blood, sweat, tears, and life. Kalayaan should be celebrated freely and openly by every Filipino who understands and treasures the value of such sacrifice.”

The annual event typically has been not just an opportunity to honor the legacy of Philippine heroes, heroines of past, but also for first-, second- and third generation Filipino-Americans to learn about their ancestral history.

Kailua resident Teresita G. Bernales, Ed.D. said “attending the Kalayaan Gala is important because it will demonstrate the embrace of our culture and traditions, show our love of our country and solidarity, and it’s a good way to help the next generation learn our history, and have heightened awareness of our struggles for independence.”

Marc Dela Cuesta, Quezon City, Philippines, said a common way they celebrate that national holiday is by visiting Rizal park, Intramuros, and other historical places in Manila.

Refresher: Philippines unique struggle for independence
When most Filipinos talk of Philippine Independence, there are really two historical markers: independence from Spain in 1898 and independence from the U.S. in 1946.

Philippine Independence day officially recognizes the first marker, the end of 333 years of Spanish rule over the Philippines that was brought about at the conclusion of the Spanish-American war of 1898. Spain was defeated by the U.S. that led to the Spanish government ceding the Philippines to the U.S. in the 1898 Treaty of Paris.  It was a monumental turning point. But for the Philippines Revolutionary Government and millions of Filipinos it marked the turnover of their country from one colonial ruler to another. To most it was a false sense of liberation.

When it became clear that the U.S. (late entrant to European colonial global dominance) was intent on establishing a springboard territorial U.S. government thousands of miles away in the Philippines, Filipino revolutionaries (with a taste of independence) immediately initiated another movement for national independence – the second and last part of Philippine Independence.

Filipinos clashed with the U.S. as early as 1899, just months from the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Skirmishes quickly swelled into an all-out war, in what’s known as the Philippine-American War (February 4, 1899, to July 2, 1902).

But it would take decades of American occupation until post-WW II (which in that war there was yet another attempt to usurp the Philippines into colonial submission by Japan) when the Philippines would finally gain its full independence. The US. granted independence to the Philippines on July 4,1946 (official national holiday would later change to June 12). In all valiant attempts toward full independence – from the Spanish, Americans and would-be Japanese – hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were killed while fighting in the pursuit for freedom.

From Andres Bonifacio, Gabriela Silang, Jose Rizal, Melchora Aquino de Ramos (revolutionaries against Spain) to Emilio Aguinaldo (revolutionary against the U.S.) these and other heroes and heroines legacies are celebrated on Philippines Independence Day, each June 12 in the Philippines.

Hawaii resident Rose Cruz Churma said the observance of Philippines independence is not geographically specific. “It is celebrated “wherever in the world you have those who identify themselves as Filipino and the Philippines as their inang bayan, motherland.” She said her grandparents lived this two-part Independence history — as young witnesses to the Philippine revolution against Spain and the American occupation, to the horrors of WWII.

Tracing Family history to Philippine Independence from Spain and the U.S.
Marcos Jocson.
Churma discovered during the mandatory quarantine at the onset of COVID-19 in 2020 her family’s unique involvement with the plight for independence. “I discovered that my maternal great grandfather Marcos Jocson — one of the first Filipino medical doctors who graduated from UST — was a signatory to the June 12, 1898 Declaration of Philippine Independence.  He was one of 176 signatories of Filipino descent (and one American army officer).  And for the first time, I saw how he signed his name, and I understood why he took pains to bring his toddler son from Navotas to his dorm in Intramuros so they can both witness the execution of Dr. Jose Rizal on the early morning of December 30, 1896.”

Jocson was a physician in Aguinaldo’s army. While in medical school, his discontent regarding Spanish colonialism was already palpable. Churma said, “Time and again, his father and his aunt would remind him that his first responsibility was to his family—it was important not to jeopardize their futures by getting messed up in the growing insurgency by joining this underground movement called the Katipunan.” The Katipunan (abbreviated to KKK) was a Philippine revolutionary society in Manila founded in 1892, whose aim was to liberate the Philippines from Spain through revolution.

Years later when Jocson was already a doctor and the Spanish-American war had ended, he and his family evacuated to Cavite during the “Takbuhan” at the start of the Philippine-American War. It was at this time while stationed there as physician to Emilio Aguinaldo’s army that he was witness to the signing of the declaration of independence from Spain

Felix Magsaysay.
 Churma shares another family member’s story, of Felix Magsaysay, her grandmother’s father who became the presidente de municipal from 1898-1901 of San Antonio, Zambales. “During this time, American soldiers had taken over the Philippines. We were told that the Spaniards tortured Felix into revealing the names of the katipuneros who were hiding in the mountains of Pundaquit.

“When he refused to cooperate, he was subjected to the infamous ‘water cure’ wherein he was forced to ingest large amounts of water. And I remember what my grandmother, Lola Sitang had relayed to me about her early childhood. One of her stories was when her papa (Felix) hid some ‘insurgents’ in the baul (these are wooden trunks) during the Philippine-American war,” Churma said.

1st Lt. Francisco M. Gregorio. While many decades have passed since World War II,  Bernales has been on a quest to search for the remains of her father who fought alongside Americans against the Japanese invaders. This part of Philippine Independence (post-WWII) remains an open chapter for Bernales, until perhaps her father’s remains are found.

Her father was 1st Lt. Francisco M. Gregorio, a UP and PMA graduate. He was also a graduate of ROSS (Reserve Officers Service School).  Officers with this training were posted in various camps to train soldiers in better combat strategies and techniques.

She explains, “Before the war, he was posted at the Ist Davao PC Company of the USAFFE 101st Infantry Division. We did not have news about him during the Japanese Occupation. My mother searched for him where possible, even going to the Death March area. After liberation, a colleague of my father, Col. Gregorio Ferreols came to bring a couple of documents to my mother.  It was his wallet and a couple of important documents.  He related that after the fall of Davao to the Japanese, they were all captured, Filipinos and American soldiers. They were imprisoned and brought to a camp in Malaybalay, Bukidnon. They were interrogated, tortured, and experienced brutal treatment in the camp.

“A group of them planned to escape, but my father was vehemently against it.  His reasoning was that if they escaped all the American soldiers and officers will be killed. He stayed with them.  The rest of the group still went on with their plans. He entrusted what he had with Col. Ferreols and gave him information about where to find my mother, Mercedes deGuzman-Gregorio. On finding out about the escape, the Japanese executed the rest of the prisoners and were buried in a mass grave behind an elementary school. This is all we know about my father’s last days. Finding records about his service has produced little information up to now.

“Some people have helped in my search and it is still ongoing.  I am grateful for their help and I hope that someday, I will still be alive and find out more about my father’s service. He made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and the United States, I strongly feel that he deserves more than a “presumed dead” status in the Veterans Affairs Office. To all those who are helping in my search, I want to let you know that my family and I are very appreciative of all the help you are extending,” Bernales said.

Josefa Llanes Escoda.  Liongson is a relative of Josefa Llanes Escoda, the founder of the Girl Scout of the Philippines. A suffragist, Josefa fought for women’s involvement in the Philippine government. Her forward-thinking, feminist ideals understood the power women possessed with their new civic identity.

Liongson said his grandmother often reminded him of Escoda’s bravery and heroism during WWII.  “She covertly provided personal and medical supplies to Filipino and American hostages in various camps. After years of dangerous work, the Japanese military arrested Josefa, imprisoned her at Fort Santiago, and ultimately executed her,” Liongson said.

Philippine Independence and freedom – an ongoing struggle under global economy
While Jim Sampaga, Pasig City, Philippines isn’t aware if her ancestors had a role in Philippine Independence, she’s proud of the nation’s heroes who fought against Spain and the U.S.  But she says “achieving independence extends beyond these nations who wanted to control our country and citizens. Filipinos are still struggling and unlearning the things we have internalized due to Spanish and American colonization. Filipinos are still struggling to be free from the shackles of politicians who are colonizing their own homeland by selling parts of Filipino land to foreign nations and putting the interest of foreigners first instead of its citizens. The country heavily relies on foreign loans, foreign investments, foreign this and that…to the point that our nation’s leaders forget to put their own citizens first,” Sampaga said. “I do not think that we are truly independent if our nation’s leaders cannot provide good governance and progressive action plans to its citizens. It truly feels like, once we have overcome something, we have a new challenge to face again. The Philippine government needs to stop relying on foreign nations to run the country. Our country and its citizens are full of potential.”

Liongson said “The struggle for Philippine Independence was a struggle to assert one’s freedom and dignity as a nation. It was a resistance against oppression, exploitation, poverty, ignorance, and dehumanization — all of which are still prevalent in the Philippines today. This makes the struggle for independence an unfinished battle. The enemies are still lording and the perpetrators have become our own people.”

Colonialism and shaping Filipino identity
Close to 400 years of Spanish and American colonialism of the Philippines (for perspective the U.S. is short of making 250 years old), scholars often assess the deep cultural imprint Spain and the U.S. have had on indigenous Filipino culture and in shaping Filipino identity (this year’s Kalayaan 2002 theme).

Filipino writer Nick Joaquin said, “the Filipino soul was born through the people’s encounter with Western technology, and that, once born, it could be superficially altered but not fundamentally changed.”

Liongson says colonial rule by these two countries has had a mixed bag impact. He notes they have brought about destructive, dehumanizing, and enriching influences. “Both colonial powers have disrupted and robbed the indigenous people of their traditional socio-cultural system. In many ways, they have exploited both human and natural resources, dehumanized and violated their dignity, and committed atrocities that have killed hundreds of thousands of Filipinos.

On the other way, Liongson says, Spain and America have enriched the lifestyle and culture of the Filipinos.

Sampaga says she’s still figuring out what Filipino identity means to her and that it’s a continuous process. “I love reading contemporary articles reflecting on our country’s Spanish colonization. It explains a lot of the things why Filipinos are the way that they are because of colonization. I’ve unlearned a lot of internalized ideologies that are rooted in colonization. I’m now in the process of accepting and understanding my own heritage by continuing to acknowledge colonization’s role and impact in all of this. I am happy to say that I am Filipino and proud.”

To Bernales, Filipino or national identity is complex and born out of the multiple ethnic groups of the 7,000-plus islands and of the long-standing struggle for independence. She cites examples of western influences. “We value the standards of beauty which are often measured by Western physical traits such as fair skin, curly hair, height, aquiline nose, etc. along with the prominence of Christian ideology as a common thread in whatever we do.”

Dela Cuesta says the Philippines native people experience discrimination due to Spanish and American influence.

Support Kalayaan 2022
Since 1994 as ordered by President Fidel V. Ramos through Executive Order, in the Philippines the Independence Day has been celebrated over a 16-days span (flag days, plus one national holiday), starting from May 28th up to June 12th. With Hawaii’s abbreviated version, one-day celebration and its Filipino community as the largest ethnic group in the state, organizers are hoping for a large turnout as in previous years prior to the pandemic.

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