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The Proclamation of Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898, as depicted on the back of the Philippine P5 bill. (VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

An unlikely journey

Alegria A. Imperial - Peregrine NotesParades, after which blisters from thin-soled shoes on gravel walks on the way back home in my Girl Scout uniform, a Philippine paper flag pasted on a stick that we waved through the camino real—by then, limp if not hanging by a tip—would be all I remember of Philippine Independence Day in my growing up. Later as university freshman in Manila, squeezing into a tight line for a required assembly in our uniform at the Luneta, where being tiny, only the sky lent a visible view of the celebration, would be all. 

Had I not worked in cultural institutions that left me no choice but be immersed in history and culture, and not until the late President Diosdado Macapagal’s RA 4166 corrected what’s deemed a mistake to mark Philippine independence from America, for me, from a back glance today, July 4th had seemed simpler to understand—my elders’ palpable peace, those years just after WWII, must have banked the shore in which I grew up with a sense of freedom, even as yet beyond my understanding.

For instance, flippant in thought, I looked on objects of a soldier’s life in my grandmother’s home such as a canteen, thick flannel blanket, and a saber, those of her husband, rather common—his death, too, no longer exclusive, as I’d meet more widows and hear tales of fear, massacres, and heroes, in a war in which, I concluded once, the Philippines had only been piggy-backed.

Yet, more memories I’d gather would trigger vicarious pain like that of a boy then, later turned soldier himself, who had witnessed an uncle’s beheading with a bayonet, when he refused to salute the Rising Sun. Or from now fragile veterans, their rheumy eyes distant yet present, in forest hideouts feasted on by giant mosquitoes as hungry as they were. And what pain, for me, to have sat through the screening of Lucky Guillermo’s award-winning film, “Manila 1945” with graphic scenes of the city’s rape.

The Philippine Revolution, too distant from my reality then, animated only in books, monuments, portraits and plays, or numbers such as 333 years of Spanish rule marked by oppression—what colonial regime, isn’t it?—lent meaning in me only through the senses; for instance, during a coverage trip to Taal, I had touched the backs of chairs in Marcela Agoncillo’s house, who with a daughter and a niece of Rizal’s hand sewn in secret the Philippine flag raised at the declaration of independence in Kawit.

More intimately, where I lived after my marriage in Antonio Rivera St in Tondo, my in-laws had pointed out to me a clearing the palm trees shaded, wherein buried were iron scraps among undelivered bolos their carroceria smithed, a number of which their great-grandmother, disguised as a man, would scurry in the dark along edges of their property to Bonifacio’s kuta in what is now Recto Avenue.

Till now, that revolution won but soon lost the independence just declared in Kawit, to the United States of America, sends me always combing for details—how the Philippines, in what seemed a sleight of hand, was in fact ceded in the Treaty of Paris by the vanquished Spaniards in the Spanish American War, and so, there followed a Philippine American War also lost. How could the Filipinos just succumb I had long thought.

Much later I learned they didn’t—in a CCP job I met in the flesh, Atang de la Rama, star of the kundiman propaganda against the American regime. Proclaimed National Artist in 1987, she had sung on her conferment, her signature, “Bayan Ko”, now the Filipino’s anthem for pain under oppression. Only then through unbidden tears triggered by her heartfelt voice that drew out the song’s depth did I understand what independence felt.

As well, in a part-time job at Letran, I had sat for size on Manuel Luis Quezon’s desk where on its arm, he carved his name, the student, who later drew up full size his puny form to argue for Philippine independence—freedom, indeed, as he once declared with pride, “…a country run like hell by Filipinos than a country to run like heaven by the Americans.”

Yet, at what price, and what have many Filipinos done? There as seamless as Canadian or American blue skies under which thousands of Filipinos, my sister and I among them, have since implanted ourselves in search of a better life, a spirit no longer cowed and burdened in a cage, the freed bird that Atang had immortalized, but an image begging the question, “so does freedom then, mean literally winging far from home?”

Still, hundreds expected at the 119th Philippine Independence Day events in Metro Vancouver—with some 18 events lined-up, to July 8, hence, covering two declarations of freedom from two colonizers will hold fiestas. “Celebration is good,” Mable Elmore, the only member of the BC legislature with Filipino ancestry, once declared when together we had watched ballroom dancing after a Santacruzan. I almost apologized for my rueful state, begrudging the lack of depth in such events. But what was I looking for?

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