THE Philippines celebrated its 119th declaration of independence from Spanish rule last June 12. Just as in previous years, the celebration was highlighted by the wreath laying rites at the Tomb of the Unknown Hero as well as the flag raising rituals at the Rizal Park, right before the site where the country’s national hero was shot dead. This was duplicated throughout the nation, especially in major cities and towns of the Philippines.
In Dubai the office of the Philippine Consul General led the flag raising rites within its compound with employees dressed in Filipiniana and barong tagalog attire, signifying their connection to the country to which they owe allegiance.
Unlike previous celebrations, this year saw a first event happening. The Philippine flag was raised, and then planted underwater at the Philippine Rise, formerly known as Benham Rise, after the United Nations stated that it forms part of the exclusive economic area of the country in 2012.
It was an emotional flag planting for the military brass and civilian guests invited to the historic event last Monday. Emotional because it was a symbolic act to claim once and for all the Rise which is said to contain billions of dollars in natural resources including oil reserves and natural gas.
The high emotion which accompanied the flag planting, was also felt in Marawi City after the flag and the national anthem was sung for the first time since May 23, the day that Maute extremists took over the city in an apparent attempt to ape what the ISIS (or ISIL) has done in Mosul. City officials, police and military officers and officials could not contain their tears as the flag was raised in the beleaguered city once again after the failed takeover of the city.
Without a doubt, this year’s celebration of Independence Day is most significant in the more than 100 year history of the Philippines. Outside the violence still rampaging in Marawi City, the country is facing an excess of problems and difficulties inside and out of its borders. For one, this year marks the most divisive time in Philippine politics. Divisions in the support for the President and Vice President has caused a polarization of a once united and amiable people.
Also this celebration marks the challenges imposed by international pressures and events which the country has to overcome to grow. China incursions into Philippine territory, particularly at the West Philippine Sea, is probably the biggest trial the country has experienced since the Second World War. The area is a potential flash point of another global conflict unless handled with panache and international suavity.
Of course, the integration of the economies of the ten members of the Association of South East Asian Nations is another challenge which must be met with resolve and determination among all Filipinos. This integration of economies and borders actually negates the concept of an independence day celebration inasmuch as this means the removal previously held national political divisions and the institution of a borderless economy where peoples from any of the member nations can freely flow.
These challenges and trials as the Philippines marks its 119th birth anniversary must be openly met by all Filipinos with resolution and determination. This cannot be gained unless, Filipinos regain a national identity which will unite them once again towards conquering these internal and international hurdles.
How we react in the coming years towards these threats and tests will determine whether or not we truly deserved the independence our fathers fought for.