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Philippines Independence Day: June 12 vs July 4

2018 is the 120th anniversary of the Philippines Declaration of Independence

June 12, 1898 was when the Philippines declared independence from Spanish colonial rule, but did they really achieve full sovereignty on that day? Is June 12 the ‘actual’ Philippines Independence Day? Or are there other dates that can claim the honour?

For 300 years, the Philippines was a colony in the Spanish Empire. In 1896, the Philippine Revolution made an attempt to break free.

In 1898, the Spanish withdrew their colonial power. But the freedom from the Spanish was not for long. Spain surrendered the Philippines to the United States as part of a peace treaty.

Why June 12?

On June 12, 1898, the Filipino revolutionaries declared independence from Spain. They raised the Philippines flag and performed the national anthem for the very first time. And now, millions of Filipinos worldwide celebrate Philippines Independence Day on June 12, a day for patriotic flag waving, fireworks, and fervent pride in Filipino culture and identity.

However, the Americans did not recognise the declaration of independence, and instead the Philippines became a US territory. The Filipino nationalists began working on the return of independence.

July 4 – Independence Day

On July 4, 1946, the Philippines finally gained full independence from the US after 48 years. The country became a sovereign nation. Therefore, the Philippines Independence Day began to be celebrated on July 4.

Why the date change?

Philipines president Diosdado Macapagal
President Macapagal lost a re-election bid in 1965 to Ferdinand Marcos

Sadly, gaining freedom from the US came with strings attached. The US forced unfavourable economic agreements on the Philippines as terms for becoming a sovereign nation.

In 1962, July 4 was dropped when President Diosdado Macapagal designated June 12 the country’s official Independence Day. Some argue the holiday should have remained on July 4, and that June 12 is not truly Independence Day.

There are multiple theories why this change occurred. Some point to volatile relations with the US while others claim pressure from nationalists. It does seem likely that the legacy of the economic constraints imposed by the US played a part.

January 23 – Declaration of a Republic

General Emilio Aguinaldo
General Aguinaldo died in 1964 at the age of 94

Interestingly, there’s a third date that could have a claim to Independence Day. On January 23, 1899, the First Philippine Republic was founded when General Emilio Aguinaldo was inaugurated as president. He was also the first president of the first republic in Asia. Often overlooked, this day has recently received official recognition as a special working holiday.

People Power

116th Philippine Independence Day Celebration in New York City
The Philippines was the first colonised Southeast Asian country to gain independence

It may be true that June 12, 1898 was not the day the Philippines finally became independent from colonial powers. But dates from history are often subject to discussion.

Case in point, the US declared independence on July 4, 1776, two days after voting for independence. However, their revolutionary war lasted another seven years.

In the Republic of Ireland, April 24 is commemorated as the 1916 Easter Rising, its insurrection against the British. But Easter changes date every year, so it rarely falls on April 24, the day the Rising started.

Maybe the point of an Independence Day is more than to celebrate the actual day of independence. These dates, symbolic as they are, represent much more than singular moments in history. We commemorate the will and determination of a nation’s people. We honour the efforts of the previous generations towards freedom.

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