Why our independence day should be the fourth of July and not June 12

Why our independence day should be the fourth of July and not June 12

Fourth of July is probably the most American holiday you'll ever find. After all, Thanksgiving is also observed in Canada and Liberia, and Halloween is celebrated all around the world, but surely only the United States could celebrate the day of its revolutionary declaration of independence.

However, this isn't the case. Miles and miles away, on the opposite end of the Pacific, the Philippines mark the Fourth of July on their calendars as well...or they used to, before they either changed its name or set it back a few weeks. It depends on how you look at it, really.

This is the Philippines' Fourth of July story - a quick primer on how our independence is intertwined with the Americans, and what we eventually did to set ourselves apart.

Why our independence day should be the fourth of July and not June 12

A Filipino marches in a Philippines Republic Day parade on July 4. (AP)

1898-1945

The Philippines' real declaration of independence happened on June 12, 1898, after four centuries of oppressive Spanish colonial rule. Unfortunately, we picked a bad time - Spain was in the middle of a war with the United States. When Spain lost, it "sold" the Philippines to America for $20 million dollars - which, fun fact, is roughly one quarter of what Americans splurge on cheese every Fourth of July weekend. The US invaded, stomped out the Filipino independence movement, and declared our Pacific island nation part of US territory.

The US wasn't nearly as good at running colonies the way the Europeans did, but right off the bat they strove to ingrain the importance of July Fourth in the Philippines. Although the American forces, for example, technically defeated the Filipinos in April 1902, President Teddy Roosevelt waited until July 4, 1902 to declare victory. It's as ironic as it sounds: the US celebrated independence day of 1902 by taking another country's independence.

Within that same week, the US Congress passed the Philippine Organic Act, which arranged the colonial Philippine government to a semi-democratic, joint Filipino-American body. The legislature was divided between a "Philippine Commission" of White House appointees and a less influential "Philippine Legislature" of elected Filipinos. Overseeing the legislature was a Governor-General, appointed by the US president. The first Governor-General was William Howard Taft. So even if the Filipinos back then did not observe the Fourth of July, their government definitely did.

However, many Americans were uneasy with the colonial activities. The Atlantic, a well-known magazine, was among them. That month, they published a lengthy piece on the contradiction of commemorating the Fourth of July while removing another country's independence. The piece argues that the Americans "are holding the Philippines by physical force only, and the brave and unselfish men we have sent there have been assigned to a task which is not only repellent to Americans, but bitterly resented by the supposed beneficiaries of our action."

After five years, President Roosevelt and his government began to cave to public pressure.

"We shall have to be prepared for giving the islands independence of a more or less complete type much sooner than I think advisable." Roosevelt said.

In Congress, the Democrats began considering a bill to re-write the Philippine Organic Act, that would aware the Philippines a more independent government and, soon, actual independence. But Republicans held a majority in the Senate, and in 1908, Governor-General William Howard Taft rose to presidency.

Independence would have to wait for a bit more.

In 1912, President Taft was taken down by Woodrow Wilson, who was in favor of the Democrat's plan. Several months after Wilson assumed office, the House of Representatives passed a bill with his support. It replaced the Philippines' appointed legislature with a native, democratic one, and made the future independence of the nation official US policy. However, negotiations in the Senate slowed it down significantly, and Wilson did not sign it into law until 1916.

After nearly 20 years of political clashes in both Washington and Manila, President Franklin Roosevelt finally fulfilled America's promise. In 1935, he sat alongside the Philippines' native governor and signed a bill that would officially grant the country independence in 10 years, on July 4, 1945. They hoped that the two nations would share their independence days.

1945 - Today

Why our independence day should be the fourth of July and not June 12

Soldier hoists Philippine flag at White Sands march. Photo credit: Inquirer.net

However, they encountered a huge setback when the Japanese army invaded the Philippines and the land turned into one of World War Two's most horrific sites of violence. Americans and Filipinos died side by side during the Bataan Death March, and women were brutally raped and tortured. After such a dreadful war, the US missed its deadline, but only by a year - as the Americans celebrated their first post-war Fourth of July in 1946, the Filipinos commemorated their first day of real independence since the early 1500s.

The US and the Philippines only technically shared 15 independence days, though. In 1962, the rise of Filipino nationalism inspired President Diosdado Macapagal to officially change the independence celebration to June 12 - the date way back in 1898, when the Philippines had briefly declared their independence from Spain.

Years later, President Macapagal wrote that July 4 seemed like a celebration of Philippine subjugation to and dependence on the United States, which only served to bring back unpleasant memories. He explained that July 4 "was not inspiring enough for the Filipino youth since it recalled mostly the peaceful independence missions to the United States. The celebration of independence day on June 12 would be a greater inspiration to the youth."

Macapagal still kept July 4 as a national holiday - the Philippine Republic Day. While it is rarely observed, it's still recorded in the books. It is more commonly referred to as Filipino-American Friendship Day, because despite the colonial history, relations between the former colony and master still prosper. Many Filipinos remember, with respect and admiration, how hard the US fought to drive away Japanese occupation.

 

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