Filipinos mark their Independence Day

Church leaders, activists use occasion to talk about freedom, demonstrate
Filipinos mark their Independence Day

Soldiers prepare to raise a huge Philippine flag during an early morning celebration of the country's independence from Spain in Manila on June 12. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

Hundreds of activists marched in the streets of Manila on June 12 to mark the Philippines’ 121st Independence Day from Spain while church leaders and politicians took the opportunity to talk about freedom.

President Rodrigo Duterte called on Filipinos to remember those who "bound their fates, their lives and their fortunes to proclaim the independence of the Filipino people."

"Not only did we put an end to more than three centuries of subservience but we also resolved to determine the course of our own destiny as a nation," the president said in a statement.

He called on everyone "to ensure that their sacrifices have not been in vain and that their dream of a truly independent Philippines ... will be achieved within our lifetimes."

The same call came from Catholic bishops who said "the greatness of our heroes who fought for our independence should always be hailed and commemorated."

Father Jerome Secillano of the Catholic bishops' public affairs committee said the Philippine Church was also in the "thick of the fight for our country's independence."

Catholic priests Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora were executed on Feb. 17, 1872, for questioning the continuing domination of Spain over the Philippines.

"It is, therefore, lamentable that the Church and the Christian religion should be blamed for the ills besetting our country today," said Father Secillano.

He said attacks against the Church and its leaders are "misleading and a misreading of our fate as a nation."

Duterte has repeatedly berated Catholic bishops and priests who have criticized his human rights record, especially related to drug-related killings.

"Our country's leaders should better ask themselves how they can better utilize the power and financial resources entrusted to them by the Filipino people," Father Secillano said.

Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu also stressed the importance of being grateful for the "gift of independence" that the Filipinos achieved.

"I hope that we remember the true spirit of freedom that gives us genuine independence," said the prelate from the central Philippines.

If an individual is full of anger and evil deeds, he or she in not really independent but is a "slave of selfishness," he said.

Earlier, Duterte said he has no plans to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Christianity arriving in the country, saying the event marks the start of the subjugation of the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the underground group Christians for National Liberation questioned the continued celebration of Independence Day every June 12.

In a statement the group said that until July 1946, years after the declaration of Philippine Independence in 1898, the Philippines was a colony of the United States.

On Dec. 10, 1898, a treaty between Spain and the United States was signed in Paris, ceding the Philippines from Spain to the United States.

On July 4, 1946, a treaty between the United States and the Philippines granted the latter full independence.

"To this day the country remains firmly under the yoke of America. The question is why and what is the value of the continued celebration of Independence Day?" read the statement from the Christian activists.

The group vowed to continue "to arouse, organize and mobilize" people "to carry on the legacy in exercising their prophetic role and the historic mission for marginalized sectors."

Activist youth group Anakbayan, meanwhile, called on Filipinos "to assert the independence of the country by being free from foreign meddling and exploitation."

The Philippines currently hosts one of the United States' forward bases for the Pacific Air Force.

The country's has also forged a strong partnership with China, having signed agreements with the country despite reported intrusions in Philippine waters.

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