Journey To Freedom

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Our Independence Day stirred intense patriotic feelings in me, and I am sure in many others as well. Even though I did not participate in memorial celebrations, I tried to catch as many of them on television. And in my own way in cyber space, I tried to share thoughts and images of freedom and our flag.

Because I chose to spend a quiet Independence Day watching over a grandson, I could not help reflections of independence and freedom from frequently crisscrossing my mind. I realized that I was born after World War II and became part of a transitional generation that was tasting political independence for the first time in almost 400 years. Even then, independence was more a paper term but not yet a lived reality.

Today then, June 2013, 67 years from the time America let us go, so to speak, how are we in terms of independence? More fundamental, how are we in terms of our freedom?


Of course, our national leaders have decreed that independence was won in 1898 against Spain. They have enough basis, I am sure. Even in my native Ilonggo region, there was a declaration of independence, too, and won directly from battle and not as an extension of Manila and nearby Tagalog provinces. I prefer to use 1946 as the date of our independence, however, because a national government did take over and enough years have gone by to indicate a sense of permanence.

Independence is impossible without freedom. The maturing of freedom towards its fullness dictates the level to which independence can grow. Beyond one’s latitude of freedom, independence becomes hollow, even farcical. Freedom, then, is what Filipinos as a people must strive for. It is freedom that allows us to grow towards our potential, taking us from stages of capacity-building to eventually creating from our own inner steam. Independence is a natural parallel progression, a fruit of freedom.

Freedom is often expressed in the words and concepts pf “self determination” and “self reliance.” Freedom is too big a word that initially needs definition through levels of self-determination and stages of self-reliance. When we have the capacity to choose our paths, when we have the capacity to walk those paths on our own, we say that we now have freedom.

Many of us have this illusion that our choice of democracy as our form of governance is adequate proof of our self-determination. I say “illusion” because the reality is very different for most Filipinos. The reality of wealth and power concentrated in the hands of a very few, in hundreds of families over 18 million others, defies the claim of self-determination.

This is not a political criticism, this is political realism. It is not as though we have retrogressed, it is simply that we have not progressed enough. A short review of history will show that it was even more concentrated before, more authoritarian, that even fewer families and the Catholic Church held sway over a whole country. Those who rage against dynasties may not realize that our democracy has not worsened, that dynasties were an established way of life under the pre-Hispanic “datu system” and under royal Spain. We have come a long way from then, but there is still much ahead of us.

The second and third generation of Filipinos after WWII will push the journey faster than my generation. It is largely because they have no memory whatsoever about the Spanish and American masters. They learn it by reading history, and some even do not. In drastic contrast, the global environment competes with our native counterpart not only for the mobile rich, but also for OFWs and their families, together numbering beyond 30 million. Change is a foregone conclusion. It is only a few strategic nuances of change that can be altered or designed.

One such strategic and crucial area where change must focus is poverty and the impoverished. This is not a matter of charity, this is truly a matter affecting the social, political and economic life of a nation. It begins with freedom, or more accurately, the lack of it. Our poor, the worst afflicted at 30 million and the moderately poor, but still poor, at another 30 million, remind us that they have no self-determination. If they had, they will quickly opt out of poverty. And, of course, their poverty points out that they have no self-reliance.

No self-determination, no self-reliance, for 60% of Filipinos, completely so for half, and moderately so for the other half. No freedom. No independence.

The path ahead, then, is quite clear. It is a path mostly for those with the capacity for self-determination; it is for those who have achieved a reasonable or the full capacity of self-reliance. It is for government, it is for the empowered citizenry. It is raising the bar for democratic governance, it is raising the consciousness of ethical citizenship.

It is a call to arms – for the courage to care, for the generosity to share. It is a call for the idealism of the young, for the heroism of all.

If I bring in our faiths, the dominant Christianity and the minority Islam, then we are even more intensely challenged by everything we believe in to release the captives of poverty, to free the oppressed.

It is a moment in our collective history that we seek the common good, the good that we seek for ourselves as the same good we seek for all others. It is not a time for the blame game, it is a time for the same game, doing unto others what we want others to do unto us.

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