Why the Philippines’ Independence Day is on June 12, Not July 4
On July 4, 1946, the Philippines gained independence from the United States of America. It marked the time when the Philippines officially became a state: it had people, territory, government, and for the very first time, sovereignty.
When Emilio Aguinaldo declared Philippine independence on June 12, 1898, it lacked two essential elements of statehood: territory and sovereignty. Although the Philippines’ boundaries were well defined, the territory lacked legitimacy that comes from recognition by other states. Aguinaldo’s government also lacked sovereignty because the Philippines was still under Spanish rule. When the Philippine Revolution ended in August 1898, the Philippine-American War took place in 1899, and then for the next 50 years, the Philippines was colonized by America.
So why, considering all these events, did we elect to recognize our Independence Day as June 12, 1898 instead of July 4, 1946?
The Many Declarations of the Philippines’ Independence Day
If we are going to ask why we picked June 12, 1898 as the Philippines’ Independence Day, we might as well consider the many declarations of the country’s independence. A commonly overlooked fact about Philippine history is that there are many events in Philippine history in which Filipinos or their colonizers declared the Philippines’ independence.
On April 12, 1895, Andres Bonifacio proclaimed Philippine independence inside the Pamitinan Cave in Rodriguez, Rizal. On the wall of the cave, Bonifacio wrote “Viva la independencia Filipinas!” (Long live the Philippine independence!) using a piece of charcoal. Bonifacio, along with seven comrades of the Katipunan who included Emilio Jacinto, hiked the mountain and found the cave, which was a suitable hideout and meeting place. There, they initiated new members into the Katipunan, after which, Bonifacio wrote the informal declaration of independence on the cave’s wall.
In August 1896, during the Cry of Pugadlawin, Bonifacio and members of the Katipunan also shouted their proclamation of Philippine independence, which was symbolized by their tearing of cedulas, an act that represented their emancipation from Spain’s colonial rule.
On June 12, 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the Philippines’ independence in Kawit, Cavite. It was also the day when the Philippine flag was first shown and waved, and the Marcha Nacional Filipina, which became the music to the Philippines national anthem, was first heard. Aguinaldo’s proclamation of Philippine independence was formalized with the document, Acta de la Proclamation de la Independencia del Pueblo Filipino (Act of the Proclamation of Independence of the Filipino People), which was read by its author, Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista. The document is 21 pages long and was signed by 98 Filipinos.
On August 1, 1898, Aguinaldo's proclamation was ratified by 190 town heads from 16 provinces around the country, giving it legitimacy and power.
On October 14, 1943, Japan symbolically granted independence to the Philippines by establishing a new government headed by its Filipino president, Jose P. Laurel. The government was branded by historians as “Puppet Government” because of the tight control that the Japanese wielded over its affairs.
Why Do We Celebrate Philippine Independence Day on June 12?
When the Americans decided to grant independence to the Philippines, they made it so it coincided with their own independence day every July 4. It was not a coincidence; they could have chosen the other 364 dates on the calendar, but they chose July 4 as the Philippines’ Independence Day.
On May 12, 1962, President Diosdado Macapagal moved the commemoration of Independence Day from July 4 to June 12. Because of it, many people during that time accused him of politicizing the holiday.
In an address on June 12, 1962, Macapagal explained why he moved Philippines’ Independence Day from July 4, 1946 to June 12, 1898.
“Let me avail of this opportunity to disabuse the minds of those who suggest that the transfer of our commemoration of independence was prompted by the action of the American Congress in backing out of a material commitment and obligation to our people,” he said.
According to Macapagal, it was only correct to recognize June 12 as the country’s true independence day because it was the birthday of the independent Filipino nation. Its proclamation, as explained earlier, had the unprecedented support, unity, and resolve of various leaders from local governments nationwide.
Macapagal also pointed out that it doesn’t matter whether actual independence was in effect during or after the proclamation. He argued that when America declared its independence from England on July 4, 1776, it was only after 7 years on September 3, 1783 when their former mother country formally recognized the United States’ independence.
“Nevertheless, the American people have regarded July 4 as their day of freedom. In the same way, June 12, 1898 is the true birthday of an independent Filipino nation, for it was on this day that they called the whole world to witness their powerful resolve to consider themselves absolved of allegiance to the Spanish crown,” said Macapagal.
“There had been other Asian revolutions before. But the revolution which culminated on June 12, 1898 was the first successful national revolution in Asia since the coming of the West, and the Republic to which it gave birth was the first democratic Republic outside of the Western hemisphere.”
“The irrefutable claim of June 12 as our day of freedom is bolstered by the fact that it is the culmination of many acts of patriotism and nationalism. June 12, 1898 is pregnant with meaning not only for our people as the birthday of their sovereign nation but also for the world, since it was our Filipino patriots and leaders, Rizal, Aguinaldo and Bonifacio, who led the nations of Asia in breaking the chains of colonialism in order that they may breathe the fresh air of individual liberty and national dignity,” Macapagal said.
So, there you have it. The Philippines’ Independence Day does not have to fall on the exact date when it gained sovereignty. Macapagal knew this. It falls on June 12 because it was the day when Filipinos, exercising their self-determination, showed the world that we can stand on our own and have a clear understanding of the principles of democracy the enduring values of freedom.