In the meantime, while the Filipino people may not have sufficient energy to proclaim, with head high and chest bared, their rights to social life, and to guarantee with their sacrifice, with their own blood; while we see our own countrymen in private life feeling shame within themselves, to hear roaring the voice of conscience which rebeles and protests, and in public life kept silent, to make a chorus with him who abuses to mock the abused; while we see them enclosed in their own selfishness, praising the most iniquitous deeds with forced smiles, begging with their eyes for a portion of the booty, why give them freedom? – Jose Rizal, El Filibusterismo
These words may have been written more than a hundred years ago, but they speak the truth, even up to now. If then Rizal was criticizing the co-opting nature of some Filipinos with the Spaniards in oppressing even their own kind, now the criticism is directed upon us Filipinos, who turn a blind eye against the injustices we see before us committed by Filipinos in power and influence, against other Filipinos.
Much of this day will be filled with self-congratulatory talk of the accomplishments of contemporary sportsmen, artists, and government officials. And the praises would liken the efforts of these so called icons of the country with the accomplishments of the men and women who sacrificed their lives on the alter of freedom to transform into reality, an abstract concept known as an free and independent Philippines.
But what is freedom? What is independence?
Independence as most would say, is when one has the ability to decide for one’s own. It is having control over one’s possesions, living space, and welfare. Most would say that independence is synonymous with freedom. It is, to some extent. They are similar in the sense that both words mean control over one’s affairs. But they vary in the actual manifestation of their characteristics. Independence refers more to the state of a being in relation to other beings. When one is considered as a separate and functional entity in a community, accorded with rights and duties as a significant member of that community, then one is considered as a whole separate entity apart from the others. That entity is independent. However, it should not be automatically assumed that when one is independent, one is already free.
For several times in our history, our forebears have stood against foreigners – Spanish, Portuguese, British, Dutch, Americans, and Japanese – all for the sake of freedom. Independence only came into the consciousness of our people when the ilustrados introduced the idea of forming a nation of our own. But in the course of events, the bloody struggles of our people, ended with the country’s subjugation. And independence, unlike that of most fo the colonized nations, was serve to our leaders in a silver platter by our colonizers. Few may have foreseen it back then, but the effect of this “hand-me-down” independence-experience has been the lack of our people’s appreciation for the freedom that came with the legal separation from the colonizer. It is this “gifting” of independence which has caused some lingering ambivalent feelings of our people towards our former colonizer. We have become independent but not necessariliy free from our old masters.
Freedom, as most of us understand is the capability to do as one wishes. To be able to make choices. That, is the usual understanding of the term freedom. Freedom, the way I see it, is a state of being. What most of us fail to understand though that freedom by itself is not absolute. Unless if one confines himself to a mountain and avoid contact with other humans, then he or she may exercise absolute freedom. But being that most of us are in the midst of other individuals who also exercise their freedom, it is necessary that our utilization of these freedoms be limited to degrees which do not pose harm upon our fellowmen and our natural environment. And so freedom needs to be exercised with a sense of responsibility towards other living beings, humans and non-human – this is where most of us fail.
After more than a hundred years of experimentation with concepts of freedom, we Filipinos have yet to grasp its meaning and responsibly practice its various forms. Most of us still think that freedom, as expressed through our democratic rights, are a license to cause injury or insult to our fellowmen. We fail to see that once we exercise our freedom to the extreme, we actually deprive others of their own freedoms, and reduce ourselves to being oppressors.
With freedom always comes responsbility. The responsibility to properly exercise that freedom. The responsibility to preserve that freedom for ourselves and others. The responsibility to protect that freedom once it is endangered. And the responsbility to promote that freedom to those who have yet to exercise them or have been deprived of them by others. Failing to responsibily exercise our freedom and bearing the responsibility demanded by it will result to exploitation, oppression, and the mockery of the supposed freedom that was paid for in blood and lives of those who gone before us.
Until we realize and accept that independence necessitates asserting onse’s self and freedom requires obligation, we will never prosper as individuals, as a community, as a nation. If we desire to have a functioning government, a better society, and a working democracy, then we must be willing to accept the duties required by such ambitions. We must be willing to own up to the demands of our independence. We must own up to the responsibilities of our freedom. Failing that, we will lose both, eventually.