Saturday, June 12, 2010

June 12 is not Independence Day

An excerpt from my forthcoming book, " Istorya: Essays in Philippine History".

Is June 12, 1898 the real date when we, Filipinos, really proclaimed the independence of our country? Several historiographers have questioned the date saying that June 12 was really not the first time we, as a people, declared our independence from Spain. According to some historians, two years prior to this date, Andres Bonifacio had already declared independence which he did so in August 1896 in Caloocan.


What are the differences between the two dates? The Bonifacio declaration in the Cry of Balintawak was made prior to the actual skirmishes between the revolutionary troops and the foreign invaders. The one made in Kawit Cavite, however, was made shortly after Spanish troops already abandoned the towns and cities which were attacked and “liberated” by the Katipuneros. The one made by Bonifacio was presumptive while that of Aguinaldo was reactive.

Is it really important that actual fighting occurred first before a revolutionary organization can claim independence? Do we need a substantive event like the liberation of towns and cities to be able to say that a particular declaration is legally valid or not?

Two things—when Bonifacio gathered the Katipuneros in Barrio Banlat, there was already a shadow government existing, composed of Filipinos who believed in the Katipunan cause. Six years prior, Andres Bonifacio, along with his fellow Masonic members, established the Katipunan. This secret organization came shortly after Jose Rizal, the founder of the La Liga, was arrested by the Spanish authorities. Days before, Rizal had organized the La Liga. He intended the La Liga as a reformist association. The association was structured like a Masonic lodge since most of its members belonged to the Luzung lodge. Prior to Rizal’s return, the progressives were divided into two (2) groups: those who advocated for reforms and those who wanted to launch a revolution. It was Jose Basa, a reformist exiled in Hongkong, who informed and probably prodded Rizal to go back to the country and be the unifying personality in the movement. Surely, Rizal was elected the prime mover of the movement for change after all lodges united behind his “moral” leadership.

Rizal’s arrest, however, threw the association into total disarray. A group led by Apolinario Mabini and Timoteo Pelaez wanted to continue the La Liga, while members of the rival Masonic lodge Taliba, led by Bonifacio and Arellano viewed Rizal’s arrest as the last straw. In the evening of July 7, 1892, Bonifacio, together with other members of his lodge, established the Katipunan.

Recruitment went on high gear shortly afterwards, as the Katipunan expanded its membership to several provinces, including Batangas, Laguna, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Ilocos provinces, Pangasinan, Mountain provinces, Bicol, Cebu and Mindanao. Most of its members came from lower, middle and Mestizo classes. The organization attracted thousands because it presented itself as an alternative government. It has its own governmental structure, composed of an executive, legislative and even a judicial branch. The Katipunan was structured as a “government in waiting.” It even established branches down to the local or barrio levels. It has a taxation system. In 1895, when Bonifacio assumed the Supremo-ship, the organization grew from a mere hundreds to about 400,000 members.

Katipunan's Executive Council decided that it was time to launch a full scale armed uprising against Spain, Bonifacio decided to send an emissary to Rizal, who was then exiled in Dapitan. Rizal refused to lend his support, not because he does not agree on an armed uprising, but rather, Rizal underestimated the breath and intensity of the efforts made by the Katipuneros. Since he was not privy to the recruitment and developments being made by the organization, Rizal thought that it was still un-timely to launch armed attacks. Rizal, as History would later show him, is wrong.


On August 1896, the Spaniards discovered the existence of the Katipunan. Accounts vary at this point. Some historians say the Katipuneros were caught “off-guard” while others say, Bonifacio and the Executive Council expected this to happen since many of their members were privy to the actions of the Spaniards, since most of them work either as petty government officials or workers in the colonial government.

Shortly after the incident in Balintawak, skirmishes occurred in eight provinces of Central Luzon. After a year or so, the revolutionary forces successfully liberated towns and cities under Spanish rule.

Evidently, the Katipunan was already behaving and acting as a state, with its own government, armed forces and a definitive territory prior to 1898. In Max Weber’s definition, the Katipunan as an organization possesses some but not all characteristics of a legitimate state. True, the Katipunan behaves and acts like a state, which Weber defines as an organization that has a “monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”.

That said, when Bonifacio gathered the Katipuneros in Banlat, Kalookan, he was formally pronouncing to the whole world the existence of a Philippine government. That "cry" in August 23, 1896 should actually be recognized as the first cry of independence since it formally unveiled the already functioning alternative government and

However, there is a caveat—the Katipunan, though being a government in waiting—tends to behave like a de facto instead of a de jure government. A de facto state acts as an organization whose legitimate use of force is recognized only by people within its ambit. At this time, there was neither a state nor a foreign government which recognizes the existence of the Katipunan as a government. Foreign governments, like the United States, still recognize the Spanish colonial government as a legitimate government existing at this time.

This "de facto" and "de jure" arguments are those used by early historians in insisting that the first cry of independence was actually during the June 12 flag-raising ceremony at Kawit Cavite. Several insisted that it was the most opportune moment to declare independence since most Spanish forces were already in seclusion and were defeated in several key cities. Likewise, the Cavite dictatorial government and that declaration made in Kavit, had an American emissary in attendance. That emissary even affixed his signature in the declaration document, showing that a foreign government recognizes the legitimacy of the Aguinaldo-led government.

As a historiographer, I do not share the opinion of others. Fact is, the one created by the Magdalo faction was simply a supplantation of the real and existing first Filipino government established by the Katipunan in 1896. Aguinaldo's June 12, 1898  flag ceremony was simply an attempt to legitimize his government shortly after executing the true leaders of the first Philippine government, a year prior. Aguinaldo's ascension to power was made through a coup d'etat.

Aguinaldo had to form his dictatorial government in defiance of the earlier Katipunan government to assume control of the war and precipitate peace talks with the Spaniards. Earlier, around 1896, there were several attempts by friars in Cavite to negotiate peace with Aguinaldo. Aguinaldo and his Magdalo members were agreeable. Bonifacio and the rest of the Katipuneros did not. Bonifacio became a thorn in several Spanish-led initiatives for peace. That is the reason why Bonifacio was killed.

And that was the reason why Aguinaldo had to make a new flag, a new symbol of his government to effectively supplant the Katipunan government which was already in existence.

The Cry made in Pugad Lawin (or Balintawak to some) held on August 22 or 23, 1896 is really the FIRST CRY OF INDEPENDENCE. It was the first time that Filipinos unveiled their shadow government and the first real declaration that precipitated a national uprising.

Fact is, shortly after this cry, the Katipuneros immediately convened its first Cabinet and executed the strategies that made the rebellion successful in most cities throughout the country.

Celebrating "independence" on June 12 is simply wrong. Agreeing with the Magdalo version of history is erroneous.

Probably Noynoy knew about this that's why he decided not to be a party to an erroneous interpretation of History.