If you are among those who still have not heard of the First Republic of the Philippines, this column was humbly written with you in mind, so kindly read on.
While members of the Malolos Congress gathered in Barasoain church in 1898, to debate on the 101 articles of the eponymous Constitution, groups of patriotic Filipinos marched around municipalities, to patriotic music played by local town bands. They called one and all to assemble at plazas or markets to hear the good news: In Malolos, the First Philippine Republic was coming to life, notwithstanding the arrival of American ships that disgorged thousands of troops in Cavite and Manila. That fledgling republic was the precious fruit of hundreds of revolts and rebellions, of the Propaganda Movement, La Liga Filipina, the Katipunan and the Philippine Revolution waged in various stages.
Today, after 123 years, it looks like we need those patriotic “town criers” again in order to exhume the memory of what our forebears had accomplished against all odds. Happily, someone has done just that and it is no less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself. Last 5 April 2018, he signed Senate Bill No. 1664 into law, Republic Act 11014 titled, “The First Philippine Republic Day Act”. He elevated a provincial holiday to a national one. ( Though I wish he had made it a non-working holiday.) Once again, Pres. Duterte gave Uncle Sam the proverbial slap, like when he resurrected those gory photos of the genocide at Bud Dajo (1906) and Bud Bagsak (1913). The resonance is obvious.
As it turned out, the USA was a perfidious ally, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo found that out too late. It was not in Uncle Sam’s imperial interests to recognize the independent First Philippines Republic, so powerful American media purposefully spread fake news that portrayed Filipinos as savages, “insurrectos”, brigands and bandits, totally incapable of self-government. At last, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte rectified history at the stroke of a pen.
Fortuitously, R.A. 11014 navigated through the House of Representatives and the Senate without provoking controversies, unlike R.A. 1425, ”The Rizal Law” which Pres. Ramon Magsaysay signed in 1956, before he perished in a plane crash. Senators Claro M. Recto and Jose P. Laurel, its authors, locked horns with conservatives colleagues like Senators Mariano Cuenca and Francisco Rodrigo, and the Catholic hierarchy. This time, there was no weeping and gnashing of teeth, no threats of ex-communication. Originating from the House on 19 Oct 2016, it sailed through the Senate on 29 Jan 2018 and on to Malacanang.
Senator Richard Gordon, (a Philippine History and Government major from Ateneo de Manila University) was the first to take the floor to uphold the significance of the First Philippine Republic as a special day in our constitutional development. His privileged speech must have enlightened his colleagues:
” ‘The First Philippine Republic Day Act,’ which seeks to declare January 23 of every year a special working holiday is significant today, as it was then, for proving to the world that Filipinos are capable of self-rule and self-determination, even after more than 300 hundred years of colonization by Spain. Truly, the First Philippine Republic was the beginning of, and the foundation upon which was established, the democracy which we so cherish today…Cavite is the Revolutionary capital. On the other hand, Bulacan is the Constitutional capital because that’s where we developed the Constitution. It is important to remind us of our brave forebears and of our fight for freedom and independence, as well as of our peoples’ capacity to endure.” Senator Gordon quoted from President Emilio Aguinaldo’s inaugural speech: “Great is this day, glorious this date, and forever memorable this moment in which our beloved people are raised to the apotheosis of Independence.”
Continued Senator Gordon: “ The First Philippine Republic gave the Philippines, then fresh from both the Philippine Revolution against Spain and the Spanish-American War between Spain and the United States, the distinction of being the first independent republic in Asia. The Republic endured until the American forces captured Aguinaldo in Palanan, Isabela on March 23, 1901.” Immediately after, Senator Joel Villanueva endorsed Sen. Gordon’s speech and co-sponsored the bill.
Bulakeños were overjoyed. Bulacan Governor Daniel Fernando led the commemoration of the 123rd anniversary of the First Philippine Republic with the theme, “Unang Republikang Pilipino: Sandigan ng Nagbabagong Panahon.” Flowers were laid at the Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo’s statue. “Now that it is a national holiday, “ sighed Vice Gov. Wilhelmino Sy-Alvarado, “it is equal to the June 12 Independence Day.” Malolos Mayor Christian Natividad said that finally, after more than a century, a President, a Senate and a Congress gave justice and glory to Asia’s first republic.