Today it is commonplace for us to celebrate Independence Day on June 12. Prior to 1962, however, Independence Day was celebrated on July 4, to commemorate the day when the United States recognized our independence in 1946.
The change of date was initiated on May 12, 1962, through President Diosdado Macapagal’s Proclamation No. 28, s. 1962, which declared June 12 as Independence Day. In 1964, Congress passed Republic Act No. 4166, which formally designated June 12 of every year as the date we celebrate Philippine independence.
The earliest declaration date put forward was on April 12, 1895, made in the Pamitinan Cave in Montalban, Rizal when Andres Bonifacio—in the presence of some Katipunan leaders—wrote “Viva la independencia Filipina!” on the walls of the cave.
Another contending date for Independence Day was the Cry of Pugad Lawin, which began the Philippine Revolution. Bonifacio, in the presence of many Katipuneros, tore his cedula as a sign of defiance of and independence from Spanish colonial authorities. The earliest date which the Cry was originally commemorated was on August 26. Due to the testimony of surviving Katipuneros of that time, like Pio Valenzuela, the official date of the Cry was moved from August 26 to August 23. Recent scholarship, however, suggests that the Cry happened on August 24.
Yet another contending date was the one put forward by the Philippine Historical Association, reasoning that the proclamation of independence from Spanish rule in Kawit, Cavite on June 12, 1898 (with the official unfurling of the flag and the playing of the national anthem) was “not dependent upon the will and discretion of another.” This date is now the official date of Independence.
The least mentioned Independence Day was on October 14, 1943, under the Second Republic.
Finally, there is Independence Day, as celebrated prior to 1962 which was July 4, 1946, proclaimed at Luneta, Manila. This was when the independence of the Philippines was recognized by the community of nations. This is still being observed as Republic Day.
Events Leading to June 12, 1898
In the first phase of the Philippine Revolution led by the secret organization known as Katipunan, Andres Bonifacio, the organization’s leader, agreed to meet with other Katipunan representatives of the two factions, Magdiwang and Magdalo, at San Francisco de Malabon, Cavite (now called General Trias) to discuss whether to retain the existing Katipunan or to establish a revolutionary government. Thus, the Tejeros Convention was formed, held on March 22, 1897 with 26 delegates. Elections were held for its officers: Emilio Aguinaldo was elected President and Andres Bonifacio, the former leader of the Katipunan, was elected Director of the Interior. Initially, Bonifacio accepted his position, but was insulted when Daniel Tirona objected. Bonifacio declared the proceedings of the Tejeros Convention null and void and established a new government. This was seen as an act of treason by the others and Bonifacio was charged with refusing to recognize the newly established revolutionary government. He was arrested and sentenced to death in Maragondon, Cavite.
The revolutionary government, led by Aguinaldo, continued the revolution against the Spaniards. At this point, the Spaniards were of the impression that the revolution was in decline and concentrated their efforts on pursuing Aguinaldo and his companions. By the latter part of 1897, Aguinaldo was forced by advancing Spanish forces to retreat to the mountains of Biak-na-Bato, where he established the headquarters of his government. A peace agreement was finally settled through the Pact of Biak-na-Bato with the Spanish authorities. The pact was signed on December 16, 1897, agreeing for the revolutionary leaders to go into exile in Hong Kong and surrendering their arms in exchange for reforms, financial indemnities, and pardons. Aguinaldo and his companions departed for Hong Kong on December 24, 1897.
In Hong Kong, Aguinaldo and his companions established a Junta, which worked toward continuing the revolution and gaining freedom from the Spaniards. At the beginning of the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Asiatic Fleet’s Commodore George Dewey contacted Aguinaldo for help in defeating the Spanish forces on land. Dewey sent a ship for Aguinaldo, and he arrived on May 19, 1898 in Cavite, consolidating the revolutionary forces. By June 1898, Aguinaldo believed that the declaration of independence would inspire the people to fight more eagerly against the Spaniards, and at the same time lead other nations to recognize the independence of the country. On June 5, 1898, Aguinaldo issued a decree setting aside June 12, 1898 as the day of the proclamation of independence.
This event took place in the Aguinaldo house, located in what was then known as Cavite el Viejo (“Old Cavite”, now Kawit), Cavite. Dewey was invited but did not attend. The Acta de la Proclamacion de la Independencia del Pueblo Filipino was solemnly read by its author, Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, Aguinaldo’s war counselor and special delegate, in the presence of people who came upon the invitation of the circular of the proclamation a few weeks from the day itself.
The 21-page declaration was signed by 97 Filipinos, appointed by Aguinaldo, and one retired American artillery officer, Colonel L.M. Johnson. Contrary to popular belief, it was Bautista—not Aguinaldo—who unfurled the Philippine national flag before the jubilant crowd.
The flag was officially unfurled for the first time at 4:20 p.m, as the Philippine National Anthem—first heard by Filipinos—was played by the band of San Francisco de Malabon. Composed by Julian Felipe, the Marcha Filipina Magdalo—which later became known as the Marcha Nacional Filipina—had no lyrics yet. According to Felipe, the tune was based on The Marcha Real, the Grand March from Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida, and La Marseillaise reminiscent of “the old metropolis.”
Apolinario Mabini, who arrived late to the event, objected to the proclamation, because he felt that one man, Aguinaldo, could not proclaim a nation’s freedom in the name of its people; only the people themselves could do that. Thus, Mabini led the move for more Filipino representatives to ratify the proclamation and make it national and representative of the whole country. Thus, the proclamation was first ratified on August 1, 1898 by 190 municipal presidents from the 16 provinces controlled by the revolutionary army. It was again ratified on September 29, 1898 by the Malolos Congress, the first Filipino congress that represented the whole archipelago.
The first and last openly held Independence Day celebration of the First Republic until the capture of President Emilio Aguinaldo, was on June 12, 1899 at the Pamintuan Mansion, in Angeles, Pampanga, led by President Aguinaldo himself. With the defeat of the First Republic in 1901, it was not observed publicly until 1941 when Flag Day, which was observed on October 30 since 1919 (the year the Philippine Legislature restored the flag) was moved to June 12, recognizing the official unfurling of the Philippine flag that day. From 1941 to 1962, June 12 was observed as Flag Day until President Macapagal’s proclamation moving the Independence Day to June 12. In 1965, since Flag Day coincided with Independence Day, and in order to commemorate the date the national emblem was first unfurled in battle, President Diosdado Macapagal issued Proclamation No. 374, 1965, which moved National Flag Day from June 12 to May 28.
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That the movement for independence was a collective one—a national one—has been recognized by President Benigno S. Aquino III, as reflected in his Independence Day commemorations of the past years from various crucial settings. This annual pilgrimage by the President emphasizes that the revolution was truly national in extent and character.
In 2011, the President launched the commemoration of the 113th anniversary of the proclamation of independence in Kawit, Cavite—where the Philippine flag was first waved before its people, and the national anthem first played. In 2012, the President headed the ceremonies from the Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan—the venue of the Malolos Congress, which had drafted the Constitution of our First Republic. Last year, the President led the commemoration from Liwasang Bonifacio. This year, President Aquino leads the Independence Day celebration from Naga City, Camarines Sur, to commemorate the great contribution of the Bicol region to the Philippine Revolution, signaled by the martyrdom of Los Quince Martires—the 15 Bicolano Martyrs—on January 4, 1897.
Independence Day 2015 and 2016 are slated to be celebrated in the Visayas and Mindanao, respectively. Independence Day 2015 is slated to be held in Iloilo City, Iloilo (Visayas) to commemorate the Federal Republic of Visayas founded on the city, which was dissolved voluntarily upon Iloilo’s joining of the First Republic. Come 2016, Independence Day will be commemorated from Zamboanga City (Mindanao), in recognition of the Republic of Zamboanga formed upon the collapse of Spanish colonial rule in 1899, which was soon overtaken by the American occupation, before they even had a chance to decide if they would join the First Republic. Both areas, though, were represented in the Malolos Congress.
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