The 30th of December is a day that Filipinos throughout the world honour the martyrdom of José Rizal who in 1896 was executed by the colonial Spanish regime due to his pro-independence politics. Rizal’s dream of an independent Philippines proved to be short lived as not long after the country declared its independence from Spain in 1898 under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo, The Philippines became subjected to decades of further occupation by the United States – an occupation that itself would later interrupted by a wholly barbaric Japanese occupation in 1941.
Eventually, on 4 July 1945, the country became legally independent, but even today there remain threats to the independent spirit that was embodied by Rizal. Here are some of the biggest challenges facing a truly independent Philippines in 2018:
More than any foreign power or organisation, the socio-political complacency among far too many in The Philippines threatens the country’s independence in the sense that wasted potential can make it so that the sacrifices of heroes like Rizal were with hindsight, in vain. President Rodrigo Duterte has clearly reinvigorated the Rizal spirit in many of his people who continue to support their political leader in overwhelming numbers. Yet even among some Diehard Duterte Supporters, there is a complacent spirit that focuses more on defending against increasingly meaningless and frivolous attacks by the outdated mainstream media flunkies, rather than focusing on achieving a permanent positive transformation of the nation through the creation of a federal-parliamentary system (one that Duterte has endorsed on multiple occasions) that would likely see Duterte’s forward thinking reforms carried through for the next hundred years.
Rizal stood up against a political system he wanted changed and paid for it with his life. In 2018, all that it would take to change today’s bad political system is a sacrifice of some time and effort. Such minor sacrifices represent a very small price to pay in order to keep the dream of both Rizal and of Duterte alive.
An economic and political oligarchy
What’s the difference between millions in the Philippine underclass slaving away while a group of domestic oligarchs run the economic and political system to their own advantage versus slaving away under the foreign imperialism that Rizal resisted? The difference for the average person is little. And yet the oligarchs who consolidated their power after 1987 remain cushioned from genuine economic competition that could liberate the people in terms of job creation, improvements in living standards and receiving the tools to industrialise on the Singaporean, Chinese, Malaysian and even Vietnamese models.
While the land owners hoard their wealth and the agricultural distributors hoard their sacks of rice, a new constitution allowing for the free flow of goods and foreign direct investment (FDI) could help to liberate the poor and expand the middle class from beneath the tyranny of a class of Filipino oligarchs who might as well be alien to the true beating heart of the nation.
A turn away from Duterte’s multilateral foreign policy
Having an independent nation means little if one does not have an independent foreign policy and during the decades prior to the 2016 election of President Rodrigo Duterte, Philippine foreign policy was largely a hostage to foreign fortune.
Under Duterte, the country has adopted a foreign policy of friendship with all and disputes towards none. Instead of holding grudges against Malaysia based on age old disputes, Duterte’s embrace of win-win partnerships with neighbours that share a common destiny, has thrust the Philippines to the forefront of ASEAN – the most dynamic group of nations in the world. Instead of threatening China with a comparatively weak military, Duterte welcomes economic cooperation with the world’s soon to be leading economy on the basis of peace through prosperity. Duterte’s model has in fact been adopted at an ASEAN wide level, proving that through geopolitical non-alignment one can gain more influence than by surrendering an independent foreign policy to crippling alliances.
Likewise, Duterte has been a guest of honour in India, received new investment and gift packages from Korea and Japan and has likewise received free weapons from Russia. All the while Duterte has developed a good working relationship with Donald Trump, thus proving that one can move forward while still carrying forward old partnerships on a modern respectful basis.
Any reversal to these foreign policy achievements would represent a big surrender in independence for The Philippines. This is yet another reason why a new parliamentary political system is needed so that Duterte supporters can fight for his ideas well after 2022.
The Roman Catholic Church in The Philippines
While millions of Filipinos are warm hearted Catholics, the institutional Church – itself a relic of Spanish colonialism, has become a government unto itself and indeed an economy unto itself. The Church’s un-Constitutional meddling in the political affairs of the nation is that of a fifth column attempting to subvert the civic and democratic will of the people from within. In many ways, this is far more harmful than a more obvious foreign state meddler.
Additionally, while millions of Filipinos remain poor in spite of Duterte’s ongoing economic reforms, the Church remains one of the wealthiest organisations in the country. If it’s wealth was invested directly into the people from whom funds are extracted for basic services (baptisms, weddings, funerals) that the poorest can scarcely afford, poverty in the country could largely be alleviated.
Instead, an body that does not face taxation seeks to create more political representation for itself than for the legitimately elected officials of the country. Such an institution must be brought into line for the sake of genuine civic independence in a nation with a legal separation of church and state.
President Duterte’s decision to declare martial law in his home island of Mindanao helped to minimise the damage caused by the Daesh (ISIS) aligned Maute Group’s siege of Marawi in 2017. But the devastating events of 2017 constitute to be a stern reminder that just because religious extremists and NPA communist terrorists are on the run – they have yet to be defeated.
This is all the more reason that it is the duty of all patriotic Filipinos to put aside political differences and support Duterte’s genuine war against all forms of terrorism.
The Philippines has faced many internal and external challenges since the martyrdom of José Rizal, but so long as the Rizal spirit remains, his death with have been a source of inspiration rather than one of defeat through complacency or fear.