Independence Day celebrates political and economic freedom from the domination and exploitation of foreign powers and the establishment of a sovereign nation. It ought to be the freedom to build a country filled with patriotic fervor that cherishes its independence and sovereignty. A most exciting and joyous day of the year but in the Philippines it is not greatly so.
Filipinos openly acknowledge the political realities. They are free from the tyranny of a dictator yet true independence is an illusion. The greatest freedom eludes them. They are not free from poverty, hardship, injustice and the fear of hunger and even assassination when they speak out for justice and against the corrupt politicians. Retaliation with an assassin's bullet to the brain is swift and deadly. Priests, pastors, social and political activists are all victims of such a sudden death. As many as 72 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since 1992.
The nation is captive, held by the shackles of poverty forged by the powerful ruling oligarchy of the rich elite that masquerades behind the mask of democracy and with the well funded military, their faithful protector. The people stoically endure it with satirical humor and resignation since there is no viable alternative other than violent revolution and people power. That has been tried and failed.
The well funded political clique manipulates the elections so that the dynastic families stay indefinitely in power and increase their riches to stay in power. Sons and daughters follow their fathers and mothers, uncles and cousins into political office and appoint their extended family members to positions of power and influence.
The same families shamelessly rule towns and cities and hold congressional seats for generations. They feud among themselves and some commit mass murders and violent massacres like the Maguindanao massacre of November 2009. The suspect Ampatuan dynastic families are accused of being behind it. Murdered were 57 members of a rival political family and 32 journalists. The brave man Esmail Enog, who testified in court against the suspects, was recently found dead, chain-sawed to pieces. The only sure freedom from hardship and suffering is death. Even so the congress, dominated by the wealthy families will not pass a law banning dynasties as the constitution demands, careful not to hasten their own demise.
So the 93.3 million Filipinos are ruled by a few hundred wealthy families in cahoots with foreign industrial interests. They allegedly control or own 70% of the national wealth and live luxurious lives while millions live in slums and dire endless poverty. Hundreds of thousands of young girls and children are forced to work; many are trafficked to the slavery of brothels and bars.
The congress, with the inspiring exception of the progressive social democrats, is filled with millionaires who serve the interests of their corrupt class and exploitative industry. This includes the foreign industrial powers who covet the mineral wealth and raw materials of the nation.
They are politicians who voted recently to change the child protection law and imprison 12-year-old children. This, in violation of international law and the convention on the rights of the child. They really need an education on human and children's rights. They punish children for being homeless, poor, emotionally disturbed, unschooled and hopeless. This is a national situation the politicians themselves have made. Children are branded criminals and made to suffer jail for the greed and the crimes of adults.
The flash points of discontent and protest all over the nation is rooted in the fact that the rich political families still own the prime land and resist land reform. Last week hundreds of marching protesting farmers called for the implementation of land reform law.
The indigenous people demand their rights to their ancestral lands and to ban mining and environmental destruction. The mining companies extracting minerals on their lands are the cause of great unrest and injustice. They too, yearn for real freedom from the encroaching land grabbers and logging families that are ripping apart the last remaining forests. Millions of Filipinos want a quality education, a secure job near their homes and family, and prosperous healthy respectful life. Exile in a foreign land is the only justly paid employment for millions of Filipinos
The hope of the people is for President Nonoy Aquino, popularly and cleanly elected, to eradicate corruption and restore the dignity of the Filipino people. If he can lessen the concentrated political and monitory power in a few hands he would fulfill the dream of the great national hero Jose Rizal. If only he could do that, what an independence hero he would be himself.
Fr Shay Cullen is a founder of PREDA, a nonprofit based in the Philippines that seeks to end the exploitation of children.