Saipan — During the centennial celebration of Philippine independence, a stateside professor on Guam, a.k.a. party-pooper, wrote an op-ed which reminded everyone that the Philippines actually became independent on July 4, 1946 not on June 12, 1898.
He’s right. Or wrong.
If you read early-to mid-20th century U.S. books that mentioned Philippine history, and compare them to the history written by Filipinos beginning in the 1970s, you’d think that two or even three Philippines existed at the same time.
According to the American version, the U.S. in 1898 defeated Spain in a splendid little war and, after some hesitation, acquired the P.I., a Spanish colony. But a band of mischief-makers — “bandits” — rebelled against the legally established U.S. sovereignty over the islands. So, they had to be “pacified.” (Or “humored” as President Reagan once said about Native Americans.)
What followed was, on the part of the P.I., an internship in representative democracy that was interrupted for three years by the uncalled for and totally uncool Japanese invasion. But the Americans eventually liberated the P.I. from the clutches of Japan, and granted their little brown brothers, a.k.a. Filipinos, independence on July 4, 1946 as promised by the U.S. in a federal law enacted in 1934.
Filipino historians, more or less, adhered to this version until leftist historians appeared on the Philippine academic scene beginning in the late 1950s. By the late 1960s their version was already ascendant, and by the 1970s dominant.
The insurrection against the U.S. became a war against a foreign invader in defense of Philippine independence won from Spain.
The bandidos and insurrectos became heroes. The “so-called republic,” as Admiral Dewey would put it, became Asia’s first republic.
General Aguinaldo was President Aguinaldo — the P.I.’s first. (In the U.S. version, Manuel L. Quezon was the first Philippine president.) The P.I. was invaded by Japan only because the islands were an American colony. And the president of the Philippine republic established by Japan in 1943 is the P.I’s third president. (In the U.S. version, the “second republic” was as “real” as the “first republic.” In short, both were sham republics. For Filipino Maoists, Aguinaldo’s first republic was an American protectorate and the second and third were puppet republics.)
The Americans, moreover, did not liberate the P.I. They re-occupied it. And the independence they “granted” on July 4, 1946 was incomplete if not bogus.
In the U.S. version, the current Philippine president is the 14th. In the Philippine version, he’s the 16th. And the Philippine Insurrection that was quelled in 1902, according to the U.S., is now the Filipino-American War that ended in 1906.
I could go on and on but you get the picture — excuse me, pictures.
From 1947 to 1961, the P.I. celebrated Independence Day on the Fourth of July. But in May 1962, President Diosdado Macapagal (the fifth president a.k.a. the seventh president a.k.a. the ninth president) designated June 12, which was Flag Day, as the “real”
Independence Day. July 4 became Filipino-American Friendship Day and later Philippine Republic Day which is no longer a non-working holiday.
Why the change? In the 1980s, Macapagal told U.S. journalist Stanley Karnow: “When I was in the diplomatic corps, I noticed that nobody came to our receptions on the Fourth of July, but went to the American Embassy instead. So… I decided we needed a different holiday.”
But according to Lewis Gleeck Jr., who served as U.S. consul general in the P.I. in the 1960s, Mac’s decision was motivated by resentment. The U.S. Congress — specifically the members representing tobacco producing states — was sitting on a war damage bill that would have benefited the P.I. And they were holding up its passage because the P.I., which had its own tobacco industry, refused entry to American tobacco.
History is written by victors, Winston Churchill once said (or did he?). But it can also be written by losers — by anyone, in fact, who wants to write history.
History, I now believe, is “history” with quotation marks. It’s a palimpsest on which a Jorge Luis Borges story re-writes itself again and again.
Zaldy Dandan is the editor of Marianas Variety on Saipan.