UC Berkeley students talk Philippine Independence Day

philippine flag

One of the biggest holidays of the summer, and possibly America’s most iconic holiday overall, is Independence Day. But July 4 isn’t the only day of independence celebrated during the summer. Friday is Philippine Independence Day, or Araw ng Kasarinlan. Araw ng Kasarinlan commemorates the Philippine Declaration of Independence from Spain, after 300 years of colonization.

In 1892, José Rizal founded La Liga Filipina, a civic movement that advocated social reform. The same year, Andres Bonifacio founded the Katipunan, a revolutionary society which engaged in armed rebellion against the Spanish. Politician Emilio Aguinaldo spearheaded a separate group of revolutionaries and established his own rebel government. After the liberation of several provinces and areas surrounding Manila, independence was declared in the Philippines on June 12, 1898, and a Filipino government ousted Spanish leadership.

Despite having established a government and having drawn up a democratic constitution, the first ever in Asia, the Philippines still could not claim its independence. After the Spanish-American War, the United States negotiated with Spain to make the Philippines a U.S. territory under the Treaty of Paris. No Filipinos were present during this negotiation.

Even after the United States granted independence to the Republic of the Philippines on July 4, 1946, the achievement of full independence has been an ongoing battle. We at the Clog reached out to Jensine Carreon, UC Berkeley’s incoming [email protected] community council chair, and asked for her thoughts.

“It’s difficult for me to say that the Philippines is truly independent today, because not much has changed (since 1946),” Carreon said. “The impact of almost 50 years of U.S. colonialism cannot be simply erased by a mere declaration, especially when the U.S. continues to influence the Philippines politically, economically and culturally to this day.”

The United States’ economic reform overseas has left the Philippines in a state of debt. As Carreon explained, “The rapid shift to a capitalist, export economy (has) only exacerbated the already extreme poverty of rural life.”

As for the continued influence on the educational system, English remains the language of instruction in the Philippines. Culturally, the ability to speak English with a “more American” accent is associated with being “mayaman” — wealthy or privileged — thus perpetuating the idea of American superiority.

Today, even though there are no longer any official U.S. military bases in the Philippines, the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement strategically allows the U.S. to exercise its power and control over the Philippines.

“Not only does the VFA allow the U.S. to increase its military presence in the Philippines,” Carreon argued, “but it also grants U.S. military personnel exemptions from certain regulations as well as more privileges than their Philippine counterparts.”

As examples, she referenced the 2005 Subic Rape Case and the recent Jennifer Laude murder trial, where U.S. Marine officers were not handed over to Philippine custody after being accused of violence against Filipino womxn.

“In order for decolonization to truly happen, we need to think more critically about U.S.-Philippine relations,” Carreon told us. “As a Filipina American student at UC Berkeley, I think having an institutionalized Pil Studies curriculum that will allow us to do so is a start.”

The Pil Studies Campaign at UC Berkeley is an effort to establish a formalized curriculum that acknowledges the histories of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans. In 2013, PCC Chair Ley Cerezo and [email protected] community-endorsed ASUC Senator Baltazar Dasalla established the Pil Studies Campaign Committee, which continues to work with the departments of Southeast Asian Studies, or SSEAS, and Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies, or AAADS.

We also reached out to Benedict Llave, the 2015-16 [email protected] Community Endorsed ASUC Senator, to provide us a statement regarding the Pil Studies Campaign.

“We, as the Pil Studies Campaign Committee, have won a concentration in Philippine Studies within the SSEAS major in this past year, cross-listed AAADS 124: Filipino American History with SSEAS and created relationships with educators and administrative bodies within the institution,” Llave said in the statement. “The Pil Studies Campaign moves forward with the intention of validating our lived experiences within Cal academia in order to create more avenues to learn about the variety of experiences shaping Pilipinx identities and provide a valid education that’s relevant to ourselves as students of color.”

The work of the Pil Studies Campaign Committee has, so far, surpassed a number of valuable milestones, but their work is far from done.

“A movement like Pil Studies starts out slow but gains critical mass over time,” Llave said. “Going into the 2015-16 school year, we intend to continue the process and to bring others along with us to make change for years to come.”

The establishment of Philippine Studies program at UC Berkeley is important in, as Carreon and Llave explained, allowing us to validate and think critically about Filipino history. In a generation where political and educational reform has become vital to achieving social justice, we must learn to recognize each others’ histories in the context of our own. Interracial empathy and understanding rely on celebrating cultural differences, not ignoring them.

If you’re interested in celebrating Philippine Independence Day or learning more about Filipino culture, the Kalayaan SF Festival will be at Union Square on July 27. Admission is free, and the celebration features Philippine dance, art, cuisine and American Idol finalist and Filipina, Jessica Sanchez.

Then, when July 4th comes around with its red, white and blue fireworks, celebrate your independence, but think about all the other colors that continue to fight for freedom.

Contact Rayanne Piaña at [email protected].