What follows is the transcript of a short speech I delivered during our Independence Day rites this morning in the Philippine Science High School. Note that my audience are science scholars and it is for them that I wrote this message. Nonetheless, this is my reflection on this day itself and what it all means.
This day, one hundred and ten years ago, a flag was raised out of a window at Kawit, Cavite to mark the birth of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s revolutionary government. Fast forward to today and we are all still here, waiting for our government to revolutionize our politics, our livelihood, our society, our future. Often I am asked, “What do we truly celebrate during Independence Day?” Underneath this question is the idea that after Spain we became dependent on the Americans, the Japanese, and now to all the foreigners to whom we send our overseas workers who labor and toil for a life away from their families. Therefore, we tend to ask now, “We may be independent, but are we free?”
There are so many ways to answer that question but for today, let me propose a solution by providing, first and foremost, a definition of terms. Independence is a condition. It is a state of living wherein we can say that we have the power to write our own destiny. Freedom is a decision. It is our choice to act when we should, our willingness to act when we must. Regardless of the government we are in, the poverty that lines our pockets, and the history that scars our spirit, freedom is when we decide that enough is enough and that no one else can write our own destiny. So – we may be independent, but are we free? Yes. As long as we remember that independence can only be won by an act of freedom.
I realize that this answer can be too overwhelming and the burden of freedom too heavy for us to bear that we might as well forget the legacies of 1896 and 1986. This can be even heavier for the youth today, to whom the notion of freedom is as instantaneous as the search engine, and the idea of revolution is as cheap as a text message. It has started to become alien to us, that being free is a lot of hard work and that independence is a legacy we must deserve and preserve.
When I was in high school, I met a man who knew this very well. He was born in the provinces to a family of modest income. When he entered his teenage years, he was fortunate enough to attend an elite high school in Manila and from there he migrated to Europe to pursue further studies. He would tell us that he lived during a time of great oppression, corruption and hopelessness. His nation was dependent on a foreign power. His people were crying for change. Yet he was not a soldier or a fighter but a scholar such as you. He could not carry arms, but knew that his talent was to write. And so, as an exercise of his personal freedom, he did. I would have wanted him to be with us today to speak to us about freedom, but he can’t be. Moreover, he need not be. After all, his words have been made immortal in the Noli Me Tangere and the El Filibusterismo.
No, this is not a summon for all of you to become novelists. It is simply a reminder that within each one of us is the power to win our independence. Students, you are here at the Philippine Science High School to be at the frontier of change. You may not write a novel, but you can heal the sick. You can produce medicines that are cheaper and more effective in order to provide better health care to our people. You can build bridges. You can pave the roads that connect farms to markets, markets to towns, towns to cities, and cities to the global economy. You can power the nation. You can devote yourselves to finding and developing alternative sources of energy in order to end our dependence on fossil fuel and grant our people the training and knowledge to contribute to sustainable development. When, because of you, our people can live better, walk farther and aim higher, is that not independence?
Today we celebrate the independence we share as one people. The challenge for us now is whether we can take the next step. Perhaps, you wonder, where do we begin? I say, don’t look too far for it is in living our lives today, to the utmost limits of our talents, that we live out the promise of tomorrow. So let us remember why we are here. Students, you are here from among the best of the best in order to become even better. Faculty and staff, we are here to help our students achieve the promise of their potential. And together, we work through each day in order to create new horizons for tomorrow.
Happy Independence Day! Thank you very much.