President Aquino speaks at the June 12, 2016 Independence Day celebration in Malacanang. Photo by Malacanang.

2016 Independence day vin d’honneur. Photo by Malacanang.

For a more meaningful Independence Day

THE nation observed the 118thIndependence Day in a somewhat somber tone.

Maybe because in two weeks time, there will be changing of the guards. The presiding president, Benigno Aquino III, is bidding goodbye and last Sunday’s Independence Day Vin d’Honneur was the last that he was hosting.

Aside from leaving the seat of power, Aquino is turning over the reins of the government not to his annointed, Mar Roxas, but to Rodrigo Duterte, the candidate that he warned the voters to be a danger to democracy.

At the Vin d’honneur, a traditional reception for the diplomatic corps and government officials on New Year’s Day and Independence Day, Aquino once again talked about his family’s sacrifices for Philippine democracy under the Marcos dictatorship to underscore that our much-cherished freedom can be taken away.

“I emphasize that this has happened. Once, a fellow Filipino stole our freedom. This means that if we are not vigilant, it could happen again,” Aquino said.

He added: We have achieved everything we are enjoying today while respecting the process, the law, as well as the rights of each person. We did this without silencing anyone, and while valuing the freedom that those before us fought for. We firmly believe in this principle: That there can be no true progress if we surrender our dignity and our rights.”

Was Aquino referring to Duterte’s statements that suggest disregard of due process in his declared war against illegal drugs and other crimes? Was he thinking of Duterte’s warning to Congress not to stand in the way of the reforms he wants to introduce – a blatant disregard of the check-and-balance system in a democracy?

And speaking of Duterte, it was reported that he was a no-show in the Independence Day ceremonies in Davao City. He was represented by Davao City administrator Jesus Melchor Quitain, who offered no explanation for the incoming president’s absence despite the latter’s patriotic battle cry during the campaign with the Philippine flag as a constant prop in all his rallies.

ABS-CBN reported that as city mayor Duterte didn’t preside over independence day celebrations. Maybe because it was held in the morning and Duterte himself said his day begins at 1 p.m.

Quitain assured everybody that Duterte will institute reforms once he takes over the presidency on June 30. Maybe in the next Independence Day the traditional morning Vin d’honneur will be held in the afternoon or in the evening.

So many lives have been sacrificed, so much blood have been spilled for the independence and the freedom that we are now enjoying. Our forefathers fought foreign invaders: the Spaniards, the English, the Japanese, and the Americans .

But independence is not only freedom from foreign colonizers. We are not truly free if many of our people are still mired in poverty. We are not truly free if we continue to live in fear for our lives and we cannot feel safe in our homes and in our streets.

We are not truly free if we cannot say what we want for fear of reprisal from people in power who would be displeased with what we say or write.

We are not truly free if many of us live in ignorance. We have to be educated and informed to be empowered.

We are not truly free if we do not have the capacity to dream of a brighter future.

Last month, we chose a new set of leaders in an election. We were able to do that because our forefathers bequeathed to us a vibrant democracy.

It is now our turn – our duty and responsibility- to protect that hard-earned democracy and strengthen it for the next generation.

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