Fighting for a cause

By Joshua Corcuera

My column last June 4 centered on the notion of freedom and why our country is not absolutely free—basically because of enormous problems, such as foreign debt, that prevent us from escaping poverty. Nevertheless, we enjoy several freedoms that we enjoy such as the freedom to work, to speak and express (although this is a cause for concern), to have access to education and healthcare (also a cause for concern due to medical costs and medical staff searching for greener pastures), and so on. While my column discussed the problems and challenges we face to keep and preserve our freedoms in the future, this column would try to look at the history of our nation in fighting for freedom against foreign oppressors.

We were taught that Spain was the first foreign power to colonize the Philippines—from 1565 until 1898, that lasted a long 333 years. During that time, the Spanish were noted to have built several universities and churches that stand to this day. Notable examples of educational institutions that stand up to now include the University of Santo Tomas which was founded in 1611, the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, the Ateneo de Manila University, the University of San Carlos in Cebu, and so forth. Enormous churches were also built such as the Manila Cathedral and Quiapo Church, now a minor basilica.

While the Spaniards have left remarkable contributions that are still seen to this day, not to mention their intangible contributions such as religion and values, it cannot be denied that they have also caused enormous suffering to the natives during their more than three-century stay in the country. For instance, polo y servicio was a practice the colonizers have used for more than a quarter-thousand years of colonization. This practice required the forced labor of all Filipino males from the ages of 16 to 60 for 40-day periods. To make matters worse, workers have to suffer under dangerous working conditions. Unsurprisingly, many native Filipinos fought against this inhumane practice committed by the colonizers for the latter’s benefit. With rebellions against the brutal colonizers, it does not come as a surprise that many Filipinos were martyred in fighting for a free nation, or at least for better living standards under Spanish rule.

After the Spaniards came the Americans who, just like their predecessors, built schools and hospitals. The University of the Philippines, for example, was built during American rule. But despite these advancements in education and healthcare that should have improved the lives of the locals, atrocities were also committed by the foreign rulers against the Filipino people. In Carlos Bulosan’s semi-autobiography America Is In The Heart published in 1946, Bulosan—known as Allos in the non-fiction novel—went to the United States at the age of 17 in search for a better life. However, he suffered from the prejudice against Filipinos and injustices against his fellow countrymen in America. Moreover, Americans have been criticized for abusing natives as well as stealing properties belonging to Filipinos such as the Balangiga bells which were only returned recently. Another artifact currently being a source of conflict between the Philippines and America is the Agusan image, a 21-karat gold statuette currently on display in Chicago.

The Japanese also committed grave atrocities against the nation during its brief colonization during the Second World War. Moreover, their poor economic policies caused hyperinflation during their stay—this is evidenced by the Mickey Mouse money where money is of, practically, no value. Side note, guerilla currency was outlawed because of the Japanese government-issued Philippine peso, and those who possessed such forbidden currency could be arrested or even executed. Speaking of executions, many Filipinos resisted Japanese rule only to suffer under intense pain and, ultimately, death.

With the sacrifices of all those who came before us, we finally managed to break free from the chains of foreign control. Although we still have a long way to go to be free from certain social problems, we can now decide our fate as a nation by ourselves, and not by foreign occupants who took advantage of our broad natural resources at the expense of the lives and livelihood of the Filipino people.