Ironies of Philippine Independence

Submissions from #RP216fic reminds us of unfortunate ironies surrounding our so-called freedom.

By Felipa Cheng

Every June 12, the Philippines celebrates its National Independence Day. Often narrowed down as the day Aguinaldo proclaimed independence, the Philippine flag first hoisted and the Marcha Nacional Filipina first heard, the term “celebration” seems like an overstatement. For the average Filipino, it’s a non-working holiday at best.

Much of the indifference towards the supposed historic date could be faulted to the many and tangled declarations of independence throughout Philippine history, and how our education system has mishandled teaching this information throughout the years. The highly referenced image of independence, the Cry of Balintawak, was in 1896. On June 12, 1898, was Emilio Aguinaldo’s declaration of Independence, only to pledge his allegiance to the United States a year later. 

Then the Japanese occupation occurred, where they “granted” us independence through a puppet government in 1943, then surrendered the Philippines back to America shortly after. Three years later on July 4, 1946, the US “restored” our independence, after they had been content with “educating, uplifting and civilizing” us while scheduling it to match their own independence day. And finally, in 1962, after the US congress had turned down a $73 million aid package promised to the Philippines, then-president Macapagal moved it back to June 12.

In this very brief and deductive summary, one can’t help but notice the disorder in our history that created a confusing relationship between Filipinos and their concept of independence and sovereignty.

As if the Filipino isn’t already confused enough with the infinite layers of Philippine history, the writing community established the alternative history storytelling event on Twitter using the hashtag #RP612fic, which stands for Republic of the Philippines June 12 Fiction. Since its conception in 2009, it had evolved originally from six-word text stories to the “modernized” version of inserting references from pop culture and current events through photos, gifs, and videos appropriated for a historical context. 

Scrolling through the 2020 submissions, some of the top tweets include: a video of the viral Tiktoker Kim Arda and her short but insightful monologue about breakups, captioned as Leonor Rivera breaking up with Jose Rizal.  A photo of Cynthia Villar’s head edited onto the body of Ferdinand Magellan with the caption “Spaniards preparing to steal Philippine lands.” Stills from the Korean drama ‘Crash Landing on You’ as the final moments of Josephine Bracken and Jose Rizal before he got shot. And my personal favorite, a still from a GMA news report of Debold Sinas being tested for Covid-19 with his face scrunched up and tongue out, and an edited bowl of Tinola in front of him. Others famously referenced are Koko Pimentel, Bato dela Rosa, Yasmin Asistido, Big Ed from 90 Day Fiance, K-Drama, and many local homemade viral videos.

Just from a couple of these examples, I’d like to point out two things: one, that there is almost no contrast between foreign and local pop culture references, and two, all those regarding politics express disdain towards current Philippine governance. This creates a very complex image of Philippine identity and consequently, our notions of independence.

As far as the #RP612fic participants are concerned, a distinction between local and foreign media is close to unnecessary, and that they all might as well be part of our local culture. Regardless if it’s a high-quality closeup of IU from Hotel del Luna, a badly lit phone-recorded video of a teenage boy singing next to a girl, “sa’kin ikaw pa rin ang baby ko, ang baby ko,” or an edited photo of Big Ed from 90 Day Fiance as Padre Damaso, all these references can reach the Top tab of a hashtag dedicated to Philippine independence. I argue that this isn’t just the increased exposure of different cultures appropriated for Philippine context, but also a constant renegotiation between different modes of cultural production.

Much of the mainstream foreign media referenced such as drama series Crash Landing on You and reality show 90 Day Fiance, are both products of big production networks that owe its content accessibility through extensive marketing and capital. We can argue that this content is created on the basis of profit, as compared to the viral videos made at home, who made the videos without the intention of it going viral or earning from it.

It’s one thing to reference figures such as YouTuber Yasmin Asistido who intentionally publishes humor content. Such figures are aware of how people can use their images/videos for comedic purposes. For posts like Yasmin as a “Katipunera going to war,” a “HAHAHA” is expected because it was intended for one. But replying “HAHAHA” to a video of a young girl frustratedly rubbing saliva all over her face and eyelids to remove eyeliner is a different matter. The Twitter users who found this content funny are the same people who comment that Micellar water would have been a better alternative, or in the words of @mncbm’s reply to the video, it’s “hahaha salaula.” Somehow, the attempt to post “Philippine” content only made it more difficult for the #RP612fic participants to identify with the Filipinos they are exposing, while simultaneously acknowledging that this is a valid portion of Philippine life. 

For K-Pop and Korean drama references, replies are mostly countless amounts of hearts, teary-eyed emojis, and video clips of TWICE’s live performances of their song More & More (these videos come up A LOT). Despite it being an integration of different cultures, it has a tendency to favor that of high-budget productions, such as the eye-catching colorful aesthetics of Korean pop stars in chic bohemian-wear, while the viral homemade videos of greasy teens are left to be undesired. Because of the associations between high-budget media as “pretty” and the homemade as “salaula,” it creates a dependency on superior foreign tech and aesthetics. This is of course not to say that we should not consume any other content other than our own, but to acknowledge that there is currently an unequal footing in terms of video quality, marketing, and content creation between big media distributors (foreign or not), over ‘local’ cultural production.

#Rp612fic also seems to share the same sensibilities against the government, since all Tweets express contempt towards political figures (far from the online culture of troll-infested platforms such as YouTube and Facebook). The posts satirize Bato dela Rosa as the bratty Padre Damaso, Koko Pimentel as a toddler “spreading the Spanish flu”, Debold Sinas holding his flowers as the “first Philippine debutant,” Tito Sotto III as an “estupidong Katipunero,” and the aforementioned land grabber edit of Cynthia Villar. These satirizations are not without merit, many of the references parallel to current events these politicians have been criticized about: Dela Rosa throwing a tantrum when questioned about the widespread killings of drug suspects, Pimentel attending parties and roaming groceries when supposedly in quarantine (and then testing positive for Covid-19), Sinas defending his celebration as not a party but a mañanita, Sotto with his reputation of ‘Sottoisms’ for saying stupid things, and the Villar’s infamous reputation on land-grabbing and displacing several local communities. Not coincidentally, a “Grand Mañanita” protest was also being held online and across the Philippines to protest the anti-terror bill – a despicable agenda to prioritize in the midst of a current pandemic, when public health and livelihood must be of utmost importance. Such a bill would allow for warrantless arrests and lethal red-tagging of government critics.

If there’s anything that the submissions in #RP612fic tell us, it’s that this is not a celebration but a reminder of the ironies that exist in our notions and realities of independence, such as the unequal foundations of cultural production that create dependence toward foreign tech, and the officials pursuing agendas that disregard the public they swore to protect. Scrolling through 2020 #RP612fic submissions, it grounds us that there is much more to be done for Philippine independence and sovereignty. [P]

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