‘Independence Day is not a time machine where you choose any day you like’

Philippine and American flags fly in tandem over Jersey City's City Hall building. Photo by Elton Lugay

By R Sonny Sampayan, USAF-Ret.

Several years before my father passed away, he once reminded me that Filipinos used to celebrate July 4th as our independence day. At 12:00 o’clock in the afternoon on Thursday, July 4, 1946, after 48 years of American sovereignty, the United States granted the Philippines its independence.

Manuel L. Roxas took the oath of office and established the Third Republic of the Philippines. President Roxas became its first president. This historic event was witnessed by long-time residents of the Philippines and World War II hero, General Douglas MacArthur, U.S. High Commissioner to the Philippines, Paul V. McNutt, and other dignitaries.

MacArthur made a speech and said, “America praised the Philippines’ Independence as soon as it was possible. America now redeems that praise.”

Under the order of President Harry Truman, McNutt delivered his speech and said, “I am authorized and directed by the President of the United States to proclaim the independence of the Philippines as a separate and self-governing nation.”

After his speech, they were joined by thousands of Filipinos and Americans to witness the final lowering of the U.S. flag with its 48 stars. Filipinos, for the first time, witnessed the unfurling and raising of the Philippine flag to celebrate their independence. A momentarily gust of wind forces the two flags to briefly tangle during the lowering of the Stars and Stripes and the raising of the Philippine flag as if to signal the ultimate hug and the everlasting friendship between our two nations.

After over 377 years of struggle to gain independence from Spain and another 48 years of American sovereignty, Filipinos finally gained their long awaited independence. President Roxas reminded Filipinos in his inaugural speech and said:

Pres. Roxas

“My fellow citizens, there is one thought I want you always to bear in mind. And that is – that you are Filipinos. That the Philippines is your country and the only country God has given you…You must live for it, and die for it—if necessary. Your country is a great country. It has a great past—and a great future…The Philippines of tomorrow will be the country of plenty, of happiness, and of freedom. A Philippines with her head raised in the midst of the West Pacific, mistress of her own destiny, holding in her hand. A republic of virtuous and righteous men and women, the torch of freedom and democracy, all working together for a better world than the one we have at present.”

Pres. Macapagal

I asked my father, “Why is the Philippines now celebrating her independence on June 12, 1898 when our country and our people were granted independence in 1946”? My father could only tell me that President Diosdado Macapagal was ill-advised and wrongly signed an executive order that changed the Independence Day.

Sadly, this meant that our original independence day only lasted 16 years. I asked my father, how can one man take away what is historically right, and change the Philippine Independence Day to 64 years ago? The declaration of Independence Day is not a time-machine where we can pick and choose any day we like.

In December 1898, Spain turned over the Philippines and two outlying islands to the United States for $20.1 million for damages to Spanish properties; therefore, the Philippines was not an independent nation on June 12, 1898.

Where is the glory and the Filipino pride of having our own and original Independence Day? My father could not answer my questions as we watched the July 4 fireworks explode in midair during the clear summer skies from our home in Sylmar, California.

Some 27 years later in 1998, I was still hungry for the truth and hungry for facts. Before the advent of the Internet, I found myself spending long nights in the Northside library at Ramstein Air Base in Germany where I was stationed from 1990 to 1998. Two weeks into my hunger for the truth, I came across some books and articles. I discovered an article from Time magazine that was published on Friday, May 25, 1962 (“The Philippines: Debt of Honor”). The article reads, “…the Philippines changed its independence day to June 12.”

Apparently, a bill was pending for a vote in the United States Congress. In 1946, the United States approved a $400 million war-damage related claims for the Philippines. This amount was not adequate, so an additional $73 million was needed to cover the remaining war damage claims.

Over the years, Congress dragged its feet to pay the additional claims. Finally, a $73-million appropriations bill was finally brought to the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote. One congressman who supported the bill said, “It is a debt of honor.” Other lawmakers thought that this was a debt that the United States could renege on.

President Kennedy’s administration deemed this bill as very important. The Speaker of the House, John McCormack was confident that the $73 million appropriations bill would pass that he did not take a headcount to make sure that he had the votes to win.

Due to some misunderstanding, the $73 million-war damage claim bill was defeated in the U.S. Congress. Many U.S. lawmakers decided to vote against this bill. One lawmaker said, “It was an economy vote. There aren’t any Philippine votes in our districts.”

Macapagal was very upset and canceled his goodwill trip to Washington D.C. and executed Executive Order 28 to change the Philippine Independence Day to June 12, 1898 from July 4, 1946. Sadly, 64 years later in 1962, EO 28 changed our Independence Day.

The defeat of the $73 million appropriations bill was a major setback for the Kennedy Administration. Nevertheless, President Kennedy promised Macapagal that he would give his stronger support to have the bill reintroduce and pass.

Macapagal hinted that he might be willing to change his mind about coming to the United States should the $73 million appropriations bill pass. Macapagal said, “I would be inclined to consider this a restoration of goodwill.”

We need to restore the true Philippine Independence Day of July 4, 1946 because this significant day was when the Philippines became a sovereign nation.

R Sonny Sampayan is an executive assistant for a major European bank in Manhattan. He is a University of Phoenix student, majoring in Public Administration, and expected to graduate in August 2011.


  1. Rene C. trance wrote:

    Good day to you! thanks you for your post. have read and found it very interesting. it is surely an article that discusses many issues on Phil-American relations, Philippine political history, and Philippine historiography.

    I think there’s much confusion on why Philippines celebrates its independence on 12 June and not on 04 July. Personally, i think it has something to do with the term ‘independence’. Definitions vary but one thing is very common among them: it is not given but gained through various means; it is the ruled who expresses it not the ruler.

    There are many sources on Philippine History, particularly about the historical periods concerned. i hope it’s one of the many ways we read, think, and cultivate the “Filipino-ness” in us.

    • Hello Rene C. Trance. Thank you for your comments. Their was no confusion of the Philippine Independence Day until Macapagal changed it for the wrong reason. I am not quite sure if Macapagal made it clear to our people what he was doing and why. Clearly, he was upset and took action. He and his advisers acted when they were upset and failed to make a decision based on sound judgment. There is no dispute that we gained (and granted) our Independence Day on July 4th. The June 12, 1898 was a misnomer as my friend recently commented on his e-mail, so why do we continue to celebrate a misnomer Independence Day? I don’t think it brings out the “Filipino-ness” in us. Thank you!

    • Bruce wrote:

      As an American born in the Philippines in 1934, I have read these posts with interest. All have good points. The Philippines have the right to declare their own Independence Day, whatever the specifics of history indicate.

      What matters now is its effect on the future. The 1898 date carries with it a snub at America, implying that the Philippines did not need American help and were, instead, an occupier who oppressed the people. What does that snub imply for the future? It indicates to me that the Philippines do not need or want American help. As an American, it tells me that it is a waste of money to assist the Philippines – they don’t need or want us. South Korea is a lot nicer to America than the Philippines. I’d put my money into South Korea, and even Japan, before sending it to the Philippines. At least the Japanese honor America for giving them democracy and an excellent Constitution.

      A new era is coming — the era of Chinese dominance. It comes as America is entering a new period of isolationism. Missiles and aircraft based in America are cheaper than foreign bases. The Chinese have a new aircraft carrier, new, quiet submarines, and are developing ballistic missiles to attack aircraft carriers. How will the Philippines fare as America draws back? The Chinese aircraft carrier is not there to fight the American fleet – but it would be very effective against nations like the Philippines and Vietnam who have no effective naval forces. Who will support the Philippine and Vietnamese claims for offshore oil, fisheries, and transportation routes?

      The Philippine decision on an independence day should be based on realpolitik, and should be part of an effort to throw their hat into the ring with America. The Philippines should re-open their bases to Americans and welcome Americans with open arms. It may be too late already – the American mood for isolationism is very strong, and perhaps cannot be reversed.

      Independence comes and goes. In 1898, the Germans and Japanese were looking for colonies and could easily have picked up the Philippines if America had not been there. Now, in this decade, you may need American help again or you will have to learn Chinese.

  2. Rene Pastor wrote:

    July 4 is so identified as an American holiday I don’t know if we could develop a sense of national identity if the date stayed in July.
    Whatever Macapagal’s motives maybe, the decision has gained such enormous popular acceptance among Filipinos who wanted a date that is uniquely their own.
    And admittedly, for a brief time in 1898, we were independent of foreign rule and resisted American control as much as we overthrew Spanish rule.
    A nation needs a sense of identity, an ethos of its own mythology, to forge the idea of country and nationhood. That is the function of a date of independence.

  3. Rene C. trance wrote:

    July 4, 1946 was set as the date for granting Philippine independence as provided by the Tydings McDuffie Law in 1936. This law granted 10 years to the US to train the Filipinos to govern themselves. This is not just about the giving of independence but the ideas about it. Meaning, how did the US view Filipinos then? Why gave them independence? Were we not capable of having it by ourselves?

    The concept of country and nationhood has many underpinnings. Surely, we need to forge our own idea of country and nationhood. Nevertheless, our basis of such remains very crucial when Filipinos view themselves alienated on the land they once made to believe a blessing from others…

  4. FilAm1551 wrote:

    Ditto to Rene Pastor’s comments. It was indeed a short-lived independence that Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo declared on June 12, 1898, complete with Articles of Declaration of Independence, because the Americans came in December of that year, precipitating the Battle of Manila Bay. The Spanish empire was crumbling around the world at that time, including in the Philippines, and America was rising, so the losing Spaniards pulled a trick on the Americans by “ceding” the Philippines to them for $20 million at the Treaty of Paris even though the Filipino revolutionaries had declared independence from them! Now, the revolutionaries were faced with a new enemy – the Americans – and the rest, as they say, is history. Our leaders changed our independence day to June 12 not because they were upset at the Americans but to assert our nationality. For a reading on Philippine history, I highly recommend “A History of the Filipino People” by Teodoro Agoncillo, the standard textbook on Philippine history at the University of the Philippines.

    • I think I can understand that some facts can be dismissed but some solid facts remains. Macapagal was upset with the United States because the US Congress failed to pass the $73 million War Damage Act, as a result, Macapagal cancelled his travel to the United States.

      Let’s fast forward to January 25, 1965 when Macapagal submitted his Fourth State of the Nation address. In his speech, he reminded the entire nation that it was under his administration that JFK signed into law the US Public Law 88-94 which amended the Philippine War Damage Act of 1962 that authorized $73 million payments to some 88,000 claimants.

      In the same SONA speech, Macapagal said, “it has been almost two decades since we attained independent nationhood…” In this speech Macapagal acknowledged that The Philippine Independence and nationhood (1965 minus 1946, equals 19 years) occurred in 1946, not 1898, otherwise, he would have said over six decades.

      The problem with the 1898 declaration was that Spain nor the United States recognized it. After the Commonwealth period, the United States and the Filipino people finally celebrated her Independence in 1946.

      I think Agoncillo is very good but we should also check other sources to balance what he missed or interpreted differently.

      • Rene Pastor wrote:

        When the U.S. declared its independence in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, no major European power immediately recognized it. French recognition and alliance came later. That came after the Battle of Saratoga when British general Burgoyne was beaten in 1777 and convinced France that the U.S. revolution is viable and winnable. The French navy helped win U.S. independence through the Battle of the Chesapeake bay which prevented British troop reinforcements from reaching Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781.
        The U.S. declaration was not accorded recognition by European powers, but it does not prevent Americans from honoring the date as their Independence Day.
        It would also be silly to ask for recognition from Spain since we were fighting them for independence. Since this was the era of European and American colonialism, it would be folly to expect the U.S. to recognize independence fighters that in fact mirrored their own revolutionaries.
        Recognition does not determine the date of independence. The actual reality should and the facts on the ground is that Filipino revolutionary forces had won independence from Spain and had declared their independence on June 12, 1898. For a few months, we were free until another colonial power came in.
        What Thomas McKinley did was bitterly opposed by Americans like Mark Twain who saw imperial acquisition as a betrayal of American ideals.
        The Filipino revolutionary forces were in control of the country outside of Manila and I believe Baler. The reality is that Spain handed over control of a territory it was no longer in control of. Taking the argument of historical accuracy to its logical conclusion, the date of June 12 as a declaration of independence is accurate. Why else did tens of thousands of Filipinos die (concentration camps in Samar) to defend a freedom won by revolution?
        Now if an American feels insulted that we would want to honor the actual date of our independence rather than the date they would impose on us, then that reflects a poor understanding of what drives people and animates their own love of freedom.
        If anything,an American should understand the power of symbolism for a nation and its people.; In the same way that Yorktown, Lexington and Concord symbolize the unyielding spirit of indep[endence for Americacans, so does Kwait, Cavite, represent such a spirit for Filipinos.

  5. Bruce Gordon wrote:

    I agree with Sonny that true independence of the Philippines occurred on July 4, 1946.

    Look back in history at what was going on in 1898. It was a period of active colonization. The revolt against Spain did not make the Philippines independent. It was the US Navy’s defeat of the Spanish in Manila Bay which made the Spanish position untenable. The Philippines could not have stayed independent for long without American support. The only question would be which power would grab it up. Germany and Japan were looking for territories. Think of how the Philippines would have fared under Germany or Japan.

    I mostly regret that America did not do more help the Philippines get on its feet in 1946. However, looking at the world in 1946, the war had left a huge area of devastation and everyone needed help. America was bringing home the troops in huge numbers, and they needed jobs at home. There was a lot of fear that the world economy would sink into another Great Depression. Many countries owed huge debts left over from wars, and now were lying in ruins.

    I was interested in Sonny’s research showing that America did give $400 million to help the Philippines, and that the $73 million was an additional amount. I have to admit that, as an American born in the Philippines, that I was angered by the Philippines changing their independence back to 1898. That was a purely nationalistic move, not based on fact, and was intended as a distinct slap at America. When we’ve just spent huge treasure and lives pushing back the Japanese (which also made Philippine independence possible) the move to 1898 was an insult to America. I personally felt insulted. After an insult, there is a lot less desire to help.

    The Philippines’ background anger at America was evident in the enthusiasm with which the Philippines reclaimed Clark Air Base and Subic Bay. That was a wrong move — the Philippines would have been economically ahead if they had linked their economy to America and allowed major US basing in the Philippines. The money would have transformed the Philippine economy. Kicking America out was a bit of nationalism that has a continuing economic price.

    The Philippines’ greatest economic asset is their excellent location. They can make best use of their geography to be a transit point for business, and as an American military base.

    The opportunity for linking with America has probably passed now. America is entering a period of drawing back from military adventures and we probably would not want a base in the Philippines any more. China is the growing power, and the Philippines will have to deal with China without American support. I think America has entered on a long-term isolationist trend. Why should America help defend Philippine sovereignty against Chinese incursions? The Philippines wanted independence more than prosperity, and now they have it.


  6. Rene C. Trance wrote:

    It’s very unfortunate that we have been debating on an issue that has long been resolved in the Philippines, especially among Filipino and foreign scholars who has specialized in the country’s history, culture, and diplomacy.

    I think there are many issues that have emerged from the foregoing discussions. Among others, there is an ensuing talk about the definition of history here: is it the narration and interpretation of events as they happened (history as actuality) or is it both narration and interpretation of events based on a given text?

    The way we define history in the first place has a number of implications: what sources are we going to employ? from whose perspective do we based our analysis? are we going to use the text as simply as it is or are we going to contextualize it? are we just reading the text as reading as an activity?

    While reading the responses, I think there are so much misunderstanding of what really happened. Let me point out some of them:

    (1) The Battle of Manila Bay is a mock battle. For references, please check the following: James Blount. American Colonization of the Philippines; Ambeth Ocampo. Rizal Without the Overcoat and Andres Bonifacio’s Bolo. Nick Joaquin, The Question of Heroes. Filipino Heritage Vol. 6-10. Reynaldo Ileto’s Pasyon and Rebolusyon.

    (2) There have been concerns on Philippine-US diplomacy as the former was a colony of the latter and as US colonization of the Philippines was characterized by what the American scholar Glenn May ‘social engineering’. For additional information, please read: Milton Meyer’s Philippine-US diplomatic relations, and Glenn May’s article Social Engineering in the Philippines published in Asian Studies.

    (3) Our concept of nationhood, independence, and colonization vary. But, one scholar who has set the tone for it is Benedict Anderson who wrote “Nation’s and State”. Another researcher who has dealt with this subject is Floro Quibuyen who authored a book on Rizal almost seven years ago.

    I do understand we differ in our views but we are still Filipinos. It is a good thing we discuss these. Nevertheless, I pray that we somehow meet at some points of agreement. That is, we could never find home if we still beg and view things far from our sense of being as a nation and community.

    • Bruce wrote:

      Rene – your points are mostly good, except that the Battle of Manila Bay was NOT a mock battle. It was a one-sided surprise attack, and Admiral Dewey did an excellent job of striking rapidly from Hong Kong and navigating past Corregidor Island into Manila Bay in darkness, in days without radar. It completely surprised and destroyed the Spanish fleet. It was no more of a mock battle than the Japanese air attack on Dec. 8, 1941, in which the Japanese flying from Formosa caught American planes on the ground at Clark Air Base and destroyed almost all of them. A successful surprise is NOT a mock battle.

      I think you are confusing the Battle of Manila Bay with the Battle of Manila some months later. That was indeed a mock battle (although several people were killed). Admiral Dewey did not have troops with him. After the Battle of Manila Bay, the USA brought troops from San Francisco (a long voyage) and moved them near to Manila. The Spanish in Manila were cut off on land by Filipino revolutionaries, and the US Navy blocked any escape through Manila Bay.

      The Spanish feared that they would be massacred by the Filipino revolutionaries (a reasonable fear) and agreed to surrender to the Americans if they would be protected from the Filipino rebels. However, Spanish pride would not let them surrender without a fight. So, there was a brief fight and several people were killed (the troops had not been told it was a mock battle). The Americans occupied Manila and kept the Filipino rebels out — and the stage was set for the standoff between Americans and Filipinos which would result in the Phil-Am War.

      That mock battle for Manila is seen by many Filipinos as a betrayal of the Revolution. I think it was an agreement which saved many lives — a massacre of the Spanish in Manila was avoided. However, the Phil-Am War could have been avoided through proper negotiations between the Americans and the Filipino rebels. The American Army was getting its orders from Washington, which was totally out of touch with the situation in the Philippines.

      The very best reference for these events is the official “Hearings before the Committee on the Philippines of the United States Senate”, April 10, 1902. This contains over a thousand pages of testimony and documents which I first obtained at great difficulty from library loan programs. I have now found it under Google Books and downloaded to my iPad, where I can read it at leisure.

  7. John M. wrote:

    Hi Sonny, your essay was a nice surprise. It brought back my first memory of the issue. I was actually flying to the PI from Korea and it must have Dec late 90s and I remember reading something in the paper about the Dec 98 independence date and asking myself, what’s that all about?

    I knew enough Philippine and US military history to assume the 4 July 1946 date was their independence date; at least since Spanish colonization (16th century?). I just assumed it was a political date and not a historic one. Now I understand it better.

  8. June 12,1898 is the birth date of the Republic of the Philippines. If July 4th was indeed the one- why is it that the same flag designed by Emilio Aguinaldo and the same national anthem commissioned by him is the same one being used today. Shouldn’t they have changed it, specially if the USA made it a crime to display the 1898 Flag or sing the Lupang Hinirang? For 12 years.

    July 4, 1946 is the date the USA recognized the Independence of the Philippines- effectively reclaiming the republic she grabbed from us in 1898. Almost every nation on earth celebrates the day when their nation signs the document that declares to their oppressors and tyrannical rulers that they have the right to be free and decide on their own destiny. 20% of the greatest generation of Filipinos defended this document and struck the first major blow against US Imperialism’s 126,000 invading troops and 400 million USD in resources. The June 12,1898 Declaration signed by 98 Filipinos representing the entire archipelago is the birth certificate of the nation; and not the July 4,1946 document called the Treaty of Manila. That is why this date- July 4th is now celebrated to highlight the “Liberation of Manila” called Fil-Am Friendship Day.

    Even USA and Mexico doses not celebrate the day the transfer of power from the ruler to the governed occurred- but the day they proclaimed their right to govern themselves.

    June 12 will stay and will forever be embraced by a grateful nation-whose founding fathers are Aguinaldo, Mabini,Rizal, Del Pilar and Bonifacio. This is very much similar to the Battle of Thermopayle- whose 300 Spartan’s heroic defense against the invading Persians was never in vain- for their valiant and ultimate sacrifice bore the fruit of freedom. Thus- the Filipino people proudly celebrates JUNE 12, display the flag which united an entire archipelago against US Imperialism- and remain alive in their hearts the spirit enshrined in the national anthem bequeathed by their country’s greatest generation -The Generation of 1898.

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