12 June 2021 marked the 123rd celebration of Philippine Independence Day. The roots of this celebration can be traced to the time when former President Emilio Aguinaldo issued a 21-page decree entitled "Acta de la Proclamacion de la Independencia del Pueblo Filipino," following the claim of victory by the Filipino American troops against Spanish forces in the Battle of Manila on May 1898. On the same day, the Philippine flag was waived for the first time while the Marcha Nacional Filipina was played.

123 years after, are we indeed a truly independent country? At face value, we have our own Philippine Constitution, form of government, and elected leaders. However, there are various indicators showing that we are not yet free from the bondage of debt, oppression, and occupation.

As of end of 2020, the Philippines' outstanding external debt stood at USD 98.5 billion or Php 4.9 trillion. This is more than the Php 4.5 trillion National Budget for 2021. Interest rates are expected to further drive these debt numbers award, especially as debt servicing allocation is expected to be decreased in the forthcoming years for post-pandemic economic recovery and rehabilitation plans. This means that our unborn children or grandchildren are already burdened with paying off debt.

In recent years, illegal occupation of islands supposedly considered part of Philippine territories has affected the livelihoods of many of our fishermen in the name of protecting and preserving diplomatic relations with other countries. The recent issues on the West Philippine Sea have become so contentious to a point that many quarters claim that the Philippine Government has become beholden to the powers-that-be due to pledges for infrastructure and other developmental projects, and supply of vaccines.

Many Filipinos are still forced to jobs outside of the country, mindful of the many cases of abuse committed against OFWs particularly on domestic helpers. There are many unreported cases of torture, slavery and abuse committed against OFWs as many are in desperate need of jobs to feed their families especially in this time of pandemic.

The term "1-2-3" has a different connotation in Philippine Street language. When you have been so-called 1-2-3'd, it means you have been tricked or fooled by someone or somebody. It is a coincidence that this year marks the 123rd celebration of Independence Day. 

The question is--- have we been tricked or made to believe that we have truly achieved independence 123 years ago and today? It is for a few to know and for many to find out.

About the Author
Mr. Aaron Benedict De Leon is currently a Business Development Practitioner in a private consulting firm. He has more than six years of professional experience in leading and managing political and non-government organizations, specializing in organizational management, policy development and program management. He has had stints with notable political/socio-civic organizations, serving in various capacities as: Secretary-General of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines (CDP) [2013-2015], Founding Chairperson of the Centrist Democratic Youth Association of the Philippines (CDYAP) [2012-2014], Philippine Representative to the International Young Democrat Union (IYDU) [2011-2012], Chairperson of the Christian Democratic Youth [2011-2012], Secretary-General of YOUTH Philippines [2010-2011], and Spokesperson/Communications Director of the GT2010 Gilbert Teodoro Presidential Campaign [2009-2010].
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