One hundred twenty years after the establishment of the First Philippine Republic proclaimed in Kawit, Cavite on June 12, 1898, we now realize that independence means many things other than freedom from foreign domination.

When we speak of independence today, we refer to an entity, the Philippine Republic, that is free to run its own affairs. We have a government that can make decisions on its own, without interference by other nations or by foreign institutions. And we have a people who are free to choose what kind of political, economic and social system they want to have based on their own history, culture and traditions.

Beyond the enjoyment of formal political independence, however, there is the imperative to give full play to the substantive aspects of freedom.

We have already erected the foundations of a modern and progressive nation from the ruins of war and restored democracy from the dark days of dictatorship.

But there are formidable challenges to be hurdled if we are to lend substance to 120 years of national independence.

We must extend full protection to human rights and give the widest possible leeway for the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom to express grievances and to peacefully assemble.

We must continue to lend substance to formal political independence by strengthening our democratic institutions.

Roughly one-fourth of all Filipinos now live in poverty. We should strive to lift them out of poverty by creating jobs, achieving food security and improving the welfare and over-all quality of life of the people.

In other words, we must ensure freedom from poverty, hunger, ignorance and disease.
Systemic corruption results in the diversion of billions of pesos from the national treasury to private pockets, funds that should instead be used to build more public infrastructure and deliver vital services, such as education and health, to the poor and the disadvantaged.
And while we have achieved much progress in achieving peace in Mindanao, we still have to address the root causes of armed rebellion in other parts of the country.

In the era of globalization and borderless trade, we now emphasize interdependence and partnership among nations.

Cooperation and partnership with other countries have increasingly been the norm, with our active participation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) since the late 1960s proof that regional cooperation works.

Beyond promoting economic interdependence, nations are realizing that they must also cooperate or forge partnerships to deal with terrorism and climate change.

Globalization is a fact of life that we can ignore only at our own peril, but accepting it should not mean the total surrender of national sovereignty nor the abdication of our right to determine our own pace of development. We should adapt to globalization with full recognition of our own particular needs and our own concrete conditions.

We must ensure that the sacrifices of our forebears 120 years ago shall not have been in vain. That means our people, especially the youth, should zealously guard our independence even as we strive towards enhanced democracy as well as justice and prosperity for all in the years ahead.

Genuine independence consists not only in asserting our sovereignty as a nation, but more important, in giving our people the means by which they can face the future with dignity and confidence.

Kudos to SSS

Having left regular employment and the daily grind in 2001 in favor of telecommute/freelance writing and editing work, I decided to file an application for retirement with the main office of the Social Security System (SSS) early this week.
I had expected the process to be too cumbersome and time-consuming, as the pension fund has millions of current members and pensioners. But much to my surprise, it took me a little more than just an hour to file my application for loan restructuring and retirement benefits. The agency had nearly complete records of my contributions since I began working in 1975 in a small shop selling office supplies on Taft Avenue in Manila and went on to do NGO development work and then mainstream journalism until 2000, when the broadsheet SunStar Manila closed down. Ms. Wilma Guevarra of the Membership Assistance Center did just what her office was tasked to do, which is to help members past and present to avail themselves of benefits. Ms. Guevarra went through my computerized records and asked for supporting documents in a very efficient and cordial manner and told me that I should check in three weeks whether my papers had been processed and approved. She’s definitely an asset to the SSS and deserves praise for doing her job well.