Advent Of An Island Nation

Four Hunded Years ago a group of fertile islands was known to dot this side of the blue Pacific. The semi barbarous and warlike dwellers were living in scattered communities independent of one another. They hardly had a social union. Many a time they fell upon one another to settle their tribal wrongs, and their Moro brothers from the South and their Sangley neighbors from the North were not without a share in the stir of primitive unrest. A ready prey to selfish aggression, they did not fail to arouse the interest of European nations. The English, the Dutch, the Portuguese even the Chinese all tried to grab from the hospitable islander his lawful possession. In the guise of religious conquest the adventurous subjects of Philip II proclaimed themselves masters of this group of fruitful isles and called it their Philippines. Instead of the petty rajahs, the Spanish lords obtruded their power and undertook the efficient task of reconstructing the rude institutions of an Oriental people divided into about thirty tribes of different customs and dialects.

Difficult indeed was the noble works begun by the early Spaniards; but no sooner have the docile native learned the key to western knowledge than midieval civilization wrought its magic upon his receptive nature and did away with his antiquated arts. In his unconditional surrender to his white conquerors he renounced his tribal superstitions to receive the blessings of Christianity. His progress was wonderful, and his aspirations increased commensurately. But the haughty instinct of the Iberian blood changed that paternal regime into one of repression and absolute despotism. Instead of giving encouragement, the padre, the encomendero, and the gobernadorcillo began to dislike, to despise, and even to ridicule their native ward because he was learning so rapidly than was consistent with his subordinate position.

This treatment shocked the awakening Malay. He remonstrated with his local masters, with the Cortes and with the King; and even resorted to a series of petty revolts, but of no avail. His most earnest efforts gained for him only unkept promises to right the wrongs which the Spaniards could not, and would not, see. Was he to give up, close his eyes, and accept the innumerable injustices in a passive humiliation? He had too much self respect, and his native land was too dear to him. He bided his time. In 1872 the Cavite cry of “Death to Spain!” sounded an alarm for the worse. And on that early morn of December 30, 1986, when the Spanish ladies and gentlemen rejoiced on leaving their homes to witness the execution of Rizal because he had exposed the social cancer which afflicted his brethren, the inhabitants of these three hundred islands, enraged by the cowardly slaughter, united into one Filipino people in defiance of that once powerful colonial empire.

Reason could not correct the oppression of the Spaniards, and the Filipinos resolved to obtain justice by more bloody process. With but the bolo and spear and a few guns, a power was to be overthrown. The difficulties was formidable. But during the opportune period when “God gave victory to the American arms at Manila Bay,” the Filipinos not only succeeded in checking the Spanish evil but also in establishing their dreamed-of Filipino Republic. Emboldened by that astounding success, the native soldier, summoning all the energetic elements of his Malay heritage, brandished his sword in the face of the sturdy Yankees and demanded the coveted sanction of the ephemeral republic. But he mistook right from might, and received a staggering blow.

Such is the sad history of my sun-kissed land. Dispossessed of their original heritage, deprived of their inborn right to govern themselves, inhumanly oppressed in their subjugation by foreign yoke, and bitterly thwarted in their lawful aspirations, my revered ancestors resisted only to suffer the pangs of defeat and famine. The more I learn of the many battles in which they engaged their enemy and how desperately they fought, the more is my wonder not that they did not win for us the blessings of liberty but that we were not wholly exterminated. Fortunately those wars are over. Ancient wrongs and tribal warfares have passed away.

There are no Drapers2 any longer, no Moro pirates, no Limahongs3 to disturb the tranquility of our shores. Spain taught best to withdraw from this laboratory  of colonial policies, and Castilian cruelty and duplicity are now a mere recollection. The American eagle swept away the menacing inquisition, and once more the downtrodden people of yore have come into their own.

Those painful experiences, the unnecessary destruction on property, the sanguinary toll of many humble life, and the inevitable calamities of those devastating wars have forged for us a more beautiful national ideal. Once more we are united, not by the hatred of a common oppressor, but by the spirit of a bloody, brutal vengeance against a foreign intuder, but by the great desire for a swift realization of that consecrated ideal. The great republic of the liberty-loving people whose avowed object in retaining these islands is “primarily for the welfare of the Filipinos,” has afforded safety to our new battlefields where we have fought and are still fighting a bloodless revolution. His fertile soil and these beautiful islands are not fit for the conflict of arms. War is inhuman and destructive. The iron and fire policy of Bismarck is not our deliverer, and the United States of America ─ that mother of Republics ─ is not our England. In Mindanao, Visayas, Luzon and throughout the whole archipelago we have waged another, a more lasting war ─ the war of Peace.

The siege is peculiar. We have summoned every Filipino man, woman and child, and instructed them in the language of reserve and industry. Though without an enemy we have equipped them all for the strife. We have armed our children with books, and built school houses for their trenches. Some we have sent abroad to learn the tactics of war. We have provided our women with the most powerful weapons of modern times ─ virtue and perseverance. We have fitted out our working men with impressive tools and modern implements. Instead of the familiar sworn and gun, we have supplied our old veterans with peace and patience – and the plow. In place of cannons we have substituted machinery. We have manned our new battleships with merchants and fishermen and bidden them to guard our coasts. Our old generals are again in command, not of the rank and file of man-killers, plunderers, robbers, but of an army of laboreres, mechanics, farmers! The Aguinaldo of the Revolution is now the Aguinaldo of the hacienda and, voicing the spirit of this new Philippine endeavor, has rallied his willing army with the battlecry: “Peace and Prosperity, Enlightenment and Liberty for All !”

We are still in the prime of this struggle, but lo! What new vistas present themselves to our eyes! Yonder are verdant farms and outstretching railways. Where armies have marched and fought, we now see good roads and concrete bridges. On the old battlefields where once was spoil and blood, plants are thriving ─ coconut, hemp, sugar cane, tobacco and what not. In the old ravines were the bones of our fallen soldiers have changed to dust, we discern men and machines at work ─ extracting the untold wealth for centuries unexplored. We hear the whistle of distant factories and busy worshops rallying organized workers instead of dogs of war. The muffled hum of awakened trade has benumbed the deafening roar of the cannons. Along our coast where the Moro pirates were wont to raid, we see steamships plying, laden with Philippine products ready for export. In our rivers, in our valleys, in our forests, in our rocky mountains, everywhere around us we see progress in avery avenue of development. The wand of prosperity has touched this fertile soil and turned a land of bondage into a land of plenty. How gratifying to contemplate these promising changes! All these have been accomplished in 16 short years.

Who would doubt that with these auspicious indications we shall achieve a stronger Philippines? Can conscientious observation overlook the fact that with our present system of education we are producing a new type of Filipino people ─ robust and intelligent, peaceful and industrious? Who will not admit that under the wise and benign guidance of the United States of America we have learned the way of self-government and to self-dependance? With these past accomplishment and still greater possibilities, who is so blind as to resist the conviction that we shall justify our cherished national hopes?

We may not realize any sudden developments but with undying devotion to our material prosperity and intellectual advancement, we can “make bonds of freedom wider yet.” When that prosperity and advancement shall have become potent realities, that simple but massive monument which now stands on the historical spot where once the garrote  cast its dreadful shadow, shall but proclaim a progressive, intelligent, greater Philippine hailing with the benediction of that noble martyr the advent of a Filipino nation.

1Father to the vision embodied in this winning oration at the University of the Philippines where he delivered it in 1913 as a law student, was Rizal’s dream graphically and touchingly revealed in his immortal swan-song, My Last Farewell. Consciously and perhaps subconsciously, Quirino labored unceasingly since then for the attainment of this country’s freedom. He helped lay the foundation and piled on it stone upon stone until the great work was finished. This he did by taking active and sometimes decisive part in the Island’s struggle for independence successively as representative, senator, delegate of the Constituent Assembly, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Finance, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Vice President, and Chief Magistrate of the new Philippine Republic, his envisioned ‘Island Nation.’ Upon the proclamation of the Philippine independence on July 4, 1946, Quirino was Vice President and such was a principal witness to the turn-over of the sovereignty. Two years later he assumed the Presidency, his team-mate and fellow nation-builder, Manuel Roxas, having suddenly died at Clark Field, Pampanga 

2 Gen. William Draper with Admiral Cavendish invaded the Philippines on Sept. 22, 1962 and their men raped Manila early in October of that year.

3 A notorious Chinese pirate who in 1574 attempted to conquer the Islands.

Source: Juan Collas, The Quirino Way : Collection of Speeches and Addresses by Quirino, Elpidio (Manila: Juan Collas, 1955), pp 1-4.