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Independence is all about freedom. Fundamental freedoms recognized the world over through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights include FREEDOM OF SPEECH, FREEDOM OF BELIEF, FREEDOM FROM FEAR, and FREEDOM FROM WANT.

Undoubtedly, freedom of speech is as strong as ever since the restoration of democracy in 1986. It was only during the administration of Gloria Arroyo that this basic human right came under serious attacks by her “Strong Republic.” Remember her “CPR” or Calibrated Preemptive Response policy against the massive protests then in the wake of the Garci scandal on her having cheated in the 2004 elections? The Supreme Court declared then: “In sum, this Court reiterates its basic policy of upholding the fundamental rights of our people, especially freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.”The Court went on, “[f]or this reason, the so-called calibrated preemptive response policy has no place in our legal firmament and must be struck down as a darkness that shrouds freedom. It merely confuses our people and is used by some police agents to justify abuses.” (Bayan v. Ermita, GR No. 169838, April 25, 2006)

Freedom of belief is equally strong. We have the most pluralistic society when it comes to religion. This is rooted in our trademark Filipino hospitality, that is, of smiling openness and tolerance. If at all there are “warring” religions, these are confined to TV name-calling. We don’t see here any massacre of believers, ethnic cleansing, or burning of churches or places of worship that have happened in other countries.

Freedom from fear, however, remains most difficult to achieve. Decades-old insurgencies, private armies, and the continuing threat of terrorism are dangers that have kept us on edge and at such a high price in terms of lives lost, economic dislocation, and underdevelopment. At least as to insurgency, the contending parties are talking. For so long as they are talking, they are not shooting at each other and there’s hope for peace. The Maguindanao Massacre displayed the horrific results of government inaction on private armies for self-serving political gains by those in power. Terrorism is an altogether different matter that reminds us that there are just evil people in our world. And we must never let our guard down.

Since our heroes fought for independence, freedom from want has been our most elusive dream. Massive grinding poverty rages across our land. Too bad, we are obsessed in emotional debates on what should otherwise be the private concern of our people rather than on how to ensure the right education and the right job for each striving citizen. I bet a much greater number of hours has been wasted on the controversial RH bill compared to the time that has been focused on such a critical proposal as the K+12 as well as the nation’s economic health. To this day, for example, we are a country where great wealth remains in the hands of only a few privileged families.

Happy Independence!