Manila, June 12, 2003 By Max V. Soliven (Star) Today, June 12, should be one of special significance to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, from a personal standpoint, aside from the very real significance it must have to 82 million Filipinos.

For it was GMA’s late father, President Diosdado Macapagal, who moved the date of the nation’s celebration of Independence from the fourth of July to a more fitting June 12th, the day our Revolutionary leader, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, proclaimed Independence in Kawit, Cavite, on June 12, 1898 – barely a month after he had returned from "exile" in Hong Kong.

Commemorating the date the American colonial rulers had "restored" our freedom (wrested from Spain by the Philippine Revolution, but betrayed by our American "allies") had long been not just an injustice to the men and women who had fought and bled for our freedom, bursting the chains of more than three centuries of Spanish domination; it had placed us, symbolically, almost permanently, in the shadow of the United States of America.

Our embassies abroad used to find it, in addition, a social embarrassment. Our envoys could never hold a fitting diplomatic reception to toast Philippine freedom since all the foreign diplomats, including the ministers of the host country, were always in a hurry to rush over to the US Embassy to join the American Fourth of July celebration.

Dadong, as the late President used to be called by friends and provincemates, aptly renamed July 4th Philippine-American Friendship Day and so it should remain. Let’s face it. There’s no shrugging off the shared memories and ideals that, after the bloodshed and anger of our revolutionary patriots’ clashes with them, were nurtured in the century that followed.

Long may our flag wave over our proud land! Forever may the freedom, so dearly won, shine in our hearts! May we, too, be always independent in mind and spirit. May we pledge ourselves, despite our disappointments and troubles, and the uncivil wars we continue to wage, to the pursuit of our people’s destiny.

We sing our National Anthem in many voices, but our hearts beat as one. Aside from our Pilipino version, our schoolchildren used to also sing half a generation ago our anthem in English. Those words still have the power to stir. Having been penned in the Golden Yesterday when our hearts were purer and our intentions more innocent, they are both moving and nostalgic.

In one line, the words are questing: See the radiance, feel the throb of glorious liberty? Indeed, despite our fog of disillusionments, we still do – and must count our blessings as a people. In another line, the Anthem hymns devotion to our land: With fervor burning, Thee do our hearts adore!

Old-fashioned these words may be, even corny in the context of these cynical times. Yet, they remain a bugle call to every one of us. We shout Mabuhay today in exuberance and faith. We honor our heroes and patriots, past and present. We look forward to the future, and all our tomorrows, with confidence – and joy. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!

* * *

The President has been in Mindanao the past three days, "doing the job I should be doing" (in her own words).

At 7:30 this morning, she will raise the flag in General Santos City. At 3 p.m. this afternoon, she will address the nation from the Zamboanga Coliseum (a sports stadium, really, despite its hi-falutin’ name – seating about 5,000 – in Barangay Tetuan in Zamboanga City.

It’s clear the Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief is showing the flag in Mindanao – serving notice to all, particularly the separatists, that Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago are forever intertwined with our nation as an integral part of our strong Republic and our sovereign territory.

We have to commend GMA’s statements of the past two days. Where she earlier appeared to be waffling on "new" peace negotiations kuno with the murderous Moro Islamic Liberation Front (there are too many whisperers at her elbow), she has reiterated that the government and its forces will brook no nonsense from this fanatical rebel-cum-bandit group.

The MILF are, indeed, terrorists – no amount of euphemisms can paper over that fact. They are in cahoots with Jemaah Islamiyah and al-Qaeda, no matter how indignantly and hypocritically their Chief Braggart Eid Kabalu, the quondam matinee idol of radio-TV, may deny it. They must be fought – and disarmed. Right now, despite the arrest warrants extant against their leaders for bombings, arson, murders and other heinous crimes, they’re still trying to disarm us with words – with the deceitful cooperation of the Surrender Gang which still revolves around the President.

The MILF has, fortunately, exposed their much-touted "unilateral ceasefire" as a farce, by attacking government troops in Munai, Lanao del Norte. Some of their apologists are arguing that separate MILF groups may violate their own truce because they don’t always listen to the "unified command". If armed gangs, consisting of hundreds of men, can’t be controlled by the MILF leadership, then it’s clear its no use foolishly forging any "peace" agreement in the future that won’t hold. (Nonetheless GMA has designated Secretary [ex-General] Ed Ermita to pursue the attack.)

Ad nauseam,
I repeat: As long as there are armed men roaming around Mindanao, there can never be peace. Only the "peace" of doublecross, and the peace of the grave.

* * *

I’m informed the Independence reception and "toast" will be held tonight aboard the BRP Ang Pangulo, the Presidential yacht, which is moored in Zamboanga. Dozens of ambassadors and diplomats will be winging into Zamboanga this morning to attend that Vin d’Honneur.

Where they’ll stay in that city of one million persons is somewhat problematical. Possibly, some of them may be accommodated aboard the yacht which is anchored off Calarian, in the Southcom’s Naval Forces South base. Others may be placed inside the nearby SouthCom compound, in the so-called Pension House (a.k.a. "The Ghadafy House" in the old days, since it was first built with Libyan gift-money during the heyday of the Macoy-Imelda honeymoon with Libyan strongman Col. Ghadaffy which culminated in the signing of the Tripoli Agreement). Normally, visiting VIPs are billeted there, but only a few can be accommodated.

Outside, the only modern hotel, I think, is The Orchid, plus another, if you count the rather careworn, but formerly romantic hotel, the Lantaka, which used to be the Hotel Bayot. In the midst of the tricycle rush is, of course, the Astoria, which has an excellent Chinese restaurant.

Oh well, that’s the problem of Malacañang, the DFA and the PSG.

* * *

Earlier in this piece, I mentioned that the population of Zamboanga City is now one million. This is not the figure normally admitted by Zamboanga Mayor Maria Clara "Caling" Lobregat, or her son, the feisty Zamboanga Congressman Celso Lobregat Jr. Usually, Caling says 500,000 to 600,000, if I recall. The Lobregats’ political critics claim they don’t admit the population of Zamboanga Mon Amour (the title of a popular coffee table book) has spiralled to a million, because they don’t want the city divided into two electoral districts.

Be that as it may, Zambo is one of our government’s key cities and, aside from Davao and GenSan, the "front line" outpost of the government’s and our military’s strategy to contain subversion and religious fundamentalism. Ours is a secular Republic, and we must fight to keep it that way.

* * *

Incidentally, the family of Roland Ullah is plaintively asking: Where is he? Ullah is the Zamboanga man who was held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf for three years (after he was seized by the original ASG kidnappers, led by Commander Robot, in Sipadan Island, Malaysia). Ullah, a former Red Cross driver in Zamboanga, had been working in that Malaysian resort in Sabah as a diving-instructor when he was abducted by the raiding Abus, along with the many foreign guests which they hold for ransom.

Ullah reportedly "escaped" from the Abu Sayyaf a week ago and was taken into custody by the military for "tactical interrogation". Why is it taking long? Up to now, his wife Joy complains, neither she nor any member of Roland’s family has been able to see him or visit him. They don’t even know why he is being held!

Don’t you think this is cruel as well as inexplicable? Was Ullah a hostage, and, therefore, should be freed, or is he being held as a "prisoner" by our Southern Command? If so, why? I think the Southcom Commander, Maj. Gen. Roy Kyamko, who is escorting the President, along with Armed Forces Chief of Staff, General Narcing Abaya, should make a clarification. And, for God’s sake, tell his distraught wife, Joy, what’s happening to him!

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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