, JUNE 13, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo renewed yesterday her call for national unity and urged Filipinos to work together for their “independence from poverty.”

In her brief Independence Day message yesterday at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park, Mrs. Arroyo also vowed to continue “putting people ahead of politics by focusing relentlessly on the economy.”

The country celebrated yesterday the 109th anniversary of the declaration of independence.

“If our heroes fought for us to attain freedom from oppressors, it is only fitting and necessary that we continue to pursue the noble aim to free our countrymen from poverty,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

“One hundred and nine years later, the struggle for freedom still rolls forward –freedom from want and freedom from fear – as we march together in the fight against poverty and terror,” she said.

The President congratulated the newly elected officials and reminded them – and Filipinos in general – of their obligation to their ancestors and heroes who died for the country’s freedom.

“The Filipino people are deeply hoping for political stability and economic reforms. Our countrymen want us to continue the path where the people come first before politics,” she said.

“It is our deepest hope that they set aside politics for now and continue to vote for programs that have made our nation a new destination in Asia for business and investment.”

The Arroyo administration enjoys overwhelming support from the House of Representatives but faces an opposition-dominated Senate, some of whose members even vowed to revive investigations of various irregularities allegedly involving Malacañang.

“To keep reforms growing,” Mrs. Arroyo said she is “determined to engage all parties to move forward in a unified way to stay on the path of economic reform and fiscal discipline.”

Mrs. Arroyo arrived at 7 a.m. for the flag-raising ceremonies at the Rizal Monument where a group of Philippine Military Academy cadets gave her full military honors.

Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. escorted the President. Two soldiers clad in Katipunero uniform later carried the wreath of white blooms, which the President laid on a suspended platform at the foot of the Rizal Monument.

A helicopter rained down red and white rose petals as well as square-shaped red, yellow, blue, and yellow papers – the colors of the Philippine flag – on Rizal Park grounds during the 20-minute ceremony.

The ceremonies were followed by a parade of government personnel including members of the armed services. Three prominent transport modes in the country’s history – balanghay, jeepney, and tranvia – were also highlighted in the parade.

At the traditional vin d’ honneur with members of the diplomatic corps at Malacañang, Mrs. Arroyo thanked the international community for its support, including its efforts to promote peace and development in Mindanao.

“With the help of sincere allies like you, we shall continue to break free from the shackles that pin us down —poverty, divisiveness, terrorism, despondency —until one day, perhaps 20 years from now, we shall join the ranks of the first world nations among you,” she said.

Speaking on behalf of the diplomatic corps, Papal Nuncio Archbishop Fernando Filoni expressed support for the administration’s economic agenda and congratulated the new members of Congress.

“Your ambitious plan to dedicate especially your government to alleviate poverty, to building a stronger economy, and to strengthen the rule of law is very important,” Filoni said. “When the economy expands 6.9 percent, the strongest in 17 years, we see one of the pillars of your government becoming true. We wish you success in all your efforts.”

Of the House of Representatives, Filoni said, “this very high institution, together with the Senate, makes the voice of the people known to enact laws and to respond to the needs of the country.

“From a concept of the cooperation between the Executive, the Legislative, the Judicial and the administrative systems, the Filipino people can secure for themselves, precious benefits in all sectors of life,” Filoni said.

What freedom?

Chief Justice Reynato Puno echoed Mrs. Arroyo’s call for “freedom from poverty” but decried the worsening human rights situation in the country and the rampant cases of fraud and violence in the elections.

Puno was guest speaker at the Independence Day rites at the Andres

Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan City.

Puno says there is no freedom for as long as Filipinos live in poverty, ignorance, and electoral fraud.

In his speech, Puno likened the arbitrary arrests and the killings by the Spanish Civil Guards of Filipino freedom fighters to the present extrajudicial killings.

Puno also called on Filipinos to remain united and not allow any room for political treachery, citing the tragic fate of Katipunan founder Andres Bonifacio, who was killed on May 10, 1897 at Mt. Nagpatong by his former comrades. A band of revolutionaries led by Maj. Lazaro Makapagal executed Bonifacio on the orders of Gen. Mariano Noriel.

“Let’s not allow selfishness to reign in our hearts and make us betray our country,” he said.

“For as long as Filipinos lack education, we are not free. A person

who does not know his rights and responsibilities in a society, is not free. For as long as there is poverty and people leave the country for lack of hope for a better future and there are beggars and criminals in the streets, we are not free. For as long as our sacred vote is desecrated, we are not free,” said Puno in his speech.

Puno said that while it is important to recognize the heroism of the Filipino revolutionaries, it is also important to work for a better future and not be distracted by the corruption of the system.

“Now that we have achieved our freedom, then why not the sweetness and bliss of a caring society?”

True patriot

Unlike many elected officials who seem to care less about history, Aguida Adriano, 84, of Barangay San Agustin, Malolos, Bulacan has been attending annual activities at the historic Barasoain Church for over 40 years.

The activities include the annual Republic Day celebrated every Jan. 23, the Independence Day every June 12th, and the Malolos Congress Day celebrated every Sept. 15.

A widow of a war veteran and mother of 10, Lola Aguida as she is popularly known, has been attending the activities since the 1960s.

Last year, a disease left her confined on a wheelchair but this did not stop her from attending the activities.

“I want to hear what they’re saying,” she told the STAR when asked why she showed up at yesterday’s 109th Independence Day celebrations here.

Lola Aguida was with her daughter Corazon Adriano-Espiritu, 48. “Most of the time, it is she who reminds me of the activities here,” Corazon said referring to her mother.

It only shows that Lola Aguida’s memory remains sharp. As a matter of fact, she can still vividly recall how they survived during World War II.

“We hid most of the time and we hit the ground every time we heard aircraft approaching,” she said. It was during the war when she met her husband Eriberto Lim Adriano who passed away in 1980. At present, Lola Aguida gets sustenance from the veterans pension.

“History is important and I have fond memories during occasions like this,” she said. “I’ll never tire of doing this.”

Tourist event

More than just commemorating the country 109th Independence Day, yesterday’s parade at the Luneta Park was actually conceived to lure more foreign tourists to the country.

Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano, head of the celebration’s organizing committee, said they deviated a bit from the traditional parade to make this year’s event fascinating not only to Filipinos but also to foreign visitors.

“We used to have all floats in the past but not this time and we also brought foreign tour groups to witness the celebration,” Durano said after the parade.

Durano pointed out that the Independence Day celebration – highlighted by the “Parada ng Kalayaan” – was not for government workers alone.

“Independence Day is for everyone, for all Filipinos, including those who are now in different countries abroad. It’s not only for the government but for the people,” Durano said.

Durano noted that this year, they came out with the so-called “Barangay Kalayaan” so that they could make the people aware of the different government programs and provide services to the public.

The tourism chief said the celebration was also meant to remind all Filipinos to unite for the country’s progress.

“Since it’s just after the elections so we chose the theme Sama sama Tayo Tungo sa Pag-asenso so we could remind ourselves not only of our history but also of the efforts for nation building and that only in unity can there be progress. We have to move forward now,” he said. - with Mike Frialde, Dino Balabo, Mayen Jaymalin

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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