Independence Day celebrations in the Philippines are not as big as other religious events, unlike in other countries where Independence Day parades, picnics, and firework displays are held in main cities. One may wonder whether the lack of fervor in celebrating a significant political event such as a country’s independence or national day reflects the citizens’ level of appreciation for the fundamental value of freedom. Could it be that independence or freedom is taken for granted like the air we breathe, until we notice that there is nothing to breathe in?
There are nation states where liberty is at the very core of a person’s life as seen in media broadcasts of their nationals who consider the matter of wearing masks or not during the pandemic as a matter of personal choice in practice of freedom, unmindful that one’s freedom not to wear a mask ends where the right to freedom of another (who wants to stay well and thus protects himself by wearing a mask) begins. Freedom goes together with independence. To be independent requires a certain degree of maturity to be able to handle one’s own affairs and an ability to preserve one’s freedom. But freedom does not mean “without boundaries”, as it is limited by the imperative to respect the freedom of others as one exercises his freedom.
Whether we are talking of an individual or a nation wishing to remain independent and free, it requires hard work. The quotation, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” points to the precariousness of freedom. Losing one’s freedom can happen silently, like a frog being slowly boiled to death, not noticing the heat until it is too late to jump out of the boiling water. And I am not referring to political or economic freedoms only. If one recalls basic discussions on what makes a human being unlike other animals, it is man’s free agency or the ability to make rational moral decisions as the single characteristic that makes him different. These days the influence of algorithms on an individual’s choices is being raised as trolls and bots using big technology are eroding an individual’s ability to make moral choices based on truth. The use of big data by political and mercantile actors may eventually take over one’s ability to think well as he “buys” ideas, values (even prejudices), and consumer stuff being sold on social media.
We have also been taught that our personal freedom ends where the right to freedom of the next person begins. Freedom is an ironic phenomenon in the sense that it can only be preserved by limiting it and by not exercising it limitlessly as it may harm others.
We in the academic community understand the importance of protecting our political and intellectual freedom. An individual cannot reach her full potential without the environment of freedom. One has only to read about those whose dreams are crushed by repressive authorities who insist on their way; or one may watch TV footages on those who cross mountains and seas—some die in the process—just to be able to breathe free elsewhere.
As we commemorate once again our independence day, it is our prayer at Miriam College that we nurture our independence and freedom so we can continue to fulfill God’s plan for us and for others by remembering that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1)