TIM D. here again…
When I was given an offer to write about Philippine independence, I didn’t hesitate to seize the opportunity.
In my local church, I have preached a sermon on how God is the sustainer of the Christian life and how His grace reaches out to man in many ways.
I maintained that one of the world’s nations that have received the gospel in a remarkable way was the Philippines.
Technically considered as the “only Christian nation in Southeast Asia”, not only does the Philippines have the highest overt confessors of Christianity, it is also considered one of the main gateways to Asia.
At the risk of inviting controversy, I take a trip down to what, in my view, has been the story of God’s wise, strategic, and fascinating movement in the Philippines as a nation and how our current status, as declared by the Constitution, as a sovereign democratic republican state became a direct result of that. As a result, it has enabled us to view our literal and figurative position in the region — and indeed the whole world — through the eyes of Christian missions taking part in God’s plan to redeem mankind through the gospel.
It is general knowledge that like most of its neighbors, the Philippines had just been your typical “Malayan” archipelago composed of tribes perhaps ruling certain island jurisdictions with a primitive political system that leans towards feudalism. We call them the “Maharlikas”. The religious system is widely known to be animism wherein special gods for special needs were worshiped and brought offerings to as they are associated with the forces of nature and whatnot.
European renaissance had been in its prime and conquest had been the interest of the era. These civilizations had been known to run under a peculiar mix of the rules of kings (or queens) and religious heads which have had significant influences on how the Government would be run.
It is known that it is somehow by accident that Ferdinand Magellan arrived at the Philippines in its state it was in. History tells us that he dies shortly after. But this would be the start of the initial modernization of the nation and, with that, its proto-Christianity.
Widely understood as it is, the 300-year colonization yielded many challenges to the nation but not without yielding bright minds that are as careful in their judgments as they are sharp in finally establishing their assessments of the society. These names are familiar to anybody who has been through the educational system. These are whom I call the Philippines’ first classical liberals. Leaning towards the bloodlines of the privileged elite as they may be with mixed ethnicities and perhaps a drop of the blood of the nation’s then-exploiters, these men and women have placed themselves at the frontlines of inadvertently being the voice of God in fundamental ways by introducing the Filipino people to their missional destiny — beyond a predominantly political orientation.
One such example of a person is called Jose Rizal. As compelling as it was to throw the baby out with the bathwater in his assessments of the entire colonial regime of his time by dismissing Christianity altogether for its malevolent use in favor of oppression, Christianity, in fact, gave him a profound impetus to do the things that he did for the country.
Taking it at its own terms, the Philippine’s then own renaissance man saw hope in the character and the intentions of Jesus Christ which had been so eclipsed and distorted beyond recognition by those who were supposed to faithfully represent what Jesus was really all about. For him, there was no problem with Christianity when taken on its own terms. Encountering the Scriptures and interacting with the faithful from the then clergies, the worldview of Rizal had effectively been founded on the same grounds that the democracies in the western civilization had been founded on, the United States of America as the most notable example, and these grounds being known in philosophy as the Judeo-Christian values.
Minds like Rizal proved that more than its reconcilability with political reason, Christianity would prove to be a strong foundation of sound political reason and social change. He and his contemporaries having been convinced of this notion paved the way for the Nation’s reception of an outpour of God’s grace in the Christian gospel. This leads to the first Malolos Constitution, one that recognizes a “Sovereign Lawgiver”, with a preamble that reads:
We, the Representatives of the Filipino People, legally convened to establish justice, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and ensure the blessings of liberty, imploring the aid of the Sovereign Lawgiver of the Universe in order to obtain these objectives, have voted, decreed and approved the following:
Treaty of Paris happens and the Philippines is sold to a then formative United States of America. Fiendish as the nation had been to the western superpower, the further colonization further aerated the soil of our nations for the seed of the gospel, not disregarding the real challenges and injustices still being carried out throughout the different parts of the nation.
Having been further influenced with western Judeo-Christian values and being presented with a less-construed, distilled, sharpened and pruned delivery of Christianity which came under numerous denominational categories themselves facing centuries of moulding, the Philippines through it all was being graciously groomed into what God was going to make it into the following decades and centuries.
World War 2 happens thereafter and independence is granted to the country once again. This is called the 1935 Constitution which lays the groundwork of the Philippine Commonwealth. There again, a national hat-tip to the Judeo-Christian model of the divine may be cited:
The Filipino people, imploring the aid of Divine Providence, in order to establish a government that shall embody their ideals, conserve and develop the patrimony of the nation, promote the general welfare, and secure to themselves and their posterity the blessings of independence under a régime of justice, liberty, and democracy, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.
The 1943 Constitution was drafted thereafter and the preamble remains fundamentally unchanged. The Philippines is then ultimately awarded the fullest political freedom to chart its own course as a nation not under another country but under “the aid of Divine Providence”. It begins to set forth as arguably the most unique nation in the region with a distinct democratic constitution and peoples versed in the fundamentals of Judeo-Christian values unlike any in the region.
As imperfect as the journey has been, having gone through the 1970s under grave political turmoil wherein one may understandably question such “Divine Providence” up until the People Power revolution wherein the country has continuously struggled to understand what it really means to be in a democracy, the Philippines has time and again been proven as a fertile ground for the movement of the gospel in the Asia-Pacific region.
The nation remains a Christian stronghold and its fundamental freedoms, especially of religion and the expression thereof remain remarkably intact amidst rumors of extremism in both ends of its political spectra. Amidst the anxiety and civil unrest that is currently manifested by the increasing polarization caused by alarming threats and fears over radical authoritarianism and anti-authoritarianism, the political ground remarkably remains generally accommodating of Jesus Christ and his gospel in his word as the ultimate hope of the nations beyond what any social action or political prescription may bring.
We may go so far as to say that the ultimate sustainer of the nation hasn’t been much of whether or not we were able to handle our constitutional hopes and ideals as much as we should have, but that the answer to the question can be found within a single line in the preamble of the current constitution that we adhere to, the 1987 Constitution — one that we ourselves wrote as people:
We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.
This is the first instance in which the true hope of the nation is officially and expressly identified by the name: the Almighty God.
And so for so long as a nation understands that the fate of its land and of its people lives and dies by the integrity of where it stands upon, there may be indeed hope, and there may be indeed freedom.
And so finally, we will all do well as a nation to recognize such socio-political epiphany which our governing forefathers have also expressly and humbly recognized since, as stated in 2 Corinthians 3:17,
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
This Almighty God has thus far expressly lavished his grace through the gospel towards the undeserving people of such a small, feeble, and vulnerable group of islands amidst a region of giants gradually collapsing under the famine of his absence in their affairs as sovereigns.
We reflect on this. We worship. We celebrate.
To all my fellow Filipinos inside and outside of its territories, I present to you God’s specific and tender loving embrace to you and me as a nation through Christ.
An advanced Independence Day to all of us. May we never forget Him who truly sustains.
Soli Deo Gloria!
About the Writer
Basically a Christian, Timothy Diokno (Tim) is a TLW volunteer who is a Fine Arts major in Visual Communications graduate and a full-time graphic artist. If he’s not binging through a rabbit-hole of articles or YouTube videos on a weekend, he’s probably a.) with his girlfriend, b.) working on a personal project, or c.) talking to some friend about more interesting things.