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The biggest birthday parade for the nation

By LISA GUERRERO NAKPIL, The Philippine STAR Published Jun 19, 2024 5:00 am

Parades are a favorite Filipino pastime—and the first-ever parade for the Philippines as a free country happened in September 1898. A lovely engraving in the newsmagazine Harper’s Weekly of the time captures the first “Inang Bayan” on a float titled “The Genius of Liberty.”

Fast forward to the 126th year of the birth of the nation and all stops were pulled for the biggest birthday parade seen in recent years. The over-arching theme was “Kasaysayan, Kalayaan, Kinabukasan” (or “History, Liberty, the Future”).

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. delivered a rousing keynote address. A military parade featuring the might of the country was then followed by a colorful, moving tableau of the event’s theme song Samot Saring Iisa, which foreshadowed the main event.

Twenty-two floats amazed and delighted a crowd of over 30,000, including the enthusiastic fans that filled the Quirino Grandstand to the brim and that came from all over the country to show their support for the flag. The Philippine cabinet, the diplomatic corps, members of officialdom (including Congresswoman Lani Mercado and Senator Robin Padilla), National Artist Alice Reyes, cultural leaders Ino Manalo, Andoni Aboitiz, Margie Moran, Eric Zerrudo, Al Valenciano, and business figures such as Kevin Tan of Megaworld, lifestyle figures and bloggers (Boss Toyo, Being Filipino) filled the 3,000 seats alongside the Manlilikha ng Bayan artists who were given pride of place in the rows surrounding the First Family.

Hero Leon Kilat from Cebu’s “Tres de Abril” float.

The 2024 edition of the “Parada ng Kalayaan (Independence Day Parade)” was divided into two categories: The first to depict the 11 events that illuminated the path towards Asia’s first republic and the second, the 10 original government branches and departments that formed that republic.

Historians were over the moon, of course, since the themes covered the many rich narratives of those heady first years—and demonstrated that the quest for freedom was truly nationwide.

The parade kicked off with “The Cry of Candon,” as it did in real-time history, which featured no less than Ilocos Sur governor Jerry Singson and Candon Mayor Eric Singson on board alongside reenactors. This was followed by the “Tres de Abril” float from Cebu, the “Battle of Alapan and the Declaration of Independence” (Cavite), the Hong Kong-based “Comite Central Filipino” (fittingly created by the Department of Overseas Workers and animated by Higantes sent by the town of Angono), “The Negros Republic” (Bago), “The Cry of Sta. Barbara and the Federal State of the Visayas” (from Iloilo), “The First Flag-Raising in Mindanao” (which took place in Surigao City), “The Siege of Baler” (Aurora province) and the “Siege of Fort Pilar” (in Zamboanga City), “The Last Lowering of the Spanish Flag,” which would take place in Sulu, culminating in the establishment of the Malolos Congress and the First Philippine Republic.

“All I can say about the Independence Day Parade is that it was a win for local history,” beamed Pampanga-based author Ian Alfonso. “Our national history was at last put in the context of those localities across the country.” 

This was no Aguinaldo-centric parade either, with nods to Andres Bonifacio and Gabriela Silang (on the Department of Finance float) and Lapulapu (depicted as the guiding light of Leon Kilat on Cebu’s float.) The spirit of the Katipunan, the secret society that sparked the Philippine Revolution, was brought to life by fierce warriors in buntal hats brandishing bolos and KKK flags.

The Department of Foreign Affairs float, Champion in the First Government category.

Competition was stiff among the float participants, with many local governments bringing in not just dancers and gymnasts but also entire cheering squads to chant their support from the stands. Said Iloilo Governor Toto Defensor, “This was the first time that local governments were invited to participate, and we are thankful to be allowed to showcase the important role that the Ilonggos played in the fight for freedom.” The “Cry of Sta. Barbara” featured 50 students from three high schools from the town, including the Sta Barbara, Daga Barasan and the Cadagmayan National high schools. Their float romped off as champion in the historical events category, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Iloilo team led by Nereo Lujan, chief of community affairs.

Public historian Xiao Chua admitted that the non-stop spectacle brought tears to his eyes. “One particularly touching moment was when the float of the Battle of Alapan pulled up and the Aguinaldo character hoisted for the first time in our history the Philippine flag. Remember, there was no formal state as yet to speak of at the time. And then I looked up and saw the gigantic flag from the top of the Independence flagpole, flying freely and beautifully—and I thought to myself, this is the moment all our patriots must have imagined and had seen in their dreams.

“It was simply an inclusive historical narrative on show,” Chua continued. “This is probably the biggest Independence Day celebration since the 1998 Centennial—and why not? It’s a fitting thanksgiving to all the men and women who came before us and who paid in blood, sweat and tears for the freedom we now all enjoy. When you think of how we Filipinos stand tall and free in our own country, free from war and invasion, never refugees, no celebration can be big enough to remember that.”

Ten more floats that reflected the sophisticated organization of the First Philippine Republic were joint efforts of the present-day cabinet, successors of their glorious antecedents. (The Department of War and Navy, for instance, predecessor of today’s Department of National Defense, depicted the republic’s first warship, a steamboat called the SS Pilipinas).

The Department of Foreign Affairs spotlighted Apolinario Mabini—one of the First Republic’s most underrated heroes—in a steampunk wheelchair as its first secretary. The float took home the top prize in the origin-story category of the First Republic’s various secretaryships.

The Malolos Republic float depicts the first republic ever in Asia.

The parade finished with a flourish with the “Inang Bayan,” an echo of its very first appearance in Malolos, featuring three beauty queens to exemplify Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

A jury of five culturati selected the best of each category, following strict rules tallied by no less than the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

It capped a dazzling, action-packed, three-day Independence Day celebration that began with a Coachella-style festival of free art and culture, sports tourneys and tiangge shopping, film showings and ballet performances, musical concerts, chili-eating contests and adobo and pancit throwdowns. This took place in the expansive Burnham Green of the Luneta, while across Roxas Boulevard was a massive “Bagong Pilipinas” one-stop shop array of government services offering driver’s-license renewals, NBI clearances, even job openings in the military, games and raffles, storytelling and bookselling.

“Let’s just say that every Filipino loves a birthday party and there can be none more important to celebrate than the birth of the nation,” said Chua. “And let’s hope this begins a wonderful tradition that all walks of life can witness and enjoy.”

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The National Historical Commission of the Philippines is the implementing agency of the Steering Committee of National Observances, which takes charge of national celebrations, including Independence Day.