By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

THE FIRST PHILIPPINE REPUBLIC. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Tuesday (Jan. 23, 2024) leads the commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the First Philippine Republic at the historic Barasoain Church in the City of Malolos, Bulacan. In his speech, Marcos called for national unity to address the present challenges in the country, including hunger, poverty and injustice. (Photo courtesy of PCO)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Tuesday called for unity to ensure the success of the government’s fight against hunger, poverty and injustice.

Marcos made the call in a speech delivered at the Barasoain Church in Malolos in Bulacan, as he hailed the establishment of the First Philippine Republic following the adoption of the Malolos Constitution of 1899.

Marcos said the commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the First Philippine Republic should serve as an inspiration to attain the vision of the country’s forefathers for the country’s development.

“Under challenging times, in a changing world, with complex problems, the history made here continues to inspire us to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of our nation’s march to progress,” he said.

“We continue to live in the infrastructure of the state that they have envisioned. The rent we pay, so to speak, is what is expected of us as stewards of that legacy: making our economy sound, our democracy stable, our future secure, and our nation strong. So, today, as beneficiaries of their heroism, we pledge to continue to pay those dues,” Marcos added.

To honor those who founded the Philippine Republic, those who fought for its ideals, and those who fell in the war, Marcos said the fight continues, considering that the country’s freedom “still faces threats, some shocking, some subtle, but all met with the same resolve.”

Marcos, however, stressed that “the wars” would be bloodless, as these aim to address the pressing issues besetting the country, including hunger, poverty and injustice.

“They require no bloodletting, no rushing of barricades. They are harder to vanquish, and they exact a toll of poverty, hunger, and disease claim more lives than any armed conflicts. Their defeat requires new weapons of the day, forged by patriots, to be wielded against enemies neither take no prisoners nor cease or cede any ground,” he said.

“Most importantly, we have been working to forge national unity based on ideals larger than ourselves, for a cause higher than we are. A divided Republic can never prosper. When fractured into tribes, cliques and factions, its attention is divided by the petty, and its energy is distracted away from the grand dreams we have for our nation.”

Marcos said his administration has been waging a war against hunger, “with farms as battlefields because a Republic that does not feed its people will be consumed by their anger”.

He added that the government continues to build “better” and more hospitals and schools “for our democracy can only be healthy and informed if we are free from sickness and ignorance”.

Marcos also emphasized his commitment to securing water and energy supply, generating better jobs for Filipinos, and providing equal treatment to all.

“The fruit of democracy tastes bitter to those who cannot partake. We have been striving for equal treatment before the law, for rich and the poor alike, and for the speedy dispensation of justice. After all, if justice can be bought or delayed, so too can freedom,” he said.

Marcos said the current administration also remains relentless in securing peace from all quarters to free Filipinos from fear, acknowledging that crime and disorder do not only affect life, liberty, and economy but also paralyze the people, shred social fabric, and prevent the pursuit of happiness.

Love of country vital in nation-building

Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, who also graced the Barasoain event, said Filipinos should bear the same aspirations of the members of the First Republic.

“Bagama’t 125 na taon na ang makalipas buhat nang maitatag ang Unang Republika, nananatiling sariwa ang kanilang adhikain upang mabigyan ang bansa ng kasarinlan at kapayapaan (Although 125 years have passed since the establishment of the First Republic, their aspiration to give the country independence and peace remains fresh),” Legarda said in a statement.

“Ang ating pagkakaisa bilang Pilipino ay importante sapagkat ang pagtungo sa iisang mithiing mapabuti ang ating kalagayan ay katulad rin ng pangarap ng mga tao sa nakaraan (Our unity as Filipinos is important because going towards a common goal to improve our condition is similar to the dream of people in the past),” she added.

Legarda is a great-granddaughter of Ariston Gella, who was a member of the Malolos Congress that drafted an early version of the Philippine Constitution.

Gella was also the first pharmacist of Antique province.

Legarda likewise pushed for the preservation and further teaching of Philippine history, not only to the next generation but to the present as well.

“We are in an endless cycle of problems, and our ancestors faced similar challenges, so let us use those lessons to help bring about a brighter tomorrow,” Legarda said. 

Renew pledge to uphold Philippine democracy

Meanwhile, Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez urged Filipinos to commit themselves to “upholding and preserving democracy” in and out of the country.

“Kasabay nito, palakasin pa natin ang ating determinasyon na magpatuloy sa paghahangad ng kaunlaran para sa Pilipinas — isang bansa kung saan malaya ang bawat Pilipino na itakda ang kinabukasan na may kalayaan, kapayapaan, at kasaganaan (In addition, we should further strengthen our determination in aspiring for Philippine development – a country where every Filipino is free and destined with an independent, peaceful and abundant future),” he said.

Romualdez said every Filipino should be proud that 125 years ago, the founders of the First Republic adopted the first republican constitution in Asia to pursue their dream of establishing an independent and sovereign nation.

It was at the Barasoain Church, he said, where the founders were united in the belief that true power emanates from the people, and the stand that every Filipino have equal rights and should have the power to shape the country’s development through their choice of public officials who shall be answerable to the people.

“That dream is our reality today as Philippine democracy remains alive and vibrant,” Romualdez said. “Namumukod-tangi at masigla ang demokrasya sa Pilipinas. Ang bawat isa ay may kalayaan sa pagpapahayag. Mayroon tayong mga pinunong pinili ng nakakarami (Philippine democracy unrivaled and vibrant. Everyone has freedom of expression. We have leaders elected by the majority).”

“Kahit may ilan na maaaring hindi sumang-ayon dito, naniniwala ako na ang pagpapanatili ng mga prinsipyong demokratiko ay sapat na dahilan upang tayo ay magdiwang (While they may be some who may disagree to this, I believe that preserving our democratic principles is enough reason to celebrate),” he added.

Present during the occasion were Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner, Jr., Bulacan Governor Daniel Fernando, Malolos City Mayor Christian Natividad, and National Historical Commission of the Philippines Chairperson Emmanuel Franco Calairo.

Fernando welcomed the President and all the other national and local delegates at the historic grounds of Barasoain Church.

He said the governing principles of the country are rooted in the province of Bulacan.

“Ang Kongreso ng Malolos ang nagtakda ng Unang Republika ng Pilipinas, ang kauna-unahang malayang republika sa buong Asya; dito binalangkas ang unang Saligang Batas ng Pilipinas; at dito unang itinatag ang mga pamantayan para sa isang matapat na pamahalaan at mataas na uri ng pulitika (The Malolos Congress defined the First Republic of the Philippines, the very first free republic in the entire Asia. It was here that the Constitution of the Philippines was drafted, and it was here that the standards for an honest government and high level of politics were founded),” the governor said.

Meanwhile, other lawmakers present include Minority Leader Marcelino Libanan, Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales, Jr.; Deputy Speakers Raymond Democrito Mendoza, Camille Villar and Kristine Meehan-Singson, and Bulacan Reps. Ambrosio Cruz Jr., Salvador Pleyto, Augustina Pancho, Linabelle Ruth Villarica and Danny Domingo, as well as Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda and Senator Mark Villar. 

In a statement, Zubiri called on the Filipino people to honor the country’s historic beginnings by respecting the Constitution.

He said any changes to the country’s Charter must not be made based on selfish motives and ambitions.

“We celebrate the Malolos Republic as the birth of our democracy – the birth of our own government, our own republic, founded by a Constitution written by representatives of the people, which enshrines the principle that sovereignty emanates from no one else but the people themselves,” Zubiri said.

Pablo Ocampo Sr., great-grandfather of Zubiri’s mother, was himself a member of the Malolos Congress, serving as its secretary.

Zubiri said the Malolos Republic, anchored on its Constitution, “built a fair government, truly representative of the people adding If they had wanted, they could have constitutionalized themselves into limitless power without regard for the voice of the people. As the framers of our first Constitution, no one could have stopped them,” Zubiri said.

The First Philippine Republic, established after the adoption of the Malolos Constitution of 1899, was Asia’s First Constitutional Republic that served as an inspiration for other Asian republics.

The Republic replaced the Revolutionary Government created by then-president Emilio Aguinaldo in 1898.

In December last year, Malacañang declared Jan. 23, 2024 as a special non-working day in Bulacan province to commemorate the anniversary of the First Philippine Republic. (With reports from Leonel Abasola/Jose Cielito Reganit/Manny Balbin/PNA)