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What does it mean to be free?

One hundred and twelve years ago today, our forefathers proudly waved the Philippine flag to an equally proud and jubilant crowd in Kawit, Cavite. No other day before that seemed more important. It's Independence Day. Nothing can possibly top that. One hundred and twelve years after, not much has changed. Of course, people would harp on achieved 'independence', freedom, democracy -- you know, all the big words. But apart from the obvious -- our sovereignty, not much has been achieved in that area. Which begs the question -- what does it really mean to be free? We've heard the rhetorics and seen the parade many times. It's the same 'celebration' every year anyway. But when it comes to a deeper understanding of the essence of freedom and why it's such a big deal, most people would rather not give it a thought. If only more people understood what freedom is and how much sacrifice it took from high and low profile Filipinos of that time such a luxury entailed, maybe they'd care enough to spare it some minutes of contemplation and gratefulness. But like a spoiled child who's been given eveything he wants without a fight, negotiation or even a second thought, we've taken freedom for granted as if it were 'free' to begin with -- as if it were our birthright to enjoy and squander at will. Contrary to what most people think, freedom -- whose root word is 'free' -- is not something we were born with. It is not as free as the air we breathe. It is, like I always say, a luxury that comes at a steep price -- a price we have the pleasure of only writing or talking about now simply because our brothers and sisters that have come before us did the 'paying' for us. It is a debt we owe to our forebears and a gift that we are expected to pass along to our descendants. We are lucky to be bearers of such a sacred entity, borne of much suffering and patriotism. And compared to our great greats, our job is supposedly much easier. But look around you. Look harder and weep. There is not much to bequeath. As the vessel of freedom has been passed on from generation to generation, much of its essence has been lost in translation. Today, we have commercialized freedom and sold it as commodities. We claim that we are sovereign and yet we allow ourselves to be 'short-changed' by economic giants who dictate how they run their business on our shores when it's supposed to be the other way around. We let them mine our resources (natural and human) dry and even praise them for giving us 'jobs' and 'investments'. As a new administration is sworn in, jobs are promised in the form of 'increased foreign investments'. We are more invested in pulling-in foreign investors instead of say, empowering the SMEs ( small to medium enterprises) and micro businesses with access to affordable financing schemes, fast and reliable government support through specialized agencies and improved taxation to encourage businesses to register and use auditable receipts. That is just one concrete example of freedom in action, of freedom as it relates to real life. The days of fighting with bolos may be over. But every year, the fight for a modern yet simplistic form of freedom remains a struggle. It is heartwarming to see flag-waving ceremonies here and there but beyond the symbolic, there is a pressing battle we must win. The fight for freedom is a never-ending struggle. The battle gears may change, the strategy may be different, the soldiers may not be marchig to a similar tune -- yet the goal remains the same: to win our freedom over and over again. Because 'to never rest' -- that is what it means to be free. And that is what it means to be Filipino. Maligayang Araw ng Kalayaan!

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