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Gabriel F. Fabella: ‘Father of June 12’

June 15, 2008 00:18:00
Kristoffer R. Esquejo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

THIS MONTH MARKS TWO EVENTS OF National importance. One was the commemoration of the 110th Philippine Independence Day on June 12 and the other is the celebration of the University of the Philippines Centennial on June 18.

Most Filipinos do not know that 2008 also marks the 110th birth anniversary of an academician, who is known as the “Father of June 12.” He was Gabriel F. Fabella.

While serving as chair of UP Department of History and Acting Director of UP Clark Air Base Branch 50 years ago, he made a valuable contribution to the first event.

Nationalist gesture

In 1962, President Diosdado Macapagal, father of the incumbent President, moved the date of Philippine Independence from July 4 to June 12. This nationalist gesture strengthened the fact that before the infamous Treaty of Paris of 1898, there was an independent Philippine Republic in the wake of the 1896 Revolution that ended Spanish colonial rule.

The American colonial government had timed the date of our formal separation from the United States in 1946 to fall on the date of the US Independence Day, perhaps to remind Filipinos of the ties binding us to Americans.

Youth activism

Macapagal’s action in 1962 was an indicator of the changing political temper in that decade when the youth in the colleges and universities were beginning to be concerned with national identity. It also made him won the distinction of being a nationalist president.

Since then, Macapagal had been commended for his well-deserved decision. However, it would be unfair and unjust if Filipinos would not acknowledge the man who fired the opening salvo in 1954 and tirelessly fought and campaigned for June 12 as the country’s proper Independence Day.

Inspiration

How did Fabella start it all?

In Celedonio Ancheta’s book, titled “Father of Independence Day,” Fabella said his inspiration came from Emilio Aguinaldo himself.

He first met the first president of the republic face-to-face when he visited Aquinaldo’s home in Kawit, Cavite in 1926. After the war, his visits were more often, especially during the general’s birthday celebrations. In 1953, he was partly responsible for Aguinaldo’s conferment of a UP Doctor of Laws degree honoris causa. Eventually, he never missed the remaining birthday celebrations of the old man and became so endeared to the Aguinaldo family.

Octogenarian veterans

As years went by, Fabella still realized the lack of proper recognition due Aguinaldo for his valuable services to his country. When Fabella attended the June 12 celebrations in Kawit in 1954, he noticed the octogenarian veterans of the revolution bent with the weight of years and sweating it out under the heat of the sun. It occurred to him that those living heroes deserved a better deal.

It was a disgusting fact that the people’s interest in the importance of that date was declining. This was reflected in the absence of the invited speaker at the 1960 celebration and the simple occasion in 1961.

He must do something. Why not campaign for the change of the independence celebrations from July 4 to June 12? That was the cue. A year later, he began writing for the papers starting with the Philippine Collegian.

He made the UP constituency aware of his project, but like any new and bold idea, some colleagues laughed it off. Unaffected, he said, “I will keep up the campaign until June 12 becomes the day for our independence celebrations.”

PHA resolution

In 1959, Fabella sponsored a resolution unanimously adopted by the Philippine Historical Association (PHA). This was endorsed to a committee who had it polished into its present printed form, but the basic arguments were Fabella’s. Here is the summary of his arguments favoring June 12 over July 4.

First. The United States does not celebrate its independence on the day its independence was recognized by England, but rather on the day the Americans declared their independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. American independence was only recognized on Sept. 3, 1783. Following American precedent, we should naturally adopt June 12 since it was on that day in 1898 that Philippine independence was declared.

Second. Philippine independence celebrations thus far are generally overlooked and forgotten by the rest of the world. Falling at it does on the same day as that of the United States our celebrations are overshadowed by those of the United States.

Third. In determining the date of the granting of independence to the Philippines, the Filipino people had little or nothing to do with the fixing of the date. As a matter of fact, they really cared little for the date. All they wanted was independence irrespective of the exact day.

Thanksgiving Day

Now that we are a sovereign nation we are entitled to fix our independence celebrations and, as Fabella insisted, the most logical date is June 12. Instead, July 4 can be declared Thanksgiving Day as the Filipino people’s recognition of the good done by the United States, he said.

Other renowned people such as former Education Secretary Alejandro Roces and Rep. Ramon Mitra Sr. helped Fabella’s campaign. Aguinaldo, who was duly informed of the campaign, extended his full, unconditional and enthusiastic support. Unfortunately, the resolution was not given attention the following two years.

Proclamation No. 28

Fabella’s long wait bore fruit when Macapagal signed Proclamation No. 28 on May 12, 1962. The proclamation moved the day of independence from July 4 to June 12. It also declared June 12, 1962 a special public holiday.

Following this was the signing of Republic Act No. 4166 on Aug. 4, 1964. It states that the June 12 declaration be the official Independence Day, while July 4 is the Philippine Republic Day. Since then, the day of independence has been celebrated on June 12.

Macapagal’s proclamation reaped praises and resulted in the rejoicing of many. The celebration at Luneta on June 12, 1962 was splendid. Aguinaldo himself was the honored guest. During the occasion, plays about the events that happened during the declaration of independence in 1898 were staged.

Ready to die
Half a million Filipino viewers witnessed this. The PHA also celebrated the success. A gathering was held at Channel 10 in the GSIS Building on Arroceros Street in Manila on June 11, 1962. Two years later, Aguinaldo died, fulfilled and happy at the age of 95.

Few days after the approval of R.A. No. 4166, a member of the PHA teased Fabella by asking, “Well, Fabe, are you ready to die now?” The professor answered, “Yes, I am. If I had done nothing else but to change our independence celebrations from July 4 to June 12, I shall die content.” His statement showed that he considered the change of the day of independence as his biggest success.

Credit monopolized

Sadly, Macapagal monopolized the credit for it. After using Fabella’s arguments, he neither recognized nor mentioned that someone from UP had done a decade of tireless campaign in changing the Independence Day celebrations from July 4 to June 12.

Moreover, Macapagal claimed that it was the fulfillment of his very own idea, which he formed when he was still a congressman. He denied the allegation that his decision was an act of vengeance in the wake of the US disapproval of his proposed $73-million War Damage Bill.

Because of these statements, it can be said that the late president had selfishly claimed the full credit. As the then incumbent president, he turned into reality the lifelong goal of an academician. In other words, he merely acted upon the idea of someone, like Andres Bonifacio realizing the idea of a revolution ignited by Rizal in his second novel.

Holiday economics

Like his daughter, the incumbent President, who decreasingly values important events for the sake of her holiday economics, Macapagal had ignored the efforts of unsung heroes like Fabella. [President Macapagal-Arroyo declared June 9, a Monday, a nonworking holiday as part of her holiday economics but retained the Independence Day celebrations on June 12, which she made a regular working day.]

Fabella did not receive any credit except being mentioned in several newspapers and dubbed by his contemporary scholars the “Father of June 12.” After getting this support, Fabella did not lose faith in promoting nationalism and addressing problems regarding national interests.

Partido Nacionalista

The injustice done by Macapagal to Fabella’s role may be explained by the fact that the latter was a member of Partido Nacionalista, the rival of the President’s Partido Liberal. It should be noted that Fabella ran and won as an assemblyman of the lone district of Romblon for one term (1935-1938). Though Fabella abandoned politics and returned to teaching, he remained an active party member.

In 1960, Fabella attended the 25th anniversary of the First National Assembly of the Commonwealth. Most of those who attended were his pre-war colleagues in the party such as former President Sergio Osmeña. Somehow, Fabella’s influence in the party was constantly acknowledged. This could be proven by a letter from then Senate President Ferdinand Marcos, who asked for his support in 1964 against the reelectionist Macapagal.

Perseverance

Nowadays, his living contemporaries are getting older and fewer while the present generation no longer knows him and his deeds.

Born on March 18, 1898, Fabella was the 10th of 13 children of a poor couple from Banton, Romblon. In spite of poverty, he managed to finish not only his primary and secondary schooling but also his tertiary education. Through hard work and perseverance, he gradually realized his dreams, proving that not even poverty is a hindrance to anyone’s success if determination is present in a goal-oriented individual.

3 degrees in 3 years

Even his fellow Romblomanons today rarely knew that he was the first-ever Bantoanon to finish three degrees (BSE, BA, and HSTC) from UP in just three years (1917-1920), an MA History degree holder (1931), lawyer (1934), UP professor (1923-1934; 1946-1963) and assemblyman of Romblon (1935-1938).

Here are his exceptional qualities.

He was a Romblomanon leader. During his early years, he showed his profound ability as a journalist, a playwright and an organizer of various provincial organizations.

At 37, he became so popular when he defeated the so-called “Dean of the Lower House” and traditional politician Leonardo Festin as Romblon representative in the First National Assembly under the Commonwealth.

A leading Nacionalista party member of Manuel L. Quezon, Festin was known to be undefeated in Romblon and had served for seven consecutive terms (1916-1935). To Quezon’s dismay, Festin lost to a neophyte lawyer whose rigorous campaign and charisma gained tremendous support from the electorate.

He was an academician. Most of his life was dedicated to teaching—from private to public and from elementary in Capiz, high school in Romblon and Tayabas (now Quezon), and finally college at UP. Of course, many still know the several schools he founded and owned shortly after the war not only in Romblon but also in Mindoro and Batangas.

Popular professor
Before his retirement in 1963, he served as both chair of the UP Department of History and acting director of UP Clark Air Base (1958-1960).

Although known as a popular terror professor, he mentored numerous students who became successful in many arenas and the most successful was the future president, Marcos, who used to study far into the late hours under him during his pre-Law days at UP.

He was a historian. He wrote about a hundred articles in various scholarly magazines and he was involved in several academic organizations until his death. Even until now, the PHA reveres him as one of its founding members and its first president who served four terms starting 1955.

He was a Rizalist. Aside from being an active Knight Commander of Rizal, he strongly believed in the ideals of the national hero reflected through his own writings and speeches.

Insurgent records

He was a nationalist. Along with his being the “Father of the Philippine Independence Day,” he was also the first to bring back home the first microfilm copies of Taylor’s Insurgent Records from the United States in 1954.

On Jan. 29, 1982, the old and sick professor finally joined his Creator on his way to Manila from Canada. He died fulfilling his dream not to die in a foreign land, leaving a good name and a legacy to his children, relatives and province mates. Most of his children are successful graduates of UP and are living in different places abroad.

Indeed, Fabella was a unique individual who possessed admirable traits. No doubt he was truly dedicated to the advancement of our national identity as Filipinos. As we observe our independence this month, it is but fitting and proper to honor this “Father of June 12” of ours by remembering his greatest legacy to this country he loved so much.

* * *

(Kristoffer R. Esquejo is a graduate of BA History magna cum laude [April 2007] at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. Taking up MA History, he is an instructor at UP Department of History.)

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