By HENRY EMPEÑO
SAN FELIPE, Zambales — Artists, human rights advocates and local residents here re-asserted Philippine sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea by planting the national flag on the waters here on Monday in commemoration of the 119th Philippine Independence Day.
Surging from the beach early in the morning on June 12, participants in the three-day Kamp Kalayaan arts and freedom festival made a symbolic dash to the sea with the Philippine flag atop a bamboo pole, paddled out to the water on surf boards, and then planted the banner upon the seastrand before solemnly singing the national anthem.
The poignant ceremony brought most of the audience close to tears, said Jena Rajni Miguel, a resident of Olongapo City who joined the camp as education director of the local arts group REXA Center.
“With the reality that parts of Philippine territory like the Scarborough Shoal are being taken away from us, this stirred in everybody here that feeling that we should rightly fight for our country and protect what is ours,” she added.
The activity, said Micheline Rama, executive director of the Dakila Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism which organized the event, was meant to send a message to all Filipinos “that freedom is a continuing struggle.”
“We don’t just celebrate freedom; we should fight for it,” Rama said.
“Just like the Katipuneros who fought for Philippine independence believed that there could be no kalayaan without kaginhawaan, kapatiran, and kabutihang-loob, we say that there could be no real independence while there are people living in abject poverty, caught in the crossfire in conflict zones, immersed in a culture of hate and violence, and deprived of their civil rights and human rights,” Rama said.
“Here at Kamp Kalayaan, we commemorate Philippine Independence Day by sparking discourse on freedom and human rights, as well as fostering kabayanihan through creative and collaborative community events,” she added.
Kamp Kalayaan was located at Liwliwa, a seaside row of beach resorts at Barangay Sto. Niño in this town, which faces the West Philippine Sea.
The event started out last Saturday with a discussion on environmental protection and community action, a clean-up activity along the shore, and movies about freedom and independence, followed by music and art activities, including Barter Barber, Open Mic, and tattoo sessions the next day.
The camp’s major attraction was the “Kulay ng Kalayaan” mural painting that depicted graphical interpretations of the Philippine national anthem across 1,260 square feet of wall space. But in this version, “Lupang Hinirang” ended not with the patriot’s dream to “suffer and die” but with a positive intent: “Ang mabuhay nang dahil sa ‘yo” (to live for the country).
Rexa Center also sponsored an art contest on the second day to draw out the “heroes” among children participants from the local community. The children later joined the mural wall painting.
The third day was capped by the “Paddle Out for the Philippines” activity and the flag-raising ceremony.
The three-day camp also served to educate residents, including representatives of local government units, about cooperation and respect for each other, said Ralph Eya, Dakila’s education director.
“A lot of issues like the war on drugs, declaration of martial law, and even the Scarborough Shoal issue here have divided the country, and a lot of people have taken to social media where discourse has often become hostile. Here, we want to create a space where discourse about freedom and human rights are respectful and where participants listen and not just talk against each other,” Eya said.