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On Filipino Independence and Joy in the End Times

A Filipina immigrant academic mourns and celebrates the aftermath of 1898.

On a mild summer Sunday, on June 4, I marched with a crowd of three hundred men and women. It was the 125th anniversary of Philippine independence from Spain and our Filipino organization, Malaya (Freedom) NY, marched with Filipino community members and  allies as part of the newly-formed Northeast Coalition to Advance Genuine Democracy in the Philippines. The Northeast Coalition decided that for this Philippine Independence Day Parade in Manhattan, we would all celebrate our Filipino heritage of resistance. We wore white cotton shirts and red kerchiefs on our necks. The diverse, multigenerational crowd wore the simple clothes of the Katipuneros, the Filipino/a revolutionaries who signed their names in blood to commit their life to a future without Spanish friars and the Spanish colonial government.

But 1898 would not be our year of independence from Western colonial rule. It was in fact the beginning of American military rule, a violent occupation that began with the Philippine-American War, what Filipino cultural studies scholar Dylan Rodriguez called a “suspended apocalypse.” In February 1898, American warships brought thousands of U.S. soldiers and new weapons of death and surveillance previously used by the U.S. Army on Native Americans. As historian Paul Kramer noted, America’s new “race war” in the Philippines was “aided by the telegraph, repeating rifle, and Gatling gun.”

1898 then was the interregnum before the Philippine-American War of 1899, the U.S. Army’s genocidal war against the Katipunan and the Filipino people, a war that continues to be studied by the U.S. Army as a successful counterinsurgency. America’s victory in that war resulted in the American military occupation of the Philippines. The afterlife of this occupation continues to this day with the announcement of four new American military bases supported by the current Marcos-Duterte government.


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Photo by Marjorie Antonio Members of Malaya-New York marching and protesting at the 2023 Philippine Independence Day Parade in Manhattan.

I live and teach in a time of ruins. This is not news to any New Yorker who saw the sky turn orange due to wildfires in Canada weeks ago. Nor is it news to any Filipino immigrant reading the dyaryo or local newspapers on her phone, who sees the new dictators of our sad Filipino kakistocracy—heirs of two infamous, corrupt, and cruel families who disseminate disinformation and lies to remain in power.

The Black poet Ross Gay wrote that living and teaching in the early twenty-first century U.S. means that we live and teach with a clear-eyed awareness that things could end soon, what some world religions call the “end times.” This millenarian spirit is both a moment of grief but also political awakening since, as Gay put it, this is what it means to live in capitalist ruins and to live as ruins. Rather than seeing the end times as the destruction of the natural world, Gay suggests we see our connection to the natural world and all humans.

Strangely enough, living in the end times can also mean living with impossible and beautiful moments of insurrection and liberation. The Philippine National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin wrote that apocalyptic times are times of revolt. Joaquin noted that in the darkest, most violent days of any imperialist occupation, ordinary people driven by hope and despair inexplicably rise up. This was the story of “the Jesus cult” in Judea, that became an uprising against the Roman empire, and the apocalyptic cults in the Philippines on the eve of our forebears’ Filipino revolution against the Spanish empire. Joaquin wrote:

“Apocalyptic—a madness of hope born of despair—was the true, the original climate of Christianity; and in this climate, too, evidently, revolutions are bred.

“During apocalyptic periods (usually towards the end of a century or the beginning of a millennium) the belief spreads that a great upheaval impends: a global catastrophe, the end of the world. Panic seizes the masses, but it’s a fear wild with hope: after the upheaval will come revelation and the reign of justice; there will be a new heaven, a new earth.”

The historian Hillel Schwartz echoes Joaquin when he wrote that millenarianism or “millennialism” is “the religion of the oppressed,” a belief that the end of this world is at hand followed by a new world that was “inexhaustibly fertile, harmonious, sanctified, and just.” According to the Eastern Mediterranean text known as the Apocalypse of John or Book of Revelation, a battle between the forces of good and evil heralded a “thousand-year reign of saintly martyrs… a thousand years of peace.”

And at the end of the nineteenth century, a group of working-class Filipinos believed in a similar impossible, millenarian battle. But rather than the forces of God and Satan, it was a battle between Filipinos and their Spanish colonial masters. Our 1896 Philippine Revolution then was the “end” of our colonial world and the beginning of our dreams of severing our ties with Madre España, the Spanish empire. As Andres Bonifacio, founder of the revolutionary army Katipunan, wrote in his poetic essay “Katapusang Hibik ng Pilipinas (The Last Appeal of the Philippines)”:

“Mother (Spain), in the east is now risen

the sun of the Filipinos’ anger

that for three centuries we suppressed

in the sea of suffering and poverty…

The Filipinos are bound tightly,

They but moan when kicked, boxed, and hit with the

            butt of the gun.

they are tortured with electric wires, hung like an


is this, Mother, your love?…

You, O negligent and malevolent Mother,

we are no longer yours whatever happens,

prepare, then, Mother, the grave

where many dead bodies will find rest.

In the world today will explode

guns and cannons like lightning,

the terrible storm of blood that will flow

from their bullets in the struggle…

… O traitorous Mother,

it is glory to die…”

For Bonifacio, and other revolutionaries, the rule of the violent “malevolent Mother” that was Spain needed to end, even if it meant death and “the terrible storm of blood that will flow.” The termination of the “traitorous Mother” required multiple acts of refusal and resistance by Filipinos: “we are no longer yours whatever happens, / prepare, then, Mother, the grave / where many dead bodies will find rest.”


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Marching with grief and joy: Members of Malaya New York at the 2023 Philippine Independence Day Parade in Manhattan.

On the day of the Philippine parade in Manhattan, I noticed that many of the marchers might have been born after the fall of the first Marcos dictatorship, or post-1986. And this was what was remarkable about that day. Despite their youth, or despite being born and raised in the U.S., we all felt an indescribable connection with each other, a hopeful feeling after our three years of pandemic isolation. We were a diverse community united against fascism. There was lightness and joy because we marched together. Accompanied by a troop of multiethnic drummers banging on DIY plastic drum kits, we merrily chanted new protest chants based on old verses from the Marcos era: “Marcos, Duterte, walang pinag-iba. Parehong tuta, diktador, pasista (Marcos, Duterte, you are one and the same. You are lapdogs, dictators, fascists).”

We know the new Filipino fascists have a revisionist version of the economic catastrophes and human rights violations committed by their fathers. We know they believe that attaining a past-denying legitimacy might assure them a longer political future than history and posterity would justly grant. But we know what they are. And we will never forget. And we will resist because Philippine history has proven that colonizers and dictators can be defeated.

This apocalyptic feeling is what many immigrants and Filipino Americans have felt since May 2022, when the news broke that the Marcos-Duterte tandem won in the Philippine national elections, even after accounts of vote-buying, violence, and broken and defective vote-counting machines were posted by citizens on social media. An independent group of community activists and clergy, the International Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), even shared a report on the anomalies enabled and committed by representatives of the Philippine Commission on Elections.

But like the Katipuneros, we refuse to give up the battle. Memory is a battle, too, a war for remembering the victor, or the enemy, or the colonizer, or the fascist. We might be Filipino citizens or immigrants from a republic in ruins, ruled by fascists who steal from the people, who imprison or murder critics, who spread lies about our colonial past and our authoritarian present,  but we will continue protesting this regime. This moment is not the “end,” and if it is, the end has often been on the side of the dispossessed, too.

How does one celebrate a short-lived republic that was followed by a violent war and U.S. military occupation? What does it mean to come from a country created by an unfinished revolution, traumatized by three empires, U.S. counterinsurgency, and dictatorships supported by the U.S.?

Asian American feminist writers offer some answers. Korean American writer Cathy Park Hong, recalling artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, noted that “the most damaging legacy of the West has been its power to decide who our enemies are.” And Filipina American novelist Gina Apostol, discussing her recent novel La Tercera, observed that “Forgetting is an aspect of genocide.”

Remembering history, and celebrating our Filipino heritage of protest with joy, then, are now even more necessary in these end times.


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Apostol, Gina. “The (Mis)Translation of Filipino History.” Interview by Jaeyeon Yoo, Electric           Lit, May 26 2023,

Bonifacio, Andres. “The Last Appeal of the Philippines.” Filipino Nationalism, 1872-1970, edited

by Teodoro A. Agoncillo, R.P. Garcia Publishing Co., 1974, pp. 209-211.

Gay, Ross. Inciting Joy: Essays, Books of Chapel Hill, 2022.

Hong, Cathy Park. Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning. One World, 2020.

Joaquin, Nick. Culture and History. Anvil Publishing Inc., 2004.

Kramer, Paul A. The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines.

University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Rodriguez, Dylan. Suspended Apocalypse: White Supremacy, Genocide, and the Filipino

Condition. University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

Schwartz, Hillel. “Millenarianism: An Overview.” Encyclopedia of Religion, 2005

edition, vol. 9, E-book, Macmillan Reference, Accessed 18 June 2023 2005, pp. 6028-



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“Spain, Insuring the Glory of the Philippines,” is an 1888 oil painting by Juan Luna, painter, sculptor and one of the first Filipino artists to gain international recognition. Photo of the painting courtesy of Museo Nacional del Prado.