I opened my eyes, and it quickly became clear: I was out of place, out of time.
One look at my surroundings, and I knew that I was in the country I loved, but I was a century behind. My apprehension was overpowered by my curiosity as I reveled at the sight, the sound, the scent of a past I had once only imagined.
Standing in some sort of courtyard, I was surrounded by a crowd of people, wearing the classic Filipiniana garb I only saw in museums and period films. The excited expressions on their faces told me that something important was about to happen.
I looked at the woman standing beside me – an expectant expression on her face. “Where are we?” I asked her, knowing how awkward my question would appear to her.
She looked at me quizzically, but eventually, replied, “General Aguinaldo’s home. Cavite el Viejo.”
I froze, shocked when I realized where I was. I was in pre-20th century Cavite and before me, one of the most momentous events in Philippine history was about to unravel.
Nothing could describe the emotions coursing through my veins as I listened to Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista proclaim the Act of the Declaration of Independence. It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand a word of Spanish. I was experiencing history.
I couldn’t hold back the tears when the national anthem played and General Emilio Aguinaldo waved the Philippine flag from the terrace of his ancestral home – a scene I thought I would only see in pictures.
It was at that glorious, historical moment that I saw him out of the corner of my eye – a young man, standing at the outskirts of the crowd, arms folded. I couldn’t read the expression on his face. Was it anger? Doubt? Sorrow?
Curiosity demanded that I make my way to him, so I did. I was about to ask why he had a scowl on his face, but he looked at me, and the passion burning in his eyes was enough to silence me.
“Many have died in the fight for freedom. Blood has been shed. Many have mourned the death of their loved ones.” He averted his gaze and his facial expression hardened. “He proclaims independence while we are still slaves.”
“A step of faith perhaps,” I wanted to tell him, but he wasn’t done speaking. “Do you really believe that we can be free? Will we truly someday become a free nation?”
Thoughts flooded through my head as I searched for an answer. How was I to respond when I knew that our country would not experience independence until around half a century after this day? Even then, upon gaining our independence, were we truly free? Had we not become slaves to greed, to corruption, to our loss of identity? A lone tear fell down my cheek. It took all the conviction I could muster to respond. “Someday… someday we will be free.”
A spark of hope appeared in his eyes, as it also reawakened in my heart.
I watched the sun setting over the plains of Cavite. The night was coming. I closed my eyes, overwhelmed by the darkness that I knew our country was bound to experience.
I opened my eyes and I was back in place, back in time.
My beloved country has seen so much darkness. I will live to see the dawn.