Friday, June 15, 2012


The story of 

Father of Philippine Independence Day


Being a teacher, I look at the classroom as one of the best places where one can find people of different circumstances but with a common view – to stop at nothing to get an education and to change one’s life. This perspective is something my grandfather Gabriel, also a teacher, lived and breathed during his lifetime.
A local of the island of  Banton, Province of Romblon, my grandpa Gabriel Fabella “must have been six - or seven-years old when he was introduced to the "Cartilla,” a booklet from which children learn the alphabet.  In 1906, he entered public school where he finished primary schooling. Promotion at that time from one grade level to another was very rigid and getting stressed from classroom work was no alien circumstance for Gabriel. Though he came from a very poor family, he was able to obtain a pension (very similar to a scholarship allowance). He completed his intermediate education in the nearby island of Romblon, the provincial capital.
     He later joined his elder brothers in Manila; then world-renowed as a city where “the greatest annual event in the orient is celebrated,” the Manila Carnival. From his modest, small island-based school, Gabriel enrolled in the Manila High School, located at the former “bastion of Spanish governance,” Intramuros. Being aware that his parents where in no position to finance his education, Gabriel had to do odd jobs like selling newspapers during cold Saturday mornings; delivering food rations to laborers in the Port Area, and by being a shoeshine boy at the Parian Gate where he had to endure afternoon Manila heat. Gabriel had to teach himself to rigidly appropriate time going over his classroom notes as he was determined to “do better” every year. While in high school, Gabriel earned the friendship of a good number of classmates who later made a name for themselves in the world of politics like Julio Nalundasan (representative from Ilocos Norte) and Carlos P. Romulo (UN President), among others. After high school, Gabriel wasted no time in Manila and returned to Ibajay, Capiz to teach in an elementary school. Even at that time, he already knew that he wanted to use education to change the lives of others.
Love for teaching
    In June 1919, acting under the advice of  his companions from Capiz, and of his brothers who saw that he liked teaching, Gabriel eagerly enrolled at the Philippine Normal School, an institution for training teachers, and later, at the University of the Philippines. As he did in high school, Gabriel did odd jobs while studying in an institution where students even at present are having difficulty finishing one degree. Gabriel in due course graduated in UP-Manila with three degrees – an HSTC, an AB and a BSE. His hard work and perseverance paid off.
     Having received what former Jones Municipality President Rufo Faigao called “tatlong Kalawit,” Gabriel zealously put his plan on becoming a teacher to motion. Upon the invitation of then Romblon Superintendent Salustiano Vibar, Gabriel taught at Romblon High School. While teaching, Gabriel saw for himself the harsh reality of scare resources like books which students badly craved for. As if managing a big classroom, Gabriel facilitated fund raising projects by conscientiously writing and facilitating plays like For Better or for Worse, Constancy, The Pedagogue, and Mina de Oro. In contrast to what many present business-minded educators would have done, Gabriel spent every centavo generated in the play presentations to purchase books for the schoolchildren.
    Upon the invitation of the UP History Department Chair and later Dean of Liberal Arts Prof. Leandro Fernandez, Gabriel started teaching in UP. In 1931, he finished his master’s degree in UP and in 1934, his bachelor of laws in the University of Manila. He did both by thoroughly budgeting his time while teaching in a prestigious university.
The Assemblyman
    In 1935, and with the urging from friends, Gabriel decided to take his advocacy to the next level by filing his candidacy for the assemblyman position. He was well aware that he would be facing the incumbent Leonardo Festin. At that time, Festin seemed to have Goliath by his side. Festin had well-established political machinery, had the financial resources, was floor leader of the majority party (Nationalista), and had then President Manuel L. Quezon as endorser. Gabriel was a mere college professor. Despite his being a newcomer in the world of politics, friends were confident that Gabriel had a good chance of winning. One of the reasons according to supporters was Gabriel impressive educational attainment, having finished five degrees. His opponent only had one. Quezon himself recognized Gabriel as a political threat to Festin, a good friend and a political ally to the Chief Executive, and tried to discourage Gabriel from running against the incumbent assemblyman. However, seeing that this is his “chance to serve his people,” Gabriel made it known that he would not withdraw his candidacy.
    At a time when cellphones and the internet were not even in people’s imaginations and with only P189 in hand which he borrowed from his insurance, Gabriel launched a whirlwind campaign in his province’s major islands: Romblon, Tablas, Sibuyan, Simara, Maestro De Campo, and Banton. In contrast to the present where politicians have the luxury of cars, helicopters and even planes, Gabriel campaigned from one island to another using modest means of transportation like curicanan, a small sailboat that carried only three or four people. Despite limited resources and campaign time, Gabriel though facing voter’s with the knack for discernment, overwhelmingly won the election and became assemblyman of Romblon.
         As assemblyman, Gabriel made sure that his long-held priority of education would be the focus of his political program. Most of his “share of pork barrel went to schools and only about 20 percent, to roads and other similar projects.”  The rest of his pork barrel was used for the scholarship of some “40 to 50” Romblomanons, some of whom became high ranking government officials. Gabriel chose not to run again after one term in congress. He arrived at an epiphany that “there is no money in politics unless one plays crooked,” a quality he detested. After his stint in politics, Gabriel returned to his old love “to be humble professor, and to do one’s bit for humanity.”
   Gabriel’s dedication to the youth’s education was again demonstrated when during the latter part of 1945, and while still barely recovering from the war, he helped build school corporation named Southern Mindoro Academy. On the same year, he organized another school, the Bagumbayan High School (later Fabella High School). With the conclusion of  World War II, Gabriel, in 1946 resumed his professorial post in U.P. Gabriel, however, did not only busy himself with teaching. In 1948, he co-facilitated the establishment of three more schools, Romblon College, Tablas Academy, and  Banton High School. Two more schools which Gabriel helped organize were: San Mariano Academy (1964), and the Southeastern Academy (1965). These accomplishments led to Gabriel having been elected as first president of the Philippine Association of Secondary Schools and “served in that capacity from 1956 to 1960).”
The significance of June 12
    In 1954, while attending the celebration of General Emilio Aguinaldo’s declaration of Philippine Independence in Kawit, Cavite, Gabriel notice veterans of the revolution. He saw aged patriots, braving the sweltering heat, cherishing the ultimate symbol of their patriotism, June 12, 1898, a date which at that time was not yet fully acknowledged by the Filipino Nation. Gabriel also realized that Aguinaldo had yet been given recognition for his services to his country. Purpose-driven, Gabriel began nurturing in his classroom discussions the idea that the Philippine Independence day should be celebrated not on the 4th of July but on the 12th of June.
     Eventually, Gabriel’s idea was ventilated through several articles in the UP publication Philippine Collegian which culminated in the July 1, 1956 issue of Sunday Times Magazine. Being founder/co-founder, and first president of the Philippine Historical Association (1955), Gabriel, through the Historical Bulletin and the PHA 1960 resolution, determinedly emphasized his stand. Copies of the resolution were later sent to all members of the Congress to newspapers, and to then President Diosdado Macapagal. Gabriel’s efforts paid off when President Macapagal in 1962, issued Proclamation No. 28 declaring June 12 as Independence Day. The new celebration date was made permanent when in a special Congress session in 1964, Republic Act No. 4166 was signed officially declaring June 12 the official Independence Day; thus, making him the Father of Philippine Independence Day.
   Gabriel contentedly witnessed his triumph when the nation celebrated the occasion that was centered in New Luneta, Manila. General Aguinaldo was devotedly present. A miniature reproduction of Aguinaldo’s Kawit home was placed as part of the simulation which included the reading of the proclamation, playing of the National Anthem and the signing of the declaration.
     Gabriel Fabella saw that through education and by becoming a teacher, one can become closer to the community and that work can echo beyond the walls of the ivory tower that is the classroom. Clearly he persevered and won against seemingly insurmountable odds to obtain his education, and fruitfully achieved exactly what he wanted, to do one’s bit for humanity.

Author: Mark De Guzman Fabella is a faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences, University of the East, Manila. 
(Reprint from Philippine Star Features, June 12, 2012)


I am a Responsible and Principled Citizen.

I will educate myself and others about the issues at hand so that my vote is a meaningful and relevant exercise of my right of suffrage.

I pledge to vote for candidates who will abide by the duly constituted rules on campaigning because I understand that those who refuse to obey the law in the little things are not likely to obey the law in the more important things;

I pledge to vote for candidates who, by word and action, renounce violence, coercion, vote-buying, and corruption as means for getting elected;

I pledge to vote for the candidates who listen to their constituents and are responsive to the needs and aspirations of those they seek to represent;

I pledge to vote as my conscience dictates in all elections.

I make these promises freely and upon my honor.

(This Voter Pledge was read at the Unity Walk of 13 January 2013, by COMELEC Commissioner Elias R. Yusoph)