Original or not, it’s still flag of our fathers
(Editor’s Note: The author chairs Ateneo de Manila University’s Department of History.)
Once a year, the Emilio Aguinaldo Mansion in Kawit, Cavite, becomes the focal point of the nation’s memory. In this house, Philippine independence from Spain was declared on June 12, 1898.
That historic event left us with two symbols of the Philippines—the national flag and the national anthem. Julian Felipe’s manuscript music did not survive, but he was able to write out another “original” for the National Library before the last world war.
A battle-scarred and deteriorating flag is displayed in a museum in Baguio City owned by the Emilio Aguinaldo Foundation. The foundation asserts: that this flag is the most historic among the flags and emblems owned by Aguinaldo; that it is the oldest surviving flag of Philippine independence; and that it is the first, the original, flag sewn by Marcela Agoncillo in Hong Kong, the same flag that was waved in Kawit on June 12, 1898.
Inquirer Northern Luzon has repeatedly run stories about this flag in the past, raising government neglect of an important relic of nationhood.
The impertinent question, however, has not been asked: Is this really the flag of our founding fathers?
Textbook history states that Marcela Agoncillo made the first Philippine flag following the orders and sketch of Aguinaldo in May 1898.
The flag was made in the Agoncillo home on 535 Morrison Hill, Hong Kong, using “finest satin” bought from a store on Powell Street. Agoncillo was assisted by her eldest daughter, Lorenza, and Delfina Herbosa de Natividad, a niece of Jose Rizal.
For five days, they toiled, missing their customary merienda to ensure that the sun and stars were hand-sewn correctly on the white equilateral triangle.
The flag was delivered to Aguinaldo before he sailed for the Philippines on May 19, 1898, on the US transport McCulloch.
It was first used in the Battle of Alapan in May 1898 and later played an important role during the Declaration of Independence in Kawit on June 12, 1898, and the opening of the Malolos Congress in Barasoain in 1899.
Then it disappeared.
Aguinaldo related in 1919 that the flag was lost somewhere on the Caraballo mountains in Nueva Vizcaya. In 1925, he said the flag was lost in Tayug, Pangasinan.
The Baguio flag was Aguinaldo’s personal favorite among many old flags he kept in his Kawit home, and this affection has been interpreted as an authentication of the flag as the original one made by Agoncillo in 1898.
Since Aguinaldo in his long life made no categorical statement regarding the flag’s history and authenticity, perhaps we can turn to scientific examination.
In February 1998 at the request of Emilio Aguinaldo Suntay III, a team from the National Historical Institute traveled to Baguio to examine the flag.
Part of the team’s report reads: “The examination was undertaken in a room dimly lighted by a low-intensity incandescent bulb, a condition set by the Suntay family.
“The flag measures 184 centimeters in length and 97 cm in width. It is a two-faced flag with the usual blue, red and white fields. Both white fields contain the sun and three stars which are accentuated by metal threads.
“On one [side of the flag] is the floral wreath embroidery. On its blue and red fields are painted inscriptions: Libertad, Justicia and Ygualidad respectively. The other face has ‘Fuerzas Expedicionarias’ on the blue field and ‘del Norte de Luzon’ on the red field.
“The flag is assumed to have undergone earlier restoration, for it is now enclosed by two layers of nylon net. It is difficult to ascertain the actual physical state of the flag because of poor lighting and the effect of the nylon net. However, it is probably the net enclosure that keeps the items together.”
“There was an attempt to photograph the flag, but the family declined. Nevertheless, under limited conditions, [the team] was permitted to photograph parts of it.”
Despite all the well-meaning restrictions set by the Suntay family that prevented a thorough examination of the flag and an assessment of its deterioration, a significant part of the report concerned the identification of threads of red, white and blue collected from the flag.
The threads were made of cotton, which goes against Agoncillo’s statement that she used the finest satin.
Other sources say the original flag was made of silk, not cotton.
The Baguio flag was Aguinaldo’s favorite: the one he held aloft when Philippine Independence Day was moved from July 4 to June 12 by President Diosdado Macapagal in 1962, the one brought to his bedside when he was ill, the one that was proudly displayed in a relic cabinet in the living room of his home in Kawit.
Without solid historical documentation, perhaps a more careful examination of the flag will prove beyond reasonable doubt that indeed this is the flag of our fathers.
Until then, it remains an authentic flag of the period, but not the original one.
But if the Baguio flag is indeed the original, it should then be returned to Kawit where it rightfully belongs, where it will be accessible to the public and where it will remind and inspire us to be the nation we should be.
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