A HAVEN FOR FILIPINO PATRIOTS
by Augusto V. de Viana, Ph.D
During the latter part of the Spanish colonial rule, the Philippine Revolution and the Filipino American War, Hong Kong served as a refuge for Filipino patriots. Beginning from the aftermath of the execution in 1872 of Filipino secular priests, Fathers Mariano Gomes, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora who championed the rights of the native clergy, Filipino exiles such as Jose Ma. Basa sought refuge in the colony, then under the rule of the British. Basa was first deported to the Marianas in 1872 but later escaped and from that time on lived in Hong Kong. He would later help in the smuggling of Rizal’s novel, the Noli Me Tangere to the Philippines.
When the Philippine Revolution broke out in 1896 more Filipinos escaping Spanish tyranny found their way to Hong Kong. Among them was a lawyer named Felipe Agoncillo. Agoncillo was accused of being a filibustero or subversive and was about to be arrested when he fled to Hong Kong. There they would be joined by his wife Marcela Agoncillo and their daughters. The Agoncillos lived in a house located at Morrison Hill Road in Wanchai. As the Philippine Revolution wore on, the street became a gathering place of Filipino patriots. At the conclusion of the Pact of Biak na Bato in December 1897, they were joined by Filipino revolutionary leaders like General Emilio Aguinaldo.
One of the visitors to the Agoncillo house was Antonio Luna. Mrs. Agoncillo recounts that Luna, who became a general in the revolutionary army, loved to cook and whenever he drops by he would go straight to the kitchen to do European dishes. Another visitor was Aguinaldo who would use the place to meet with other Filipino revolutionaries. After returning from Singapore where American consul Spencer Pratt convinced him to resume leadership of the Philippine Revolution, Aguinaldo dropped by and asked Mrs. Agoncillo a unique favor. She was to sew the flag of the Philippines.
Mrs. Agoncillo agreed to undertake the task. Working with her five-year-old daughter, Lorenza and Delfina Herbosa Natividad, was a niece of the martyred hero Jose Rizal who married one of Aguinaldo’s generals, Mrs. Agoncillo bought the finest silk cloth from a nearby market. The trio worked manually and with the aid of a sewing machine. Their eyes and fingers hurt from the prolonged sewing and sometimes they had to redo the flag because a ray in the sun was not sewn right. The flag which became known as the sun and the stars flag, was finished after five days and on May 17 it was packed among the things Aguinaldo brought to Manila. This was the same flag that was unfurled from the window of Aguinaldo’s house in Kawit, Cavite during the proclamation of Philippine independence on June 12, 1898.
Filipinos continued to work for Philippine independence as Hong Kong became the base of the Philippine Central Committee better known as the Hong Kong Junta. They tried to convince other countries to recognize Philippine independence. After American rule was firmly established in Manila, many of its members including Felipe Agoncillo returned to the Philippines to undertake a political struggle to secure the country’s freedom.
Today a simple marker stands at the Morrison Hill Park in Hong Kong which commemorates the site where the first Philippine flag was sewn. The sites of the Agoncillo residence and that of the Hong Kong Junta however, remain unmarked until today.
Dr. de Viana is Chief of the Research, Publications and Heraldry of the National Historical Institute.