Resolving A Contentious Issue:
An Overview Of The NHI’s Position On The First And Official Flag Raising In Mindanao

      When the centenary of the country’s independence was celebrated in 1998, a plethora of emotions were felt in each and every hearts of Filipinos.  The centennial anniversary on June 12, 1998; indeed, was a remembrance of the Filipinos’ struggles for freedom and justice more than a century ago.  While the event generated interest in the study of Philippine history, it also produced a great number of issues that needed utmost attention.  One of those was the controversy on the first and official flag raising in Mindanao.  Three contenders: Surigao, Butuan and Cagayan de Oro claimed that the raising of the Philippine tricolor took place in their jurisdiction.   Their claims, in a way, were not unfounded for based on available documents and accounts, these areas were the first ones to hoist the country’s flag in Mindanao.   As a background, the province of Mindanao was the last province in the country evacuated by the Spaniards.  The withdrawal of the last colonial authorities and the establishment of the revolutionary government and the raising of the flag clearly signified the country’s independence.

The National Historical Institute (NHI) of course, has taken note about the controversy.  It was imperative for the Institute to resolve the dispute.  As former NHI Chairman Dr. Pablo Trillana once said, the flag raising in Mindanao is important because the event has a certain relationship to the birth of the nation.  So as a fitting end to the raging controversy, the NHI initiated a two-day round table discussion on the controversy, held on the 2nd week of January 2000.  The deliberation conducted by the panel of experts determined the area in Mindanao where the first and official flag raising happened.  While the primary concern was to end the dispute, the NHI, through the round-table discussion, was also able to gather more information on the significant personages and circumstances connected with the event.

      The conference was convened by a panel of distinguished members known for their wisdom and fairness.  The panel included Justice Camilo D. Quiason; Dr. Sabino G. Padilla, Jr.; Professor Talampas and Dr. Jaime B. Veneracion. 

      Meanwhile, representatives from the contending areas defended their claims using primary documents or secondary sources of sound probative value.  The NHI for proper evaluation adopted these principles.  The speakers considered experts on their localities’ history were Mr. Gregorio Jose Palma Hontiveros and Rev. Fr. Joesilo C. Amalla for Butuan; Mr. Antonio J. Montalvan II and Ms. Agnes Paulita R. Roa for Cagayan de Oro and; Mr. Fernando A. Almeda Jr. and Atty. Jose C. Sering for Surigao.

Surigao’s Stand

      The Surigao representatives used the diary of Fr. Alberto Masoliver, S.J., the parish priest of Surigao in 1898, for supporting their case.  The diary, entitled Diario dela Casa de Surigao, is currently kept in the Jesuit archives at Centro Borja, San Cugat del Valles, Spain.  The accounts of Fr. Masoliver are cited in the book Angry Days in Mindanao by Fr. Peter Schreurs.

      Summarizing the position of the Suriganons, “The Philippine Flag was raised in Surigao in the morning of December 26, 1898 at the Casa Real (town hall), which also housed the Tribunal (courthouse).  Surigao then was the cabecera and the seat of government of the province of Caraga which had jurisdiction over Surigao, Butuan and Cagayan de Misamis.” The president of the Junta Provincial of Surigao, as of 26 December, was Alejandro (Jantoy) Gonzales.

Butuan’s Position

      To bolster their claim, the representatives of Butuan, meanwhile cited the documents from the Philippine Insurrection Records, Angry Days in Mindanao by Fr. Schreurs and, Mision dela Compania de Jesus en Filipinas en el Siglo XIX by Fr. Pablo Pastels.

      The position of the Butuan side was that the tricolor was raised in Butuan on 17 January 1899, with Governor Wenceslao Gonzales personally presiding over the flag-raising ceremony in full regalia.  The governor later reported the event to President Emilio Aguinaldo on February 2, 1899.

The Case of Cagayan de Oro (de Misamis)

      On their part, the Speakers from Cagayan argued that the flag was raised on January 10 1899 when the five-man Concejo Provincial of the revolutionary government assumed office.  The members of the Concejo were chosen in accordance with Aguinaldo’s decree of June 18, 1898.  On that occasion, the newly installed municipal head, Toribio Chaves y Roa recited the poem “Pinahanongod”, and explained the meaning and symbols of the flag. 

      The Bautista Manuscript, and the Report to the President of the Revolutionary Government by Jose Roa y Casa were used to by the representatives of Cagayan to strengthen their case.

The Panel’s decision

      Summarizing the findings of the panel and the comments of some experts from the history department of UP such as Dr. Evelyn Miranda, Professor Digna P. Apilado and Dr. Eden Gripaldo, it was recommended that the first and official flag raising occurred in Surigao.  Surigao’s arguments were able to satisfy the criteria set by the panel.  The information that they gave which states that the tricolor was raised on the 26th of December 1898 as against 10 January in Cagayan and 17 January 1899 in Butuan is or was recorded in the diary of Fr. Alberto Masoliver, now kept in the Jesuit Archives in Spain.  Aside from this, no one from the Butuan and Cagayan sides refuted the entry in Fr. Masoliver’s diary.  Regarding if the flag raising was official, the panel, relied on the second criterion set by the rules of the Competition: whether the event was in clear identification with, and in pursuance of the aims and struggles of the revolutionary government.  This criterion was used since all three contenders were unable to show any proof, based on the first criterion, that the raising of the flag was sanctioned by the Philippine Revolutionary Government of Aguinaldo. 

Without a doubt, the events in Butuan and Cagayan were official since both fell within the terms of reference set by rules of the competition.  However, Surigao was also able to satisfy this particular rule.  To quote the panel report: “The Aguinaldo proclamation of 18 June 1898, establishing a dictatorial government was made known to sympathizers of the revolution.  The news of the defeat of the Spanish armada… fanned the flames of rebellion, forcing Spanish officials and friars to abandon their posts… The Spanish governor of Surigao on 23 December 1898, and forthwith, a provisional junta assumed control of the government could take over.  Elected as Chairman of the Junta was Alejandro Gomez… So when Fr. Masoliver saw the Filipino flag flying at the Casa Real and the Tribunal of Surigao on December 26… the revolutionary government for the province, albeit provisional, was already in place… The Butuan Panel admitted that Alejandro Gonzales established an interim government in Surigao… There is no denying that the event was in clear identification of the aims and struggles of the revolution.”

(In 2001, the National Historical Institute published its first scholarly journal called Kasasaysan.  Included in this 100-page paper are the complete proceedings of the January Round Table Conference, papers presented by all three parties involved, comments of the Ad-Hoc Committee  and, the thorough Report and Recommendation of the Panel.  Copies are available at the Institute.)