By Peter Jaynul V. Uckung

Julian Felipe thought of himself as a Filipino patriot first and a composer second. However, it is for his music that he will always be remembered.

     In 1896 Felipe was enjoying life as a composer and keyboard artist of some repute. However, with the outbreak of hostilities, he decided to abandon the piano and learn to fight instead. The Philippine revolution had begun and Julian Felipe, for love of country, joined the fight.

     His military career was cut short, however, when he was arrested by the Spanish authorities and thrown into prison at fort San Felipe in Cavite City. He missed being executed only because the Spaniards had no proof to convict him of any serious crime. Instead he was jailed for about a year at Fort Santiago and then released on June 2, 1897.

     Meanwhile, the leader of the revolution, Emilio Aguinaldo, who was exiled to Hong Kong after signing the Pact of Biak-na-Bato, returned to the Philippines on May 1, 1898. Now allied with the Americans, he was ready to continue the revolution.

     The two men were destined to cross paths on June 5, 1898. Bearing a letter of recommendation from his friend, Mariano Trias, Felipe sought out Aguinaldo who was at the time in Cavite City at the home of Maximo Inocencio. In a good mood after the recent victories against the Spaniards, Aguinaldo and his generals were planning the course of the war when Felipe arrived. Recognizing the young man’s skill as a pianist, Aguinaldo asked him to play a march composed by a Filipino in Hong Kong. The Musician complied. 

      Upon hearing it, Aguinaldo was not satisfied with the music. He described it as good but obviously it was not good enough. It was not emotionally appealing. He wanted a more serious melody that will instill courage and patriotism in the hearts of every Filipino Aguinaldo then asked Felipe if he could compose a more soul-rousing tune, one which will reflect the nation’s ideals. It was more of a command than a request. He was being commissioned to compose the nation’s anthem. The pianist, although awed by the challenge, said that he would try. 

      Felipe returned to his home and immediately began the composition. On June 11, 1898, the composer returned to Aguinaldo’s home in Kawit Cavite with a finished work. With Aguinaldo were some of the revolutionary generals. Felipe had walked in on a meeting. Despite the fact that he was interrupting, Felipe was greeted warmly and was duly asked to play his composition.

       Everybody froze and listened as the pianist played out the anthem’s stirring chords and haunting melody. Here was an artist at his finest moment. Felipe had managed to draw upon his own patriotism and channel it into his music. He consciously incorporated some tonal characteristics of the Spanish Royal March to remember the passing of an era. 

      As the last tones vanished into the air, Aguinaldo and his generals, including Generals Mariano Trias and Baldomero Aguinaldo, applauded Felipe’s creation. They initially titled it Marcha Filipina Magdalo, after Aguinaldo’s original Katipunan faction during the first phase of the revolution. They then unanimously approved it to be the national anthem of the country.

       Aguinaldo decided that Felipe would teach his score to the members of the band of San Francisco de Malabon (now General Trias) so that it could be played the next day for the declaration of Philippine Independence here in Kawit.

      Composing a national anthem was tough enough, but teaching it to a band he hardly knew which was tasked to play it the next day it the next day was another matter. Fortunately, Felipe had experience teaching, he once taught music to earn money.

       The following day, June 12, 1898, Julian Felipe’s masterpiece accompanied the hoisting of the new Philippine flag during the historic Declaration of Philippine Independence. It has been played at all gathering ever since, becoming the national anthem of the Philippines now known as the Marcha Nacional Filipina.

        In August of 1899 the anthem was given lyrics, written by post Jose Palma who titled it “Filipinas”. The original words were in Spanish. During the American regime they were translated into English by American Mary A. Lane and Camilo Osias and were adopted by the Philippine Commonwealth as a national symbol. The Filipino version was penned by Ildefonso Santos and Julian Cruz Balmeda in the 1940’s. This was proclaimed as the official Filipino version on May 26, 1956.

       And it has been as sine this national Anthem of the Philippines or “Lupang Hinirang”.

      As for Julian Felipe, the Philippines legislature passed an Act on December 4, 1924 for the government by him P 4,000 for his contribution to the creation of the National Anthem.