By Eufemio Agbayani III
When the Philippine national flag is raised during a weekly flag ceremony, or when it is carried by an energetic crowd in support of Gilas Pilipinas, or when it is shared online in support of embattled soldiers and endangered civilians in Marawi City, one might be curious: did the flag really look this way when it was first designed?
There are many claims about the whereabouts of the original flag that was flown in Kawit, Cavite on 12 June 1898. Some believe it is now lost because Emilio Aguinaldo said so in a statement dated 11 June 1925. Other news reports allege that in 1919, Aguinaldo said that he lost the flag in the Caraballo mountains of Nueva Vizcaya.
Some descendants of Emilio Aguinaldo claim that Aguinaldo said the original flag was lost only because he wanted to protect it. Furthermore, they displayed what they believe is the original flag in the Emilio Aguinaldo Museum in Baguio City.
One witness can help us verify if the claim is true — Miss Marcela M. Agoncillo, the daughter of principal maker of the flag, Marcela Mariño de Agoncillo.
The younger Marcela is the fifth daughter of Marcela and Felipe Agoncillo, ambassador of the First Philippine Republic to the Peace Commission in Paris. She was born on 25 August 1900 while her family was exiled in Hong Kong. She did not personally see how the original flag was made, but she received stories about it from her mother throughout her life.
In a statement probably written in the 1980s and published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on 12 June 1998, she claimed to have seen the original flag in 1919:
After 1919 when the ban to unfurl our national flag was lifted, the Agoncillo family and many others were invited by the General during Independence Day celebration on July 1 and later June 12 every year. On these occasions, I, Marcela M. Agoncillo saw the flag and can testify and swear that the blue of our national flag is dark blue. Later the General deposited the flag in the bank of Monte de Piedad, a more secure and safer place. Recently by order of Mrs Cristina Aguinaldo Suntay the flag was transferred to the Aguinaldo Museum, Aguinaldo Park, Baguio City. Those who insist that the flag in Mrs. Suntay’s keeping is a replica. Take it for granted, that it is a replica, although I can assure that it is not, would General Aguinaldo allow a replica be different from the original?
So sure was she about what the original flag looked like that she had a replica made. This replica is now in the custody of a relative, Mrs. Evelyn Del Rosario Garcia.
However, the flag which the Aguinaldo-Suntay family calls the original differ a little bit from the younger Marcela’s replica. The flag in Baguio has a blue stripe with a slightly lighter shade and has words embroidered in the middle: Fuerzas Expedicionarias del Norte de Luzon on one side and Libertad Justicia e Ygualdad on the other. Meanwhile, the stars in the Agoncillo replica have faces.
How could the Agoncillo replica and the Aguinaldo-Suntay flag be so different? It helps to know the provenance of the latter.
The Aguinaldo-Suntay ‘original flag’ was Aguinaldo’s favorite. An article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer also published on 12 June 1998 says that according to his personal secretary Felisa Diokno, the flag was returned by a veteran in 1930. Since then, the general ‘never let it out of his sight’, frequently posed with it, and even brought it to the independence ceremony in Manila on 4 July 1946, and the recognition of 12 June as independence day in 1964. The flag was later found by his daughter Cristina Aguinaldo-Suntay under his deathbed and kept it hidden until the 1980s.
That this particular flag was only returned in 1930 would support Aguinaldo’s pronouncements that it was lost either in Nueva Vizcaya or Tayug, Pangasinan. It would run contrary, however, to the younger Marcela’s claim that the flag was with the family all along and that she had seen it personally.
However, there is another flag in the Baguio museum. The Aguinaldo-Suntay family calls it Aguinaldo’s battle flag, which is plausible considering the bloodstains and dirt that it has. It has a dark blue, if not almost black, stripe and its stars have faces.
Could it be that this was the original that the younger Marcela referred to in her handwritten statement? Or did she base her replica on this flag, thinking that the battle flag was the original? We have yet to find out once and for all. But for now, feel free to fly the National Flag in its current form, mindful of its colorful past.
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Cabreza, Vincent. “In Baguio museum, flags celebrate victories.” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12 June 2015.
Cabreza, Vincent and Frank Cimatu. “First RP Flag on Display.” Philippine Daily Inquirer. 24 March 1998.
Cabreza, Vincent and Frank Cimatu. “Myths, controversies fly with Aguinaldo flag.” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12 June 1898.
Orosa Del Rosario, Helen. “Marcela’s feat.” Philippine Daily Inquirer. 12 June 1898.
Orosa Goquinco, Leonor, “Miss Marcela Agoncillo: The last of a family of patriots.” Philippine Star, 1 October 1990.
Zafra-Reyes, Felicidad. “Marcela’s Fight.” Times Journal, 20 June 1985