by Bryan Anthony C. Paraiso
One of the iconic images of the 20th century is undoubtedly the raising of the United States flag on the peak of Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima Island during the American offensive against Japan at the Battle of Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945. The picture taken by American photographer Joe Rosenthal showed five U.S. Marines and a U.S. Navy Corpsman struggling to elevate the Stars and Stripes amid a bleak war-torn landscape. This earned for Rosenthal the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for photography and became widely popular for it represented the heroism and determination of American troops to overcome the enemies of freedom.
On the other hand, images of the Philippine flag during the Philippine Revolution’s fiercest battles and significant events are fairly sparse. If only Emilio Aguinaldo had his own official embedded photographer, we would probably have ample pictorial documentation of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898 in Kawit, Cavite when the flag was officially unfurled.
However, among the important images of the Philippine flag is a watercolor sketch made by Filipino painter Juan Luna, defiantly flying in the breeze, while an unidentified town across a river is consumed by a raging fire, presumably caused by the colonizing Americans whose flag is faintly visible. The painting entitled Souvenir de 1899 was completed by Luna on May 21, 1899 in Leitmeritz, Bohemia after his meeting with Rizal’s bosom friend, Dr. Ferdinand Blumentritt.1
French journalist Henri Turot’s Les hommes de révolution: Aguinaldo et les Philippins, provides several accounts where the Philippine flag is prominently featured. After the successful repulse of Spanish troops in the Battle of Alapan on May 28, 1898, Turot writes: “…the prisoners were brought to Cavite. As a sign of joy, they hoisted for the first time the Filipino national flag in the presence of an enthusiastic and joyful crowd that saluted it with thunderous applause and reverberating acclamations. They shouted ‘Long live independent Philippines, Long live the American nation.’ A number of United States Navy Officers assisted in the ceremonies and took part in the festivities and associated themselves in the joy shown by all the people of Cavite.”2 (…les prisonniers furent emmenés à Cavité. C’est alors qu’en signe de joie fut hissé pour la première fois le pavillon national philippin en présence d’une foule enthousiaste et joyeuse qui le salua d’un tonnerre d’applaudissements et d’acclamations retentissantes. On cria: “Vivent les Philippines indépendantes” et aussi: “Vive la nation américaine.” Plusieurs officiers de la marine des États-Unis assistaient à la cérémonie et prirent leur part de la manifestation, s’associant à la joie témoignée par toute la population de Cavité.)3
Turot also provides a description of the flag and its significance: “This flag, blue and red, and a white triangle with a golden star at the center, meant that the Filipino nation was henceforth constituted and took its place among the civilized and independent nations.”4 (Ce drapeau, bleu et rouge, avec triangle blanc portant au milieu une étoile d’or, voulait dire que la nation philippine était dorénavant constituée et qu’elle prenait rang parmi les peuples civilisés et indépendants.)5 It is amusing that Turot mistakenly identifies the golden eight-rayed anthropomorphic sun with a simple star.
In Emilio Aguinaldo’s memoirs, Reseña Veridica de la Revolucion Filipina (True Version of the Philippine Revolution), he recounts how Admiral Dewey encouraged him to fly the Philippine flag: “Then the Admiral advised me to at once have made a Filipino National Flag, which he said he would recognize and protect in the presence of the other nations represented by the various squadrons anchored in Manila Bay, adding, however, that he thought it advisable that we should destroy the power of Spain before hoisting our national flag, in order that the act would appear more important and creditable in the eyes of the world and of the United States in particular. Then when the Filipino vessels passed to and fro with the national flag fluttering in the breeze they would attract more attention and be more likely to induce respect for the national colors.”6
Because of Admiral Dewey’s suggestion, Aguinaldo narrates how he commanded the newly-formed Philippine Navy to hoist up the flag on the masts of its mosquito fleet:
“In conformity with my orders issued on the 1st of September, all Philippine vessels hoisted the national flag, the Marines of the Filipino flotilla being the first to execute that order. Our little flotilla consisted of some eight Spanish steam launches (which had been captured) and five vessels of greater dimensions, namely, the Taaleño, Balayan, Taal, Bulucan, and Purisima Concepcion.
These vessels were presented to the Philippine Government by their native owners and were converted by us, at our Arsenal, into gunboats, 8 and 9 centimeter guns, taken from the sunken Spanish warships, being mounted on board.
Ah! what a beautiful, inspiring joyous sight that flag was fluttering in the breeze from the topmasts of our vessels, side by side, as it were, with the ensigns of other and greater nations, among whose mighty warships our little cruisers passed to and fro dipping their colors, the ensign of Liberty and Independence! With what reverence and adoration it was viewed as it suddenly rose in its stately loneliness crowning our victories, and, as it were, smiling approvingly upon the undisciplined Philippine Army in the moment of its triumphs over the regular forces of the Spanish Government! One’s heart swells and throbs again with the emotions of extreme delight; the soul is filled with pride, and the goal of patriotism seems well-nigh reached in the midst of such a magnificent spectacle!
At the end of June I called on Admiral Dewey, who, after complimenting me on the rapid triumphs of the Philippine Revolution, told me he had been asked by the German and French Admirals why he allowed the Filipinos to display on their vessels a flag that was not recognized. Admiral Dewey said his reply to the French and German Admirals was – with his knowledge and consent the Filipinos used that flag, and, apart from this, he was of opinion that in view of the courage and steadfastness of purpose displayed in the war against the Spaniards the Filipinos deserved the right to use their flag. I thereupon expressed to the Admiral my unbounded gratitude for such unequivocal protection, and on returning to the shore immediately ordered the Philippine flotilla to convey troops to the other provinces of Luzon and to the Southern islands, to wage war against the Spaniards who garrisoned them.” 7
With all of these available narratives on the Philippine flag during the Revolution, it is apparent that Filipinos of that time held it in high regard and respect. Our Filipino fathers and mothers were proud to have the tricolor pennant fly high and free, because it was the ultimate symbol of struggle to gain independence, identity, and nationhood.
It is disheartening how trifling we treat our national flag these days. Appearing as a mere design on a sports jacket, undershirt, and even on a stylish flip-flop—is it a sign that we have become calloused for the lives sacrificed on behalf of the motherland? Do we need another conflict or the loss of sovereignty to realize the value of a national symbol?
How do we start honoring our national flag? Simply by standing erect, with our right hand proudly touching our breast and singing the national anthem while our flag freely takes wing. Properly displaying the flag in our homes, offices, and vehicles, ensuring that its draping flows lightly.
We must remember that the threads of the flag are the embodiment of the Filipino spirit, our glory as an independent nation, and an enduring aspiration for the betterment of our people.
1 E. Aguilar Cruz, Luna (Manila: Bureau of National and Foreign Information, 1975) 92.
2 Henri Turot, First Philippine President (1898-1901): Emilio Aguinaldo, translated from the French by Pacifico Castro (Manila: Trademark Publishing Corporation, 1998) 152.
3 Henri Turot, Les hommes de révolution: Aguinaldo et les Philippins (Paris: Librairie Léopold Cerf, 1900) 134-135.
4 Henri Turot, First Philippine President (1898-1901): Emilio Aguinaldo, translated from the French by Pacifico Castro (Manila: Trademark Publishing Corporation, 1998) 153.
5 Henri Turot, Les hommes de révolution: Aguinaldo et les Philippins (Paris: Librairie Léopold Cerf, 1900) 136.
6 Emilio Aguinaldo, Reseña Veridica de la Revolucion Filipina (True Version of the Philippine Revolution) (Manila: National Historical Institute, 2002) 102.
7 Emilio Aguinaldo, Reseña Veridica de la Revolucion Filipina (True Version of the Philippine Revolution) (Manila: National Historical Institute, 2002) 110.