Emmanuel F. Calairo, PhD
Commissioner, National Historical Commission of the Philippines
Asst. Vice Chancellor for Research, De La Salle University-Dasmarinas

Through centuries, the Filipinos’ quest for freedom took them to bloody struggles against two colonial masters – the Spaniards and the Americans. Although the people in our archipelago were not yet united when Magellan set foot on the Philippine soil, various cultural and political groups had already claimed their rightful ownership of their ancestral lands, and boasted of their rich and colorful culture in parallel with the western tradition. Despite the death of Magellan at the shores of Mactan, the Filipinos’ defense capability was evidently still far from the military might of the Western conquerors. Amidst this lack of military power, our forebears still managed to wage war against the Spaniards from 16th century to the 19th century until the Filipino intellectuals started to rise in power and clamor for peaceful reform. These struggles before the last decade of the 19th century proved to be insufficient to forge the needed political change in the Philippines. A powerful unifying power was still lacking amongst the various groups that clamored for reform whether inside and outside the Philippine capital.

Due credit should be accorded to the founders of the Katipunan who with all means, devoid of necessary weapons to win the struggle, still bid for political independence against the more powerful Spanish colonial government. The Katipunan’s initiatives gained popular support from the people and in less than a month since it was launched in Pugad Lawin, KKK regional chapters were formed and individually rose up in arms against the respective local governments in their jurisdictions. In all their successes and reverses, it would be worthy to mention that the Katipunan supreme government and its chapters had adopted a flag to symbolize their cry for independence and call for unity and genuine change. These flags became a constant reminder to the revolutionists of their goals which brought their minds to the level of sacrificing their lives in the name of their ideals as symbolized by the flag.

The current Philippine flag was also conceptualized amidst the Philippine revolution. President Emilio Aguinaldo, while exiled in Hong Kong, already envisioned a free Philippines and a strong republic. To have a symbol for these ideals, he requested Mrs. Marcela Agoncillo to sew a flag to become the Philippine national flag. President Aguinaldo brought this flag to the Philippine shore, declared to the United states that we already have a symbol of independence and our republic. Despite the American silence on the question of Philippine independence, Aguinaldo used our flag to rally the support of every Filipino in our struggle for freedom. It was hoisted after they won in the battle of Alapan, in Polvorin, Binakayan and in the belfry of Bacoor church. Its formal introduction was during the ceremony of the proclamation of independence held in Kawit on June 12, 1898 when the flag was unfurled while the national hymn was being played. Since June 1898, the Philippine national flag has become a unifying symbol of all the Filipinos in the battlefield. No other flag had been recognized either by the Filipinos and even by their American enemies as a symbol of Filipino unity. Amidst the Filipino struggle against the United States, Americans passed the Flag Law banning the display of the Philippine flag as they recognized the power of this flag to move people to sacrifice their lives for their country. When the armed struggle was already controlled by the United states, they started to allow Filipinos to display their cherished symbol of national pride. The Philippine flag was again displayed in the mainstream and became the forefront of political movement when the Philippine legislature vied for autonomy. During the commonwealth period, the Japanese occupation, and the liberation period, the Philippine flag was unfurled to show that the Filipino spirit was always alive in the heart of every Filipino all over the world. The recognition of Philippine independence on July 4, 1946 became a milestone in the Philippine struggle for independence since the Spanish period. It was during President Diosdado Macapagal’s time when the commemoration of June 12, 1898 was restored and the Philippine flag was hoisted to remind us that we were already an independent nation.

In the post war era, we again saw the Philippine flag used by Filipinos who clamored for change during the martial law era. These various events showing the use of our flag proved to be powerful, such as when democracy was restored in 1986 and when political change was needed in 2001.

Today, amidst the massive number of lives lost due to the COVID -19 outbreak around the world, people are looking for something that they can hold on to, the resiliency to continue the battle against the virus, and the discipline to follow the rules set by their respective governments to win against the pandemic. Some of them already found their way to their national flags as a symbol to collectively battle this unseen enemy. We saw Italians waving their flag to symbolize national mourning and the call for unity; the Spaniards waving their flag to show support for their frontliners; and the Americans displaying their flag to assert their constitutional rights. All these events remind us about our forefathers sacrificing their lives to win our independence from 1892 to 1946. Today, as we traverse another daunting stage in world history, may the present generation be reminded of the values that our flag represents so we can continue to care for our country, sacrifice for its welfare, and stand firm as Filipinos who can weather life’s challenges with confidence and pride.