MARCELA M. ACONCILLO
A brave beauty forever enshrined in history as the "Maker of the Filipino Flag," Doña Marcela Agoncillo was born in Taal,
Batangas on June 24, 1860 to Francisco Mariño and Eugenia Coronel. Her parents were said to have been as rich as they were religious.
As a young girl, she was reputedly the prettiest in Batangas. Tall nd stately, she was fondly referred to as "Roselang Hubog," a virgin enthroned in the town church. Stories are told of people waiting patiently by the church patio for her appearance in the morning, in variably accompanied by a maid or an elderly relative, to hear Mass. Her natural beauty was enhanced by the exquisite pearly tinted piña blouse and the long, full skirt that she usually wore.
Her parents were known to be disciplinarians. When time came to finish her education in Manila, they chose a convent noted for its rigid rules. This was the Sta. Catalina College of the Dominican nuns, established in the Walled City of Intramuros. While in Sta. Catalina, she learned Spanish, music, the feminine crafts and social graces. She was also a noted singer and occasionally appeared in zarzuelas in Batangas.
It was natural for a girl of Marcela's beauty and social standing to have many eligible young men seeking her hand in marriage, but they only met her indifference and her parents' disapproval. Don Felipe Agoncillo who was also of a prominent family from Taal was handsome, wealthy and a lawyer of great promise. He was deemed a fair match. Nevertheless, the young Agoncillo had to wait for a long time to win her hand and to obtain her parents' consent.
Don Felipe was already a judge when they were finally wed. Both were nearing 30 then and already orphans. Six daughters were born to them: Lorenza, Gregoria, Eugenia, Marcela, Adela, who died at 3, and Maria. She raised the daughters to be fine ladies. One of her favorite pieces of advice to them was to "live honestly and well, and to work hard and not depend on family property." The Agoncillos formed a happy and harmonious family.
Like her husband, she was a patriot whose heart bled to see her People suffer under the often brutal Spanish authorities. She stood bravely and loyally by the side of her husband who valiantly defied the corrupt Spanish authorities and defended the rights of the people. She stood by him even as he was denounced by his enemies as a filibustero (traitor).
As a true Filipina of the Spanish era, she was taught early to obey her father's every wish. As a wife, she let her husband make important decisions. Thus, she calmly accepted her husband's decision to go into self-exile in Hongkong to escape a deportation order sending him to Jolo.
When that decision was made in Apri1 1895, Don Felipe had but one hour left before his ship was to set sail for Japan. Not daring to go home to say goodbye to his family, he stopped at Estrella del Norte to purchase a token to be delivered later to his wife, a true "queen of the home." His gift, her most treasured gem,was a gold bracelet bearing diamonds representing each of their living daughters.
As a result of the signing of the Truce of Biak-na-bato in December 1897, General Aguinaldo and his party of 40 revolutionary leaders, went on voluntary exile to Hongkong. Once in Hongkong, General Aguinaldo proceeded to visit the
Agoncillo residence. He requested Doña Marcela to make a Filipino flag. She immediately acceded to the request, seeing in it a big chance to serve her counts). In this she was assisted by her eldest daughter Lorenza, and Mrs. Delfina Herbosa de Natividad, Rizal's niece by his sister Lucia.
Of the first flag made in accordance with the new design, General Aguinaldo said, "The first Filipino national flag, was made by the hands of the Agoncillos at Hongkong. It was the flag I took with me to Cavite when I returned from my exile which was slowly unfurled at the balcony of the Aguinaldo residence at Kawit, Cavite on June 12, 1898." Interviewed on this matter, Mrs. Agoncillo made the following written statement. "In the house at No. 535, Morison Hill, where I lived with my family, exiled from our country on account of the national cause, I had the good fortune to make the first Philippine flag under the direction of an illustrious leader Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy ... It took me five days to make that National Flag, and when completed, I myself delivered it to General Aguinaldo before boarding the transport McCulloch ... General Aguinaldo is the best witness who can give the information whether or not that flag was the first to be displayed in Cavite at the beginning of the revolutionary government against the government of Spain in these islands."
General Aguinaldo was delighted with the flag and congratulated Marcela and her assistants for it. "It was a big play made of beautiful satin," related Don Felipe who witnessed the sewing of the "beautifully embroidered in gold and it contained the present of blue and red and in white triangle with the sun and the 3 stars.
From 1895-1906, Mrs. Agoncillo remained in Hongkong with her daughters. She took care of their home in Hongkong which had practically become an asylum for Filipino leaders. Even Josephine Bracken sought refuge there when the Spanish authorities threatened to torture her.
After the fall of the first Philippine Republic and the establishment of the American regime, Doña Marcela and her family ended their exile in Hongkong. Her funds had run out because of the heavy expenses incurred by Don Felipe's diplomatic activities in France and the United States. She sold her jewels not only to finance their voyage home to Manila but also to help boost the revolutionary funds.
Back in Manila, the Agoncillos settled in their family house in Malate. Don Felipe returned to his law practice. Her association with the rich and privileged people did not, however, make her forget the poor. It was her practice to distribute alms every Saturday to the beggars who came to her regularly. On one occasion, Don Felipe saw through the window of his studyroom a healthy man receiving alms from one of his daughters. After the man had left, he summoned her and asked. "Did you give alms to that man?" "Yes, Father," she replied. "He said that he has heard that we are kind and charitable," she added. "He has heard that we are fools," her father rejoined.
Doña Marcela and her daughters deeply mourned the passing away of Don Felipe. She was his constant and devoted companion throughout the turbulent years of the Revolution.
During the Japanese occupation, the Agoncillo family (the widow and five surviving daughters) suffered like all the others from lack of essential commodities and the rampant cruelty of the Japanese conquerors. Although the supply of food was meager, Dona Marcela gave part of it to the starving. When her daughters complained she remarked, "If it is hard to give, it is harder to ask."
Doña Marcela, who lived through the most hazardous and significant periods of our country was continually a source of inspiration. She took all sufferings in stride. She was also a pragmatic person. When their house burned down, all she said was "We will then have to go to Taal."
Although she survived the Battle of Manila, Mrs. Agoncillo's health consistently declined. She continued to be disconsolate over the death of her husband and lived the remaining years in obvious loneliness. On Ascension Day, 30 May 1946, Do;ia Marcela passed away quietly, at the age of 86. In accordance with her last wish, her body was brought from Taal to Manila and interred alongside her husband in the Catholic cemetery of La Loma.
And there in a family mausoleum now rest a great couple, Don Felipe and his beloved wife Doña Marcela.
To Doña Marcela, the nation owes an everlasting legacy in the national flag.