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Sunday, June 10, 2007


A haven for Filipino patriots

By Augusto V. de Viana PhD*, National Historical Institute

During the latter part of the Spanish colonial rule, the Philippine Revolution and the Filipino American War, Hong Kong served as a refuge for Filipino patriots. Beginning from the aftermath of the execution in 1872 of Filipino secular priests Fathers Mariano Gomes, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora, who championed the rights of the native clergy, Filipino exiles such as Jose Maria Basa sought refuge in the colony, then under British rule.

Basa was first deported by the Spanish authorities to the Marianas in 1872 but later escaped and from that time on lived in Hong Kong. He would later help in the smuggling of Rizal’s first novel, Noli Me Tangere, to the Philippines.

When the Philippine Revolution broke out in 1896 more Filipinos escaping Spanish tyranny found their way to Hong Kong. Among them was a lawyer named Felipe Agoncillo. Agon­cillo was accused of being a filibustero or subversive and was about to be arrested when he fled to Hong Kong. There he would be joined by his wife, Marcela Agoncillo, and their daughters. The Agoncillos lived in a house on Morrison Hill Road in Wanchai. As the Philippine Revolution wore on, the street became a gathering place of Filipino patriots. At the conclusion of the Pact of Biak na Bato in December 1897, they were joined by Filipino revolutionary leaders like General Emilio Aguinaldo.

One of the visitors to the Agoncillo house was Antonio Luna. Mrs. Agoncillo recounts that Luna, who became a general in the revolutionary army, loved to cook and whenever he dropped by would go straight to the kitchen to do European dishes. Another visitor was Aguinaldo who would use the Agoncillos’ residence to meet with other Filipino revolutionaries. After returning from Singapore where American consul Spencer Pratt convinced him to resume leadership of the Philippine Revolution, Aguinaldo visited and asked Mrs. Agon­cillo a unique favor: sew the flag of the Philippines.

Mrs. Agoncillo agreed to undertake the task. Mrs. Agoncillo bought the finest silk cloth from a nearby market. She worked with her five-year-old daughter, Lorenza, and Delfina Herbosa Natividad, a niece of the martyred hero Jose Rizal who had married one of Aguinaldo’s generals. The trio worked manually and with the aid of a sewing machine. Their eyes and fingers hurt from the prolonged sewing and there were times when they had to redo the flag because a ray in the sun was not sewn right. The flag which became known as “the sun and the stars flag” was finished after five days. On May 17 it was packed among the things Aguinaldo brought to Manila. This was the flag that was unfurled from the window of Aguinaldo’s house in Kawit, Cavite, during the proclamation of Philippine independence on June 12, 1898.

Filipinos continued to work for Philippine independence out of Hong Kong as it became the base of the Philippine Central Committee, better known as the Hong Kong Junta. The patriots tried to convince other countries to recognize Philippine independence. After American rule was firmly established in Manila, many of its members including Felipe Agoncillo returned to the Philippines to undertake a political struggle to secure the country’s freedom.

Today a simple marker stands at the Morrison Hill Park in Hong Kong which commemorates the site where the first Philippine flag was sewn. The sites of the Agoncillo residence and of the Hong Kong Junta, however, remain unmarked until today.

*Dr. de Viana is chief of the Research, Publications and Heraldry of the National Historical Institute.  


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