August 15, 2019
AN estimated 2 million people recently marched through the streets of Hong Kong demanding the scrapping of a proposed extradition by their Legislative Council. Under the proposed law, an extradition request would be reviewed by the courts but it is Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, a position selected by a Beijing-dominated election committee, who would have the final decision. Protesters and critics fear that “the law would allow Beijing to seize anyone it likes who sets foot in the territory — from a normal resident to the chief executive of a multinational in transit — and whisk them off to mainland China on trumped-up charges.”
Hong Kong is unique as it operates under the “one country, two systems” framework with China. This grants it a high degree of autonomy. The city has its own currency, passports and legal system, and is a member of the World Trade Organization in its own right. Its colonial past contributed much to this form of governance.
Hong Kong was under British rule from 1841 — enforced by the Treaty of Nanking which was a result of the Opium Wars — until July 1, 1997, when the UK transfered control of Hong Kong and its surrounding territories to the People’s Republic of China. Hong Kong has always positioned itself as the world city of Asia, a global city, an international haven for trade, business and finance, and for migrants and refugees, and at one time, also for revolutionaries.
When the Philippine Revolution broke out in 1896, Filipinos escaping Spanish tyranny found their way to Hong Kong. The territory served as a refuge for our patriots, among them a lawyer named Felipe Agoncillo. He was accused of being a filibuster, a subversive, a criminal, an enemy of the Spanish Crown. He was later joined by his wife Marcela and their daughters.
The family lived in a house on Morrison Hill Road in Wanchai. To sustain the family, Marcela Agoncillo had to sell the jewelry that was part of the family heirlooms. She also had to sew and sell children’s pinafores in Hong Kong to generate income. She learned the basics of sewing and needlework from the Beaterio de Santa Catalina, a convent school for girls in Intramuros. She was born in the embroidery capital of Taal, Batangas.
After the signing of the Pact of Biak-Na-Bato in December 1897, other revolutionary leaders went to Hong Kong and frequented the Agoncillo home. Antonio Luna and Emilio Aguinaldo were among them. It was during this time that Aguinaldo and Marcela’s husband Felipe set up the Hong Kong Junta. It was also at this house that Aguinaldo requested Marcela to sew the Philippine Flag.
Marcela accepted the responsibility given by Aguinaldo. With the help of her young daughter Lorenza, and Jose Rizal’s niece, Delfina Herbosa Natividad, Marcela meticulously cut, sewed and embroidered the silk cloth bought in Hong Kong.
Marcela recounted that she and Delfina would “unstitch what was already sewn simply because a ray was crooked, or because the stars were not equidistant.” After five laborious days, the flag was finally complete.
The 1898 flag is slightly different from the Philippine flag we use today. It features an anthropomorphic sun, open and closed laurel wreaths surrounding an inscription in the center. The text in the obverse reads Fuerzas Expeditionarias del Norte de Luzon (Expeditionary Forces of Northern Luzon) while the reverse shows the words Libertad Justicia e Ygualdad (Liberty, Justice and Equality).
Marcela personally delivered the flag to Aguinaldo on May 17, 1898 shortly before he set sail for Manila on board the ship McCulloch. Several days later, the same flag was unfurled from the window of Aguinaldo’s house in Kawit, Cavite, during which Philippine independence as we know it today was officially proclaimed.
There are many unsung heroines in the history of our country. Many stories of patriotism still need to be told to immortalize their struggles. We should never forget their contributions. Marcela Agoncillo earned the title “Mother of the Philippine Flag.”
Today, a historical marker installed by the Hong Kong Antiquities Council still stands at Morrison Hill Park to commemorate the site where the first Philippine flag was sewn. It reads:
“In May 1898, in this vicinity, the first Philippine national flag was sewn by hand by Doña Marcela Agoncillo, wife of Felipe Agoncillo, the first Filipino diplomat, assisted by her daughter Lorenza and Mrs. Delfina Herbosa Natividad, niece of Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal. This flag, which became the rallying symbol of unity for the Filipino people during the Philippine revolution, was officially unfurled during the proclamation of Philippine independence on June 12, 1898 in Kawit, Cavite.
This marker is installed to commemorate the historical role of Hong Kong in the Filipino people’s struggle for independence.”
Jose B. Jimenez 3rd is the executive director of the Harvard Kennedy School Alumni Association of the Philippines.
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