Unlearning flag history
Growing up as a martial law baby meant having to unlearn a lot of Marcos-era distortions. When I saw the word “Pag-ibig,” I had to look at how the word was used to know if it meant “love” or the Marcos housing loan program. When I saw the letters KKK, I had to put these in context to know if it meant the U.S. white supremacist organization Ku Klux Klan that targeted blacks, the Philippine revolutionary group Kataastaasan Kagalanggalang na Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (Highest and Most Exalted Association of the Sons of the Country) that was led by the ill-fated Andres
Bonifacio, or, again, the Marcos livelihood program Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran.
In terms of history, I had to unlearn the 1972 “Ebolusyon ng Bandilang Pilipino” (Evolution of the Philippine Flag) postage stamps. The 10 flags in the series did not present an accurate “evolution” into the present flag, because three were variations of Katipunan flags, while others were personal flags or battle standards of
Andres Bonifacio, Mariano Llanera, Pio del Pilar, and Gregorio del Pilar. This postage stamp series should have been called “Flags of the Philippine Revolution.” But old habits die hard, and images depicting the “evolution” of our flag still float in the internet.
History was not confined to the classroom or textbooks. A lot of it was absorbed outside school through mass media, monuments, banknotes, and coins. I used to believe that the Philippine flag was first unfurled in Kawit, Cavite on June 12, 1898, to the tune of the present National Anthem. I had to unlearn the narrative of the 1972 blue two-peso Rizal banknote and the 1985 green five-peso Aguinaldo banknote. On the reverse of both notes was a detailed illustration depicting Aguinaldo waving the flag from the window of his Kawit home before a jubilant crowd on June 12, 1898, after the declaration of independence from Spain was read out. The iconic “Independence Balcony” was in fact a later addition to the Aguinaldo mansion.
What we know as Bayang Magiliw, Lupang Hinirang, or the Philippine National Anthem today was just a march, a piece of incidental music composed to herald the entrance of Emilio Aguinaldo. What was played by a town band in Kawit was a tune without lyrics. While our flag was indeed waved and presented as the national flag of the young nation on the first Independence Day, it was first unfurled on May 28, 1898, following the Filipino victory in the Battle of Alapan. In his 1899 “Reseña veridica de la Revolucion Filipina” (True Account of the Philippine Revolution), Aguinaldo wrote: “…the first engagement of the Revolution of 1898 (which may be rightly styled a continuation of the campaign of 1896-97) took place (in Alapan. Cavite). The battle raged from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., when the Spaniards ran out of ammunition and surrendered, with all their arms, to the Filipino Revolutionists, who took their prisoners to Cavite.
“In commemoration of this glorious achievement, I hoisted our national flag in the presence of a great crowd, who greeted it with tremendous applause and loud, spontaneous and prolonged cheers for ‘Independent Philippines’ and for the ‘generous nation’—the United States of America. Several officers and Marines from the American fleet who witnessed the ceremony evinced sympathy with the Filipino cause by joining in the natural and popular rejoicing of the people.”
After another Filipino victory in Binakayan, Cavite, Aguinaldo planted the flag in the place known as Polvorin [Powder Keg]:
“I again availed myself of the opportunity to hoist our national flag and did so from an upper storey of the Polvorin facing the sea, with the object of causing the sacred insignia of our Liberty and Independence to be seen fluttering in the breeze by the warships, representing all the great and civilized nations of the world, which were congregated in the harbor observing the providential revolution going on in the Philippines after upwards of three hundred years of Spanish domination.”
After another military victory in Bacoor, the flag flew from the steeple of St. Michael’s Church, the oldest church in Cavite. It also flew on five Filipino vessels, commandeered from private owners, that comprised Aguinaldo’s Navy. All these little-known events are the justification for the celebration of May 28 each year as Philippine Flag Day.
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