America in our Declaration of Independence
Philippine independence from Spain was declared from the window of Emilio Aguinaldo’s home in Kawit, Cavite, on June 12, 1898. On that day the Philippine flag was officially unfurled as the national flag and the martial music composed by Julian Felipe first played by a band would later have words added to the tune and become our national anthem.
Textbook history tells us that the prototype or the original of our national flag was sewn in Hong Kong by Marcela Agoncillo, assisted by her daughter Lorenza and Jose Rizal’s niece Delfina Herbosa de Natividad, and completed in five days. Aguinaldo took it back to the Philippines from exile in Hong Kong and unfurled it the first time during the Battle of Alapan on May 28, 1898. Textbook history also provides the symbolism of the flag that doesn’t quite match what was declared in Kawit on June 12, 1898.
When I first read the 1898 Declaration of Independence, I was struck by the concluding words describing our flag as a commemoration of the flag of the United States of America:
“It was resolved unanimously that this Nation, already free and independent as of this day, must use the same flag which up to now is being used, whose design and colors are found described in the attached drawing, the white triangle signifying the distinctive emblem of the famous Society of the Katipunan which by means of its blood compact inspired the masses to rise in revolution; the three stars, signifying the three principal Islands of this Archipelago—Luzon, Mindanao, and Panay where this revolutionary movement started; the sun representing the gigantic steps made by the sons of the country along the path of Progress and Civilization; the eight rays, signifying the eight provinces—Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Laguna, and Batangas—which declared themselves in a state of war as soon as the first revolt was initiated; and the colors Blue, Red, and White, commemorating the flag of the United States of North America, in manifestation of our profound gratitude towards this Great Nation for its disinterested protection which it lent us and continues lending us.”
Apolinario Mabini, who started working for Aguinaldo on June 12, was unhappy with the text read that afternoon, and some months later issued a clarification. We must remember that after George Dewey blasted the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, he didn’t have the land troops to take the capital from the Spaniards, so to keep the enemy occupied the United States brought Aguinaldo home from exile to resume what historians consider the second phase of the Philippine Revolution. Aguinaldo was led to believe that the United States was an ally against Spain. Although he was not authorized to do so, the US consul in Singapore, Spencer Pratt, assured the Filipinos that America would recognize the independence of the Philippines.
On the afternoon of June 8, 1898, Isidoro de los Santos, accompanied by nine upper-class countrymen, 15 Filipino musicians, and some middle-class Filipinos, serenaded the US consul in Singapore who received them in his private office. The visitors were impressed to find that, at the center of a desk draped with the US flag stood a carved wood frame with a picture of Aguinaldo. After some music was played De los Santos delivered a speech in French addressed to the US consul:
“Your Excellency: The Filipinos of all social classes, residing in this port, have come to greet Your Excellency as the genuine representative of the great and powerful American Republic in order to express to you our eternal gratitude for the moral and material support given by Admiral Dewey to our General Aguinaldo in his campaign for the liberty of eight million Filipinos. The latter and we ourselves hope that the United States, your nation, persevering in its humanitarian policy, will without cessation and decided energy continue to support the program agreed upon in Singapore between Your Excellency and General Aguinaldo, that is to say, the Independence of the Philippine Islands, under an American protectorate. Accept our cordial acknowledgements and congratulations on being the first one in accepting and supporting this idea that time and events have well developed to the great satisfaction of our nation. Finally, we request you, Most Excellent Sir, to express to your worthy president and the American Republic, our sincere acknowledgements and our fervent wishes for their prosperity.”
Something must have been lost in translation somewhere because at that serenade, the US consul replied that he reminded Aguinaldo to conduct the war with humanity and dispel the image of Filipinos as savages. In a toast, De los Santos gave three cheers for England. Pratt then responded with cheers for General Aguinaldo and the Republic of the Philippines. Pratt had too much sherry and walked about the room waving an American flag that he then presented to the Filipinos.
The Spanish-American War ended with the Philippines sold to the United States for $20 million. We looked to the United States for support against Spain in 1898 and against Japan during World War II; now we are looking to it against China in our dispute over the Spratlys. It is one thing to declare independence on June 12, 1898, and another thing to make it a reality a century later.
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