Happy National Flag Day! Regardless of the present condition of our country, the Philippine flag still manages to emanate pride in me. The symbolic blue and red, and the three stars and a sun are a vision that inspires a sense of loyalty. While we celebrate the significance of our flag, let’s not forget the woman behind it. In case you don’t know, the National Historic Commision of the Philippines cites, “The Philippine flag was created through the painstaking craftsmanship of Marcela Mariño de Agoncillo.” Not familiar with her? Read on.
Marcela was born on June 24, 1859, in Taal, Batangas to wealthy parents, Francisco Mariño and Eugenia Coronel. According to NHCP, “She received an education according to their class in the Santa Catalina College in Manila, although the early death of her parents led her to stay in charge of her grandfather.” Run by the Dominican nuns, it was there that she learned Spanish, music, crafts, and “social graces expected from a Filipina of social stature.” Additionally, she grew up to become “a noted singer and one who occasionally appeared in zarzuelas in Batangas.”
At the age of thirty, she married her wealthy neighbor, Felipe Agoncillo in 1889. They had six daughters: Lorenza, Greforia, Eugenia, Marcela, Adela, and María, all of whom they “trained to be respectable women, always reminding them to live honestly and well and to work hard without depending on the family wealth,” according to Kahimyang.
A prominent lawyer in Manila, her husband Felipe later moved his practice to their province, where he “became famous for giving free legal services to the poor and for frequently winning his cases.” Kahimyang noted, “One with a heart for her nation, [Marcela] stood by her husband in defending their poor town mates against the corrupt Spanish authorities.” And even when Felipe was accused of being a filibustero (an opponent of the church and the Spanish government), pushing him to flee to Hong Kong, Marcela still stood by him.
She and her children soon followed. Their new residence on Morrison Hill Road in Wanchai District in Hong Kong soon became the meeting place of other Filipino patriots and exiles. Among them was Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, who was there following the signing of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato in December 1897. He and Felipe founded the Hong Kong Junta, which closely monitored political developments in the Philippines. According to The Biography, “in order to cover the travel of Felipe as Minister Plenipotentiary and contribute funds to the cause of separatists, Marcela had to sell all the jewels and the family’s most precious belongings.”
When Aguinaldo decided to return to the country to resume the fight against our Spanish colonizers, he turned to Marcela to use her skilled needlework to make the flag we now know today.
The making of the Philippine flag
Following the design by the Junta, Marcela set to work on what would become our country’s symbol of pride today. “Within five days in May 1898, she meticulously sewed the flag using silk cloth,” NHCP noted. She was helped by her daughter, Lorenza, and Rizal’s niece, Delfina Herbosa de Natividad. Years later, Doña Marcela recalled the historic event: “In the house at No. 535, Morrison 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 General Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy.”
Upon completion, Marcela herself delivered the flag to Aguinaldo before his departure for Manila aboard the USS McCulloch on 17 May 1898. The Philippine flag made its debut on June 12, 1898, at the balcony of Teatro Caviteño in Cavite Nuevo (now Cavite City), marking the celebration of the revolutionaries’ victory over the Spanish forces at the Battle of Alapan in Imus, Cavite on 28 May 1898.
General Aguinaldo would later recall it too: “The first Filipino national flag was made by the hands of the Agoncillos in Hong Kong. It was the flag I took with me in Cavite when I returned from my exile and was slowly unfurled at the balcony of the Aguinaldo residence at Kawit, Cavite on June 12, 1898.”
Her heroic work continues
According to Kahimyang, “Marcela supported Felipe while he represented the country as the country’s first diplomat.” Felipe reportedly worked for the rejection of the Treaty of Paris of 1898, as well as led the campaign to secure recognition by foreign countries of Philippine independence. “When the Agoncillo family returned to the Philippines, Felipe entered public service, while Marcela engaged in charitable activities.”
In 1907, following the establishment of the American regime in the country, Doña Marcela and her children returned to the Philippines. “Their family funds had run out because of the heavy expenses incurred by Don Felipe’s diplomatic activities in Europe and in the United States,” Kahimyang noted. “But with fortitude, her family recovered from poverty incurred during the revolution.”
On Sept. 29, 1941, Felipe passed away. Though it marked yet another difficult time, this time with the Japanese, Marcela managed to honorably raise her children despite scarce commodities and food supplies—even when their house in Manila burned down. “Like she used to do during the revolution against Spain, she taught her daughters to always share, saying: ‘If it is hard to give, it is harder to ask.’”
A year after we were finally freed from the Japanese, Doña Marcela died on May 30, 1946, at the age of 86. To fulfill her last wish, he body was brought back to Manila and interred alongside her husband at the cemetery of La Loma.