BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Without the original netting that held it, the flag first flown by Gen Emilio Aguinaldo 115 years ago would be in tatters.
Delicate as it is, however, that independence flag – the one sewn by Marcela Agoncillo and Rizal's niece in Hongkong – is on display at a museum here in Baguio City.
“If we don't show it, makakalimutan ng tao (the people will forget about it). We are in a predicament, but we really have to display the flag,” said Emilio Aguinaldo Suntay, great grandson of the first Philippine president.
The blue-red-and-white flag – with the yellow sun and 3 stars – was first hoisted not on Independence Day on June 12, 1898, in Kawit, Cavite, but weeks before that. On May 28 that year, waved it in Cavite City to signal the victory of Filipino forces in the Battle of Alapan in Imus, a neighboring town of Kawit.
It is now displayed at the Gen Emilio Aguinaldo Museum with two other historical flags: the Philippine flag of Aguinaldo when he was captured in Palanan, Isabela, and the personal flag of Gen Gregorio del Pilar which he captured from the Spaniards and taken from him when he was killed in Tirad Pass in northern Luzon.
'Preservation, not restoration'
According to the Gen Emilio Aguinaldo Foundation, which is taking care of the flags, preserving the flags would take decades.
And if the will not be properly taken care of, they won’t last more than 50 years, said Suntay, who is spokesman of the foundation.
He said that the foundation, composed of the heirs of Aguinaldo, planned for the replacement of the worn-out portion of the flag, but they could not find the right type of threads to match those used by Agoncillo, so they abandoned the idea.
“It should not be restoration but preservation,” Suntay said.
The flag is more elaborate than the flag we now use. Agoncillo, together with her daughter Lorenza and Rizal's niece Delfina Herbosa, also embroidered the words, “Libertad, Justicia and Ygualidad” on one side of the flag and “Fuerzas Expedicionarias del Norte de Luzon” on the other.
In Baguio since 1980
It was meant as a display flag and it could withstand the wind when it was unfurled in 1898 on the balcony of Aguinaldo’s mansion in Kawit, Cavite, as depicted in our old 5-peso bill.
Suntay said his great grandfather hid the flag from 1901 to 1919 when the Americans forebade the display of the Philippine flag. It was with him until 1964, when Aguinaldo died.
He said that, unknown to many, Aguinaldo’s wife placed the flag in a safety vault until the museum in Baguio was built in the 1980s and the flag became part of the display.
“It was a blessing for it helped lengthen the life of the flag,” Suntay said.
As part of the preservation, they are banning harsh light and the use of LED on the flag. They also installed a humidifier to lessen moisture inside the museum. They also placed acid-free paper on the back of the flags.
An interactive tour makes the museum visit worthwhile. It has life-size figures of heroes – including Aguinaldo with the flag with Jose Rizal, Apolinario Mabini – on balconies
“This is a purely symbolic gesture because Rizal was already dead at that time, but the revolution wouldn’t have happened without him,” Suntay said. – Rappler.com