HOW OUR FLAG FLEW AGAIN
June 9, 1956
The flag was prohibited for 12 years. Tears of joy were shed when flag law was repealed
By Jose A. Quirino
ONE of the saddest events in Philippine history occurred on September 6, 1907, the day the Filipino flag was proscribed. The incidents which led to the first proscription of the Sun and Stars (the public display of the flag was also prohibited during the early part of the Japanese occupation) and the subsequent lifting of such a proscription bear recalling.
By the time the first Philippine republic was proclaimed and by the time the flag was proclaimed as the republic’s political symbol on June 12, 1898, almost all Filipinos realized the importance of a national standard in united them in the fight for independence.
Even with the establishment of a civil government by the American authorities of the turn of the century, Filipinos still kept their own versions of the national standard. Long before the Flag Act was approved, the public display of the Filipino flag was banned. Any person who used any button, pin, watch chain, or trinket with the colors or design of the Philippine flag could be prosecuted and incarcerated by the Constabulary.
The ban was an unwritten one, though according to international customs and usage, the ruling power could formally proscribe the display of the flag. But still, during the military occupation, the display or possession of the flag was considered an act of disloyalty, if not hostility, to the United States and its constituted government in the islands.
Although the unwritten ban on the public use of the national colors was relaxed after the establishment of a civil government, many Filipinos hid or destroyed their national standard because they did not want to be questioned by the authorities. The bolder ones, however, began publicly displaying the national colors, occasionally even during parades. This resulted in several incidents which, finally, led to the formal proscription of the flag.
For example, during the campaign for the election of deputies to the Philippine Assembly on July 30, 1907, political supporters organized parades in which were displayed Filipino flags. In several instances, the local banners were bigger than the American flags and were displayed at the right side of the latter. Then, during a public celebration in Caloocan, Rizal, a group of patriots, shouted: “Down with the Americans! Out with the Americanistas.” This caused an uproar which embarrassed the American community.
Such patriotic and revolutionary outbursts on the part of the Filipinos prompted the newspapers to editorialize on the matter. Members of the American community, on the other hand, held public meeting demanding the formal proscription of the Filipino flag.
The Manila Times, then an American newspaper, plugged for tolerance on the part of the Americans. In its editorial of August 12, 1907, it observed:
“The Filipino flag and the Filipino anthem may not be to our liking and may cause us a wry face in the swallowing, but Washington apparently thinks they are not improper and it is Washington which is running things in the Philippines: THE PHILIPPINES FOR THE FILIPINOS.”
El Renacimiento, the fighting periodical, took up the cudgels for the Filipinos and their flag. In its August 21, 1907 editorial, the paper declared:
“The prohibition of the flag is an offense to the people, we repeat. The flag is the symbol of our ideal of liberty. To prohibit it, is it not tantamount to an attempt against the most sacred of our aspirations?…”
Governor General James. F. Smith’s reaction to all of this was one of understanding when he stated: “I am interested in the welfare of the Filipino people, but I love and am interested in my mother country, the United States. I wish to be tolerant, and when the army authorities told me that such tolerance would be of evil results in the future, I answered that we should not be very exacting because the Filipino flag symbolized an ideal bathed in blood and tears.”
On August 23, 1907, members of the American community held a meeting at the Manila Grand Opera House and passed a resolution urging the proscription of the Filipino flag. On September 6, 1907, the Philippine Commission passed Act No. 1696, common known as the Flag Law, entitled: “An act to prohibit the display of flags, banners, emblems, or devices used in the Philippine islands for the purpose of rebellion or insurrection against the authorities of the United States and the display of Katipunan flags, banners, emblems, or devices and for other purposes.”
According to the late Major Emmanuel A. Baja, one of our most noted authorities on the Filipino flag, 13 bills and one resolution were drafted from 1908 to 1914 to repeal the Flag Law. Five of these were passed by the Philippine Assembly while the rest were pigeonholed. The Philippine Commission, however, did not act on the five bills passed by the Assembly.
After the creation of a Philippine legislature consisting of an upper and lower house, attempts to abrogate the Flag Law fizzled out.
On October 6, 1919, after the first World War, Speaker Sergio Osmeña, then vacationing in Japan, wrote Senate President Manuel L. Quezon and said, among other things: “In view of the fact that circumstances have totally changed…I believe that the occasion has come to submit again to the governor-general the question of our flag, that he may be persuaded this time to withdraw his objection to the repeal of the law which prohibits its use.”
Gov. Gen. Francis Burton Harrison, a man who was sympathetic toward the Filipino cause, urged the repeal of the Flag Law in his 17th annual message to the Legislature. That same day, October 16, 1919, Senator Rafael Palma, taking a cue from Harrison’s message, sponsored House Senate Bill No. 1 scrapping the ban on the flag. The senators crossed party lines and the bill was passed. The following day, October 17, the bill was sent to the House of Representatives. The fiery solon from Batangas, Rep. Claro Mayo Recto, delivered a speech on the floor in behalf of the Democratas and declared:
“…On this day, gentlemen, the representatives of the people, in the exercise of their high attributes and prerogatives, will resolve unanimously that there be hoisted, never again to lowered down… where it may be kissed by the sun or caressed by the storms, and where it may not be reached by the mud splatter of our journey or the noise of our petty grudges, that immortal banner…”
The bill repealing the Flag Law was approved in both houses and became Act No. 2871 on October 22, 1919. On October 24, 1919, Harrison issued Proclamation No. 18 setting aside October 30, 1919 as a public holiday to be known as “Flag Day.” (Since then there have been other flag days such as May 28 and June 12.)
Filipinos all over the country rejoiced over the repeal of the Flag Law and expressed their joy by holding parades and programs. Every house “blossomed” with replicas of the national standard. Even the trees were decorated with small flags.
Center of the celebration was Manila where people shouted with joy and the children waved the national colors. Jose P. Bautista, Manila Times editor, told this writer that there was one incident which marred the festivities when one American tried to haul down a Filipino flag at the Luneta. The culprit was arrested by the police.
On October 27, 1919, Gen. Aguinaldo, who was then sick and confined in the Philippine General Hospital, wrote Senate President Quezon for the honor of bearing the flag during the main program to be held on the occasion of Flag Day, October 30. But Quezon denied the request of the Grand Old Man of the revolution and was severely criticized by the newspapers for refusing to grant what one paper termed “a very reasonable request and which the old general deserves.”
The Cablenews-American, in its issue of November 1, 1919, reported: “The presence of a delegation of marines and sailors (in Cavite) together with a band from the Naval Base contributed much to make the occasion more impressive. The American and Filipino flags were hoisted simultaneously by the Provincial Governor and the Commandant of the Naval Base respectively, while the Marine Band played. The celebration was made still more impressive by the fact that the Filipino Flag which was hoisted was a historic one, it being the second Filipino Flag made, the one used by the battalion of General Trias during the revolution.”
It is said that many people shed tears of joy when the Filipino flag was publicly displayed after 12 long years (1907 to 1919) of proscription.