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THE LAST AMERICAN FLAG ON PHILIPPINE SOIL

by PURA VILLANUEVA KALAW

At noon of June 26, 1946, I was surprised by a messenger from Malacañan Palace, bringing me a square envelope with theofficial seal of the Philippines. I opened it with curiosity. The contents read: “Mrs. Roxas requests the pleasure of the company of Mrs. Pura Villanueva Kalaw at tea on Sunday, the 30th at 5 p. m., at Malacañan Palace to assist in the making of the American flag to be furled on July 4, 1946.”

I was flattered by the honor. The flag was going to be the last to fly over the Philippines. It was to descend after having flown over this country for almost half a century. Vice-President Elpidio Quirino had told me a few days before that the three First Ladies who had presided over Malacañan Palace, Mrs. Manuel L. Quezon, Mrs. Sergio Osmeña, and Mrs. Manuel Roxas, assisted by several representative Filipino women, were to give the finishing sewing touches to the silver stars on the last American flag. After the ceremonies of the inauguration of the Philippine Republic, this historical flag was to be sent to the United States as souvenir from the loving Filipino people.

I went to Malacañan on the appointed day. Dr. Encarnacion Alzona came a little afterwards, and soon after her, Mrs. Jose Avelino, wife of the President of the Philippine Senate. Mrs. Roxas, smiling sweetly, met us at the entrance of the Reception Hall. There was a huge American flag spread over the table at the center of the room, right under the chandelier. As itwas a dark cloudy afternoon, the red of the flag did not seem as bright as it should be. On the small tables scattered in the room were conveniently placed cutout stars ready for sewing. More women came in, among them Mrs. Eugenio Perez, wife of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Hermenegildo Atienza, wife of the Representative from the South District of Manila, and Mrs. Jose Zulueta, wife of the Secretary of the Interior.

Mrs. Roxas now took some silver thread and began embroidering on one of the stars. At her right sat Mrs. Manuel L. Quezon and at her left Mrs. Sergio Osmeña. The three ladies, seated in a row, seriously and busily sewed on for some time. The guests stayed in the background and watched them perform the symbolical gesture of affection for America. Several photographers started taking pictures. The charming mother of the President, Mrs. Rosario Acuña Picazo, was also present. She looked young and strong in spite of her 76 years. She was anxious to do her bit for the flag, too. Everybody was busy.

It was discovered that the supply of needles was not enough. I had to wait quite a while for my turn at sewing on the historical stars. Mrs. Roxas seemed oblivious of the crowd. Although she was courteous and amiable to all, her attention was on her sewing, As the Newsreel cameramen could not take pictures inside the room because it was already dark, the sewing group had to move out towards the Malacañan veranda, facing the Pasig River. It was a most lively gathering. The three First Ladies, the wives of senators and representatives, the presidents of various women’s organizations, women leaders, and educators were gathered to do honor to America and were very glad about it. When the finished stars were placed in their positions on the flag, Mrs. Roxas took me over to see it in all its beauty. It was made of silk taffeta. It looked so beautiful that I stayed a little longer near it, looking at it in retrospect of how my country has advanced and progressed under the shadows and shelter of this flag. When the American flag was first raised over the Philippines in 1898, the Filipino women were not allowed to enter, much less to stay within the walls of Sto. Tomas University, then the only university in the Philippines.

Now, what a change! In the hall sewing earnestly were Mrs. Francisca Tirona Benitez, President of the Philippine Women’s University, Mrs. Natividad Almeda Lopez, woman judge of the Municipal Court of Manila, Mrs. Asuncion Perez, Director of the Welfare Bureau, several women lawyers, writers, newspaperwomen, pharmacists, and doctors. It is a blessing from America that the women have been allowed the same educational opportunities as the men, and it is also a credit to the Filipino women that they have overcome their backwardness in education and have achieved in 48 years what it took other women from other countries centuries to achieve.

The momentous occasion was concluded with a lavish merienda for the tired ladies. President Manuel Roxas himself came in for a few minutes to thank everyone for her work. All of us answered him in our hearts: It was a pleasure and an honor.