Hongkong, 19th Century Refuge of Filipino Patriots

The relationship between Hongkong and the Philippines has lately been severely strained in the aftermath of the hostage-taking fiasco.

Refuge of Filipino patriots

Hongkong and the Philippines, however, share historical ties that cannot be overlooked. Augusto de Viana writing for Inquirer on August 1, 2007 says "Hongkong became a refuge of Filipino patriots. Among them was Jose Ma. Basa, a rich Manila merchant who gave financial and moral support to Filipino reformists in the 1860s."

Jose Maria Basa

Basa, according to de Viana, was one of those arrested by Spanish authorities when the Cavite Mutiny on Jan. 17, 1872 broke out. "He and 22 others, including Joaquin Pardo de Tavera, Balvino Mauricio, Antonio Ma. Regidor and Maximo Paterno, were deported to Guam. He stayed there until 1874. Subsequently, he sailed to Hongkong where he started a prosperous trading business while continuing to support the struggle for reforms in the Philippines.

Basa's role in the smuggling of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere to the Philippines is little known. It was at his house where copies of the book were sent by Rizal from Europe. A young seaman named Perfecto Rufino Riego took the books and secretly distributed them in Manila."

Jose Rizal, first Overseas Filipino Worker

The social and political ambiance in Hongkong made it a haven for Filipinos. Rizal lived and practiced medicine there for some time. He is widely considered as the first Filipino Overseas Worker or OFW.

When the Philippine Revolution broke out in August 1896, more Filipinos escaping Spanish tyranny found their way to Hongkong.

First Philippine flag

The first Philippine flag was made in Hongkong. It was sewn manually by Marcela Agoncillo assisted by daughter Lorenza, then five years old, and Delfina Herbosa Natividad, Rizal’s niece who was married to one of Emilio Aguinaldo’s generals. Marcela's husband, Felipe, was a Filipino exile in Hongkong. He and his family lived in a rented house in Morrison Hill Road in the Wanchai district.

Perhaps, according to de Viana, the only remembrances of the stay of Filipino patriots in Hongkong are the two historical markers installed by the Hongkong Antiquities Council at the former sites of Rizal’s residences and one indicating the area where the first Philippine flag was sewn. The other sites of historical importance to Filipinos, such as the base of the PCC and the homes of patriots like Agoncillo, Apacible and Basa, have yet to be properly marked.

I love Hongkong myself. I feel very much at home in this city. I believe, however, the atmosphere today is way much more different than it used to be in Jose Rizal, Jose Maria Basa, Felipe Agoncillo and other Filipino patriots' time. More so now. Nevertheless, Hongkong remains an invigorating place to escape to. When the dust settles and the acrimonious relationship between the people of Hongkong and the Philippines has been repaired, I still would like to fly there. Perhaps, the first thing I would like to do is find those places of historical importance to us Filipinos.

This article first appeared as a blog entry in Recorridos on September 12, 2010

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