Tres Marias

Behind the famous Oblation statue, down the expanse of the University of the Philippines amphitheater, and enclosed in blocks of stone stands a remembrance to the contribution of three women to Philippine History.

Draped in their midst is the country’s foremost symbol—stripes of blue and red, a white triangle, three stars and an eight-rayed sun—the Philippine flag, first known as the “sun and the stars flag.”

Raised in a high pedestal at the center of the Charter’s Donors Garden, Napoleon V. Abueva’s “Three Women Sewing the First Philippine Flag” immortalizes the making of the country’s emblem in stone, granite and marble. 

Sculpted in 1996, a year after the national artist’s retirement from the university and two years shy from the centenary of the Philippine Independence, the sculpture is Abueva’s rendition of Fernando Amorsolo’s painting, “The Making of the Philippine Flag.”

“Tres Marias,” as it is known among UP students, recognizes the talent, work and devotion of Marcela Agoncillo, her daughter Lorenza, and Mrs. Delfina Natividad in hand-sewing and embroidering the first Philippine flag back in 1897.

The Agoncillos in Hongkong

Marcela’s husband, Don Felipe, a wealthy young judge and diplomat during the Spanish and American period sailed for Japan on April of 1895 after learning of the Spanish Government’s plans to exile him to Jolo. Don Felipe is a revolutionist who supported the cause for Philippine independence. This support incurred the ire of the Spanish government, calling him a “filibustero” and blacklisting him as a threat to peace and stability. After a short period, he moved to Hong Kong from Yokohama to join other Filipino revolutionary exiles.

During these time, Marcela was left in the Philippines to care for their daughters in Malate, Manila. After almost two years, however, they followed Don Felipe in Hong Kong where they rented a house in the Wan Chai district.

The Agoncillos’ home in Hong Kong became a refuge for Filipino exiles. The couple welcomed Filipinos in need, providing them with shelter and food until they have adjusted to life in the tiny British colony. Almost everyday they had to hide fleeing Filipinos who are threatened to death and torture by the Spanish government in the Philippines.

It was in that same house that the Agoncillos met Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Aguinaldo with over 40 revolutionists went into voluntary exile on Dec. 1897 after the signing of the “Truce of Biak-na-bato.”

The Filipino general, familiar of Marcel’s needle and thread skills, asked her to sew a flag for the Philippine republic based on the design he himself made. Having had good education in the all-girls Sta. Catalina College and being the first Filipina to graduate from Oxford University, Marcela accepted the challenge.

The Sewing of the Philippine Emblem

For five days, Marcela, her daughter Lorenza, and Mrs.Natividad, Jose Rizal’s niece by her sister Lucia, worked on the flag. Marcela bought satin in Hong Kong and they used it for the Philippine emblem. They embroidered their work with gold thread, sewing the three stars on the corners of the white triangle and joining these with red and blue horizontal stripes.

From May 12 to 17, 1987, the three women unceasingly sewed by hand and machine to finish the Philippine flag. Marcela even wrote in her diary that they had to redo the sun after its rays were sewed in the wrong direction.

On the fifth day, Marcela personally delivered the item to Gen. Aguinaldo which was among the things he packed as he sailed back to Manila. On June, 1898, this same flag was unfurled in the balcony of the general's house declaring Philippine independence from Spain.


Tres Marias, Abuevas

Marcela and her two companions’ contribution had gone into history books and even into art forms. Amorsolo painted his vision of how the three women sewed the flag in Hong Kong. Abueva followed suit with his sculpture which now stands in UP between the amphitheater and the lagoon.

A plate with golden letters held the words “Abueva and Sons,” an acknowledgment of the passing on of talent from the master sculptor to his heirs. At the same time, the sculpture is a product of combined work of the Abuevas as the national artist’s age continues to limit his strength and endurance for the strenuous work that is sculpting.

Despite this, however, the combined effort in creating the work mirrored what the three women in Hong Kong did more than a hundred years ago to finish the Philippine National Flag—the same design that now banners the country’s independence.
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