Photo by Martin Espino

Patrocinio Gamboa: Ilustrado of Jaro, Hero of Iloilo

By Harren Fegarido

She wrapped the Philippine flag around her waist and hid it under her patadyong. To modern eyes, this may seem like a simple act—downright disrespectful, even–but for Patrocinio Gamboa, this should prove to be the first of many instances where she willingly risked her life for her country. All because of a flag.

Many famous heroes of the revolution were born of the alta sociedad and the ilustrados­­: the “high society” and the “learned”, literally. Patrocinio Gamboa, of course, is no different. Thankfully, she now takes her rightful place in Philippine history, like her fellow Ilongga and revolutionary Teresa Magbanua, as one of the individuals responsible for the freedom we’re enjoying today.

While Gen. Martin Delgado (who has a street named after him in downtown Iloilo) rightfully deserves credit for ushering the Cry of Santa Barbara. ‘Tia Patron’—as Gamboa was affectionately called—was the woman responsible for bringing in the “symbol” of that freedom in the first place. At the very least, her action is the reason why today’s Independence Day celebrations are being held in Santa Barbara today.

Who is Patrocinio Gamboa, though? Well, I’m glad you asked! Oh please, just play along.

Born to Fermin Gamboa and Leonarda Villareal on April 30, 1865, Patrocinio Gamboa y Villareal grew up in the famously rich district of Jaro. While she matured into an educated young woman, it wasn’t until she was exposed to propagandist literature like Jose Rizal’s novels and the newspaper La Solidaridad that she became politically aware of the abuses the Spanish officials perpetrated upon her countrymen—a typical “out-of-the-bubble” scenario, if there ever was one.

Girl was raring for action, of course. Lucky for her, General Martin Delgado was gaining a lot of momentum from retaking key towns in Iloilo from the Spanish. Sensing an opening, Gamboa joined the Comite Conspirador [Committee of Conspirators], where she took part in nursing injured Ilonggo rebels as well as performing other tasks for the revolution.

She proved to be of greater use, appropriately enough, because of her highborn status. She proved to be frighteningly adept as a spy, using her connections among the elite and the privileged to gather intel for the revolution. Her social proficiency eventually led her to the one mission which she became most famous for: the smuggling of the Philippine flag into Santa Barbara.

We have to point out, of course, that the flag she smuggled inside Santa Barbara was NOT the same one sewn for Emilio Aguinaldo that was used for the Kawit Declaration of Independence; instead, it was a replica of the original flag that was sewn by Tia Patron herself with the help of several female members of the Comite. It may not be the genuine article, but if The Hunger Games has taught us anything (yes, we’re going Hollywood on you today), it’s that a “symbol” can be as potent as any sword or gun being brought to a war.

It was on the late hours of November 16, 1898 when Tia Patron, along with a young lieutenant of Gen. Delgado named Honorio Solinap, attempted to smuggle the replica flag into Santa Barbara. Other than wrapping the flag under her skirt, they also hid a saber—which was a gift personally sent by Aguinaldo to Delgado—under kilos of bungalon grass that was piled on top of their tartanilla (think ‘kalesa’, but with grass being carried instead of people). The problem? They encountered a checkpoint heavy with guards when they reached Barrio Sambag. It’s a good thing they were posing as wife and husband, then.

In a scene that must have looked something out of a zany ‘70s Pinoy comedy (without Dolphy, obviously), Gamboa assumed the part of the ‘Nagging Wife’ to her ‘Pretend Husband’. Many accounts from that time report that she was so effective at her role—shouting invectives and slapping at Solinap, probably doing scandalous things that would have gotten them detained at the local barangay center if it happened today—that the amused guards simply allowed them entrance out of pity for Solinap. If Tia Patron chose to sing her cusses, it might have been a full-blown sarsuwela for all we know.

The pair arrived early at Santa Barbara in the morning of November 17, 1898, and they personally handed both flag and saber to General Delgado. This proved to be the first instance of the Philippine flag being raised outside Luzon: a sign that Iloilo was willingly annexing itself under the Philippine Republic, though its victory over Spain won’t be attained until December 25th of the same year.

If you’re still following your history up to this point, then you probably know what should have happened next: Spain sold the Philippines to the United States, and the people had a new colonial power to fight against and, later on, serve. Ironically, many of the same revolutionaries that Tia Patron worked with during the fight against Spain eventually found themselves working for the civil government established by the US in the country.

As for Patrocinio Gamboa herself, she was offered a pension by the American regime for her “services”. She refused the offer though, citing “love” for her country as something that should not be compensated for. She remained unmarried until her death in 1953 at Molo. As for her home in Jaro (pictured above), it recently had a historical marker installed in time for her 150th birthday—a reminder to the people of Iloilo today that there are other “heroes” who have contributed to the freedom of the nation without having to either fight at the frontlines or offer their lives as martyrs in the name of independence.

If anything, the contributions made by Gamboa in the name of freedom prove that it is not the “heroism” behind the actions that matter, but the intent and the significance behind these actions. So, dear readers, do our heroes a favor—both the popular ones and those left unnoticed—and appreciate this year’s Independence Day for all that is worth.

Raise flag. Salute.

Note: Most of the information in the article was adapted from the official Santa Barbara government website and Dr. Henry F. Funtecha’s writing.

Harren Fegarido is a wanderer