Revolutionaries of a bygone era are set to return to Statue Square. Not Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping or Peng Zhen , but Jose Rizal, Emilio Aguinaldo and Andres Bonifacio. Paintings commemorating the Filipino national heroes who battled against Spanish colonialism in the Philippines a century ago are on display in Hong Kong, where the revolutionaries once sought refuge and bought arms for their struggle. 'For years Hong Kong has been a place of refuge for revolutionaries,' says John Batten as he admires the paintings in his gallery. 'Sun Yat-sen's been through here, Ho Chi Minh's been through here, and recently the students from Tiananmen Square. 'I think that's one thing that will definitely change: very few revolutionaries will want to use Hong Kong as their refuge once the Chinese come through.' Jose Rizal, dubbed the Philippines' Sun Yat-sen, Mahatma Gandhi, Ho Chi Minh and Kemal Ataturk rolled into one, lived in Rednaxela Terrace for more than a year. The first Philippine flag was sewn in the territory. 'I thought it was a show that was worth bringing to Hong Kong because of the number of Filipinos here,' says John Batten, who brought the 12 artworks from Manila to display mainly in his tiny Sheung Wan gallery for a month. 'Art galleries are intimidating, so I think it's appropriate for the paintings to go to Statue Square, where the audience is,' he says. 'The revolution was hoping to point to a better future,' says the 38-year-old Australian, an English teacher who runs his gallery in his spare time. 'So I would imagine if Filipinos saw the paintings it would certainly stimulate discussion about their government now and the way that things are run there.' The work of modern Filipino artists, the 12 paintings in the exhibition were commissioned by the Philippine National Centennial Commission to make a 1997 calendar now on display in 5,000 classrooms across the country to pique students' patriotic interest in the revolution. 'This is the sort of stuff you don't normally see in Hong Kong,' says Mr Batten, surrounded by the vivid paintings. 'It's not just pretty pictures: I want something to stimulate people's minds.' '[Philippine] art is very different from any other art in Asia, it's terribly expressionist,' he says. Mr Batten has been collecting Philippine art on visits there since 1989. 'If you look at Chinese art, it's flabby next to Philippine art. Of course this is not to everyone's taste: some people don't want something so overtly political.' The Filipino revolutionaries succeeded in ousting the Spanish, only to see the United States take over as the new colonial power under a December 1898 deal ending the eight-month Spanish-American War, instigated over Cuba. Some battles of the war were fought in the Philippines, with the revolutionaries on the side of the Americans. Guerilla leaders later claimed the Americans had promised not to colonise the islands. Filipino revolutionaries unsuccessfully lobbied the United States Congress not to ratify the treaty, arguing fruitlessly that the Philippines was not Spain's to give. The Philippines eventually achieved independence from the United States in July 1946, after the lifting of the Japanese occupation. Nevertheless, the leaders of the revolution are regarded the Philippines' greatest national heroes. Streets in every town are named after them, says Mr Batten. Each artist in the calendar project was given a free rein to interpret the revolution as he or she saw fit. All the art has a distinctly patriotic flavour. November's painting, for example, by Alfredo Esquillo Jnr, depicts the national hero Rizal grasping in his right hand a copy of the constitution, one of many drafts of which was drawn up in Hong Kong, in front of a proudly fluttering Philippine flag. Rizal is dressed in proletarian garb, a drab shirt and cap but, oddly enough, is holding the ornate hilt of a sword in his left hand. A work by Bencab, which Filipino children will see in December, shows 10 scenes from Rizal's short life, from his childhood, through a stint in Europe, spells in prison, and eventually his execution at Spanish hands in Manila at the age of 35. Rizal's haunting eyes stare out from the middle of the painting. 'Rizal was a Renaissance man,' says Mr Batten. 'He was a doctor, he was a writer, he was a poet, and a sculptor too.' Born in Calamba, Laguna, a province south of Manila, he went to Spain to study ophthalmology in 1881 as a 21-year-old. At the age of 26, he wrote his first book, Noli Me Tangere ('Touch Me Not'), criticising Spanish rule in the Philippines, which was followed by El Filibusterismo ('The Rebel') which set out his political ideas and foretold the revolution. Both books, originally written in Spanish, are still required reading in Philippine secondary schools where students refer to them familiarly as the ' the Noli' and 'the Fili', according to Hong Kong-based Filipino writer and broadcaster Isabel Escoda. On his way back to the Philippines from Spain in 1891, he was warned that the Spanish colonial regime considered him subversive, and it would be dangerous for him to return to his homeland. He took refuge in Hong Kong and ran an eye clinic in D'Aguilar Street on the site of today's Century Square Building. Despite the dangers, he went back to the Philippines in 1892, to internal exile in Mindanao. There he met his 'last great love', Josephine Bracken, Ms Escoda says. Bracken was born in Hong Kong. Half-Chinese, half-Irish, she was abandoned by her mother and adopted by an American engineer named George Taufer. Taufer was going blind and, with his adopted daughter who was then 17, travelled to Mindanao to find Rizal, who had built up a reputation in Hong Kong as a good eye doctor. Bracken and Rizal fell in love and lived together for several years. Their relationship came to an abrupt end when Rizal, while attempting to leave for Cuba, was brought to Manila to face a military trial as a traitor to Spain, and executed by firing squad on December 30, 1896. The night before his death, Rizal composed his most famous poem, Mi Ultimo Adios ('My Last Farewell'), in which he called Bracken - whom records show he never married - his wife. Each year, on the anniversary of the execution, people across the Philippines recite the poem to commemorate Jose Rizal. After the execution Bracken returned to Hong Kong, where she died of plague, aged 25. 'Rizal was ahead of his time,' Ms Escoda says. 'He was the first intellectual in Asia to start the movement against colonialism. The Philippines was granted independence in 1946, before India and any of the other Asian countries. This all started when Rizal was executed. 'He started the ball rolling for the revolutionaries, but he wasn't really a firebrand: he was more an intellectual who wrote a lot, he was able to inspire people.' January's painting, by Renato Habulan, shows groups of armed guerillas standing proudly, ready to fight the Spanish. The rifles they carry may well have been bought in Hong Kong. (The guerilla leader Emilio Aguinaldo made several trips here to buy weapons.) A painting by Dindo Llana, which features on the August page, shows revolutionary Bonifacio and the various designs for a Philippine flag considered by the revolutionaries. The final flag design features a white triangle at the staff symbolising the liberation movement, blue and red stripes representing magnanimity and courage, three yellow stars for the three main regions of the country - Luzon, Mindanao and the Visayan archipelago - and an eight-rayed sun symbolising the first eight provinces to revolt against Spain. Marcela Agoncillo, a revolutionary exile with her husband in Hong Kong, sewed the first new flag in a house on Morrison Hill Road. The emblem was spirited to the Philippines in time for the declaration of independence from Spain on June 12, 1898.