AN unmarked pauper's grave somewhere in Hong Kong is the focus of a search launched yesterday by the Philippine Government. For it represents the missing piece in an otherwise complete historical jigsaw on the life of their national hero, Dr Jose Rizal. ''Buried somewhere out there is Josephine Bracken,'' declares Salvador ''Doy'' Laurel - chairman of the National Centennial Commission - with a sweep of his arm that arcs most of the territory, ''but if only we knew where''. Former vice-president Laurel held a breakfast meeting yesterday with Philippine Consul-General Ofelia Castano. And over coffee and croissants they pored over the few documents that, although bare of conclusive evidence, might help in their search. Bracken, an Irish girl living with foster parents in Hong Kong, met Rizal when he practised as an eye doctor in the territory during the early 1890s. They fell in love and Bracken eventually followed her paramour to the Philippines, where he had returned to take up the fight against the Spanish rulers. Bracken and Rizal lived together as man and wife in Dapitan, in the southern tip of the country, where Rizal had been exiled by the Spanish for promoting independence. They also had a child who died shortly after birth. When Rizal was eventually brought back to Manila and executed in 1896, she joined the resistance movement for a while before fleeing back to Hong Kong. Laurel takes up the story. ''It's at this point that we seem to have lost track of Bracken, apart from the fact that she lived in diminished circumstances and died a pauper. ''As part of our centennial celebrations in 1998, it is our wish to try to locate her remains and bring them back to the Philippines for a proper burial in the Heroes Cemetery in Manila. ''Consul-General Castano will be taking up the matter with the appropriate authorities in the Hong Kong Government in case they might be able to offer assistance. ''But we'd like to hear from anyone who can give us even the slightest clue that might help our search.'' Respected elder statesman Laurel - whose high-powered centennial commission comprises two ex-presidents, cabinet ministers, legislators and business tycoons - considers Hong Kong to have played an important part in his country's fight for independence. ''Apart from Rizal, General Emilio Aguinaldo, who led the resistance forces, met the US Navy's Admiral George Dewey in Hong Kong, where together they mapped out the strategy for the decisive Battle of Manila Bay. ''So there are other historical aspects connected with our fight for independence harboured in Hong Kong. And we'd like to uncover them all - and give Hong Kong its due place in our freedom struggle.'' Any historians - both professional and amateur - who think they might have a few answers for Laurel and his commission can forward their information through Consul-General Castano. She can be contacted at the Philippine Consulate, 602 United Centre, 95, Queensway, Central. Telephone 866 8738.