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Philippines - historical flags of 20th Century

modern style flags

Last modified: 2011-07-08 by ian macdonald
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1898 flag

[Flag of Philippines] by Manuel L. Quezon III, 9 January 2002

The Philippine flag was sewn by the revolutionary junta in Hong Kong and first displayed in battle on May 28, 1898. It was formally unfurled during the proclamation of Philippine independence on June 12, 1898, by President Emilio Aguinaldo [See discussion of this event]. The design as you will note adopted the mythical sun (with a face) common to many former Spanish colonies; the triangle of Masonry; the eight rays represent the first 8 provinces that revolted and were put under martial law by the Spaniards during the start of the Philippine Revolution in 1896; the flag was first unfurled with the blue stripe above, but was flown with the red stripe above upon the commencement of hostilities between the Filipinos and Americans in 1899.

According to historians, based on anecdotal evidence and the few flags from the era that have survived, the color of the original flag was the same blue and red as found on the Cuban Flag. My personal theory is that you will be able to trace the characteristics -the triangle at the hoist, the stripes, to the Spanish colonial navigational flags posted by a previous member. In the Philippines declaration of independence, the colors of the flag also represent homage to the United States as the then-ally of the first Philippine Republic.
Manuel L. Quezon III
, 9 January 2002

The Malolos Constitution (1899) does not mention the flag.
Ivan Sache, 20 may 2008

See also:

1919 flag reintroduction

This flag was suppressed with the defeat of the Philippine Republic and the passing of sedition laws by the new American colonial government. However, in 1919, the restrictions on the display of the Philippine flag were lifted, and this image shows an actual photograph of the original design of the Philippine flag, with the original design of the mythological sun, the dimensions of the triangle, etc. However with the legalization of the Philippine flag, the cloth available in most stores was the red  and blue of the American flag, so that the Philippine flag from 1919 onwards adopted the navy blue and shade of red of the American colors.
Manuel L. Quezon III
, 9 January 2002

[Flag of Philippines] by Manuel L. Quezon III, 9 January 2002

This is evidenced by the above image which shows the still-original dimensions (note triangle and shape of sun), the adoption of the American shades of blue and red, but still a slightly more ornate sun. The adoption of the American colors is further evidenced from a party flag from the year 1922, which used the by-then well established Philippine national symbols of the sun and red, white, yellow and blue.
Manuel L. Quezon III
, 9 January 2002

1936 specifications

With the inauguration of the autonomous Commonwealth of the Philippines in 1936, the president of the Philippines issued an Executive Order specifying the dimensions, etc. of the Philippine flag. A copy of the order is shown in full on:

[Flag of Philippines] (click for larger image) by Manuel L. Quezon III, 9 January 2002

The result was the standardization of the flag, whose specifications have remained unchanged and in effect from 1936 to the present. The new dimensions and standardization, together with the American blue and red, can be seen below: [See text of the Executive Order 23 specifying the flag.]
Manuel L. Quezon III
, 9 January 2002

[Flag of Philippines] by Manuel L. Quezon III, 9 January 2002

However, with the Japanese invasion and occupation of the Philippines in 1941, the Philippine flag was once more banned. It was allowed to be hoisted again with the establishment of the puppet (or Second) Philippine Republic. Accounts of the ceremonies held in October 1943, in which General Emilio Aguinaldo, first President of the first republic, hoisted the flag, point to the original Cuban blue and red colors being restored; I have seen portraits of officials from the same period which indicate that the mythical sun was restored in some instances though the 1936 dimensions seem to have been retained. At the same time, the Commonwealth government-in-exile in Washington continued to use the 1936 flag with the American colors, but even then, propaganda posters also indicate that Filipinos tended to use the Cuban blue and red as much as the American navy blue and shade of red.

The 1936 flag, with the navy blue, was restored upon the return of American forces in 1944 and it was this flag and those colors that were hoisted upon the recognition of Philippine independence by the United States on July 4, 1946. This remained the case until 1985, when President Ferdinand Marcos ordered the colours restored to the original Cuban blue and red. However the historians involved say that the flag factories at the time only had a pale sky blue available in quantity, and so this became the de facto official color. After the People Power Revolution in 1986, the Marcos colors and presidential seal and Marcos-era new national motto were abolished and the pre-1985 flag restored.

In 1998, for the centennial of the proclamation of Philippine independence, a law was passed changing the color of the flag not to Cuban blue, but to royal blue, as a compromise after a furious debate among historians and members of the public. The specifications of this color are in the law I posted to the list. The 1936 specifications in all other respects, however, remain in force.

Manuel L. Quezon III, 9 January 2002

1935 Constitution states:
Article XIV - General provisions
Section 1. The flag of the Philippines shall be red, white, and blue, with a sun and three stars, as consecrated and honored by the people and recognized by law.
Ivan Sache, 30 May 2008

Text of the Executive Order 23 specifying the flag




Whereas, section one, Article XIII of the Constitution prescribes what the Philippine National Flag should be without giving descriptions and specifications; Whereas, Act Numbered Two thousand nine hundred and twenty-eight describes the construction of the Filipino Flag without the necessary specifications of the elements of the flag; Whereas, compliance with this Act has not been uniformly carried out and has caused the making of Filipino flags in disproportionate sizes with incorrect proportions of the different allegorical symbols of the flag; and Whereas, to avoid irregularities and discrepancies, it is necessary to follow the Constitutional provisions and Act Numbered Two thousand nine hundred and twenty-eight with uniformity; Now, there, I, Manuel L. Quezon, President of the Philippines, do hereby promulgate and order that the following specifications for the Philippine National Flag be strictly observed by all civil and military branches of the Government:

  1. The maximum length of the flag is twice its width; the minimum length is twice the altitude of the equilateral triangle,
  2. Any side of the equilateral triangle is as long as the width of the flag.
  3. (See accompanying illustration.) Solid golden sunburst without any markings - Sun with eight rays, equally spaced; Arc x with Sun ray = Free arc y; two opposite rays in horizontal axis and two in vertical axis; sun's diameter D = W/5; each ray has one major beam, twice as broad as the minor beam on either side; length of major beam R = 5/9D; length of minor beam r = 4/5R.
  4. ]Three five-pointed golden stars of equal size, each star with one point directed to the vertex of the angle enclosing it; diameter of circumscribed circle of each str = 5/9D, diameter of inscribed circle of each star = 2/9D; distance from each corner = D/2.
  5. Canvas-trimmed edge to the left of the triangle is approximately D/5 wide = not counted in measuring length of flag.
  6. Flags made of silk will be trimmed on three edges with a knotted fringe of yellow silk D/5 wide.

Done at the City of Manila, this twenty-fifth day of March, in the year of Our Lord, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, and of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, the first.

President of the Philippines

By the President:
Elpidio Quirino
Secretary of the Interior

Manuel L. Quezon III, 9 January 2002

1943 Constitution (Japanese occupation)

Article IX - General provisions
Section 1. The flag of the Republic of the Philippines shall be red, white, and blue, with a sun and three stars, as consecrated and honored by the Filipino people.
Full texts are available in the Chan Robles Virtual Law Library
Ivan Sache, 30 May 2008

1973 Constitution

Article V - Duties and obligations of citizens
Section 1. It shall be the duty of the citizen to be loyal to the Republic and to honor the Philippine flag, to defend the State and contribute to its development and welfare, to uphold the Constitution and obey the laws, and to cooperate with the duly constituted authorities in the attainment and preservation of a just and orderly society.

Article XV - General provisions
Section 1. The flag of the Philippines shall be red, white, and blue, with a sun and three stars, as consecrated and honored by the people and recognized by law.
Full texts are available in the Chan Robles Virtual Law Library
Ivan Sache, 30 May 2008

1986 Provisional "Freedom" Constitution

 Flag not mentioned
Ivan Sache, 30 May 2008

1987 Constitution

Article XVI - General provisions
Section 1. The flag of the Philippines shall be red, white, and blue, with a sun and three stars, as consecrated and honored by the people and recognized by law.
Full texts are available in the Chan Robles Virtual Law Library
Ivan Sache, 30 May 2008

Adjusting the rays on the flag?

The Philippine newspaper Sun-Star (published in Cebu City) reported that the idea of adjusting the number of rays on the sun in the flag of the Philippines was rejected by the country's Centennial Commission. I will quote the complete story below:

The Sun Star
9 March 1998

Centennial Commission junks Zambales' representation in flag

SUBIC Bay Freeport - Efforts to include Zambales among the eight provinces represented in the sun's rays of the Philippine flag have come to naught. The Philippine Centennial Commission has declared the basis used was the 1896 decree placing eight of the country's provinces under martial law. PCC Chairperson Salvador Laurel, who attended the Philippine Centennial Movement's congress of National Capital Region and Luzon chapters at the George Dewey Convention Center here, told Sun.Star News Service a team of historians rewriting the country's history recognizes the fact that Zambales is one of the provinces which staged a revolt against Spain almost the same time as the eight provinces represented in the flag. Laurel said, however, the basis used for selecting the provinces was the decree issued by Gov. General Ramon Blanco placing the provinces of Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Batangas, Laguna, Cavite and Nueva Ecija under martial law on Aug. 30, 1896 after the Battle of "San Juan del Monte." For nearly 10 years now, Zambales officials have strongly pushed the inclusion of their province represented in the sun's rays of the flag. The Provincial Board even had submitted a resolution on this but the National Historical Institute rejected this. Augusto de Viana, head researcher and officer-in-charge of the research and publication division of the National Historical Institute, clarified that the basis of the claim by Zambales officials was a decree issued by Gov. Gen. Camilo Polavieja on Dec. 24, 1896. The decree suspended elections and declared a state of emergency in the provinces of Bulacan, Batangas, Manila, Laguna, Cavite, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga and Zambales.
Sun.Star News Service

That was the story. I might just follow up with details from some more scattered news reports of flags in the Philippines. This year is the 100th anniversary of independence from Spanish colonial rule (12 June). Many events will take place, naturally many of them involving flags. Concern over the proper use and correct colours of the flag were also reported in various newspaper articles.

A Hong Kong newspaper reported earlier this year that Philippine officials are trying to have a plaque installed in the street in Hong Kong where the first Philippine flag was sewn. The Hong Kong Standard said that "The first Philippine flag, hoisted during the proclamation of independence, was sewn on Morrison Street by three Filipino women - Marcela Agoncillo, her daughter Lorenzana and Delfina Natividad, a niece of Dr Rizal." (Dr. Jose Rizal is a Philippine national hero). This took place in the spring of 1889. The South China Morning Post said that the original flag is kept at the Smithsonian Institution in the USA.

Concerning colours, the chairman of the National Centennial Commission said in a newspaper article that "the blue color of the flag has been restored to its original hue as prescribed by the National Historical Institute and as mandated under Executive Order No. 137, issued by President Macapagal in 1966." Apparently this restoration was made necessary by too many old and faded flags.

Another newspaper article reported that the President signed into law on 13 February this year "Republic Act 8491, the Code of the National Flag, Anthem, Motto, Coat of Arms and other Heraldic Items and Devices of the Philippines." Again, the motivation seems to have been concern that the national symbols were used inappropriately.
Jan Oskar Engene, 9 March 1998

In case you wondered what happened to the proposal in Senate and Congress of the Philippines to give the sun on the flag a ninth ray, read this article from the Sunstar newspaper:

A PROPOSAL to add a ninth ray in the country’s flag is being revived in Congress. Senator Ramon Bong Revilla Jr. said the modification to the flag aims to recognize the country’s Muslims, who similarly fought along with their Christian counterparts in resisting the Spanish colonial rule in the late 19th century.

Under Senate Bill 2691, all rays will be equally spaced and each ray will have one major beam, twice as broad as the two minor beams on either side. The eight rays of the sun represent the eight provinces that revolted against the Spanish regime in 1896, namely: Batangas, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Manila, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, and Tarlac. On the other hand, the three stars in the flag represent the three major geographical divisions of the country: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. "By symbolically placing our Muslim brothers in our flag, we are giving them their right place in our history," Revilla said, who made the call in time for the country’s 113th Independence Day celebration today, Sunday. The bill seeks to amend Republic Act 8491 or the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines.

A similar bill passed in the bicameral conference committee in 2009 but unfortunately, both houses of Congress failed to ratify the measure authored by then Senator Richard Gordon. However, Revilla pointed out that the ninth ray will prove further that the government is indeed giving equal importance to Muslim Filipinos.

The ninth ray however is back on the political agenda. Senate Bill 2691, already filed on February 14 last, is to be found here:
Jos Poels, 21 June 2011

First flag found?

Quoting Vincent Cabreza, "The Philippine Daily Inquirer", 11 June 2006:

The [Baguio] city government is launching a fund drive to preserve the country’s first flag, which has been under the care of the Baguio-based heirs of the late Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo since his death in 1964. Mayor Braulio Yaranon, 87, saw the relic for the first time on Thursday at the Emilio Aguinaldo Museum here. He was accompanied by Emilio Aguinaldo Suntay III, the general’s great grandson. Suntay’s grandmother, Cristina, who lives here, inherited the flag from her father after the family discovered it hidden on Aguinaldo’s death bed. She built the museum in 1985 to house the artifact.
The flag, whose most striking feature is the face sewn on the banner’s sun, had never obtained official recognition from the government because historians were still debating its authenticity. The family obtained consultancy support from the Smithsonian Institute during the Philippine centennial celebration, but the chemicals and technological hardware necessary to protect the relic from moisture or theft are too expensive, according to the family. But Yaranon said he would seek a council resolution that would give the flag its first official acknowledgment, while the government sought support from various embassies [Spain, USA, Mexico and Cuba] to keep the tattered fabric intact.
He said he was convinced that the relic is the genuine first flag. “The materials, the colors … there’s nothing I can see here that would make me doubt that this is the real [original] flag, which [Aguinaldo commissioned] in Hong Kong, and which was raised on June 12, 1898 when he declared Philippine independence,” Yaranon said. The flag’s fabric is torn and much of the net-encased material is discolored but it retains the recognizable features of the original banner. The fabric’s blue color is paler than the contemporary flag.
Ivan Sache, 17 June 2006

Discussion about the first flag

In "The Manila Times", 28 May 2008, Augusto de Viana, from the National Historic Institute, questions the traditionally admitted location of the first raising of the national flag:
"May 28 is National Flag Day, honoring the glorious banner that inspired our heroes and heroines in the Great Revolution against colonial Spain and during the seven-year Filipino-American War. The tricolors were first unfurled on May 28, 1898, in Cavite Viejo and formally raised at the proclamation of independence on June 12, 1898, in Kawit, Cavite.

One of the historical errors being perpetuated in history textbooks and commemorative rites is the place where the Philippine flag was first displayed. One signboard in Cavite claims that the national standard was first raised in Alapan, Imus, Cavite, on May 28, 1898. The source of this claim is Proclamation No. 374, issued by then-President Diosdado Macapagal on March 6, 1965. One of its “whereases” states: ”Our flags was (sic) first raised and received its baptism and victory in the Battle of Alapan, Imus, Cavite on May 28, 1898.” Alapan is a barrio in Imus.

Primary historical accounts indicate that the first display of the Philippine flag took place in Cavite City. Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo made this narrative. In Exhibit No. 71, Vol. 1 of the Philippine Insurgent Records, a printed pamphlet that was written originally in Spanish, Aguinaldo narrates:
“On the following day [May 28, 1898] and at the time when the arms were delivered to those of Kawit, in said barrio, a column of more than 270 Spanish soldiers, of the Marine Corps, surrendered, which was set by the Spanish General, Sr. Peña, in pursuit of said arms.

“It was there where the first fight of the Philippine Revolution of 1898 was started, which we may call the continuation of the campaign of 1896 to 1897, a fight which lasted from ten o’clock in the morning to three o’clock in the afternoon, when on account of lack of ammunition the Spaniards with all their arms surrendered to the Filipino Revolutionaries who entered into Cavite [port] with the prisoners. I took advantage of the glorious opportunity to bring to light and undulate the national flag which was saluted by an immense multitude, with cheers of delirious joy and great hurrahs ‘vivas’ for Independent Philippines and for the generous nation of the United States, all of which was witnessed by several officers and marines of the American Squadron, who plainly showed their sympathy for the cause of the Filipinos by taking part in their great rejoicing.”

The flag waving at Cavite port (then called Cavite Nuevo, now Cavite City) was duplicated later at Binakayan, Kawit, in a place called Polvorin where the Filipino revolutionaries attacked a Spanish detachment. The Spanish defenders, numbering 250, surrendered in a few hours after exhausting their ammunition. Aguinaldo again took advantage of this victorious moment to unfurl the national flag atop the Polvorin barracks where it could be seen by foreign warships anchored on Manila Bay. According to his account, the foreign ships represented all the greatest and civilized nations of the world and those aboard were witnessing providential events after 300 years of Spanish domination. Aguinaldo wrote that this glorious triumph was the prelude to continued victories. On May 31, the date set for the general uprising, the whole country rose as one to shake off the power of Spain.

The first flag-waving therefore took place near the port of Cavite Nuevo, not in Alapan. The latter was where a famous battle took place. Historical accounts do not say that the flag fluttered at the battle. Clearly, it was the sight of the prisoners marching into the Cavite port that prompted Aguinaldo to bring out the flag made in Hong Kong and to display it publicly. It was a festive occasion imbued with patriotism, according to the general, the first battle of the second phase of the Philippine Revolution.

The use of historic documents, which corrects our views of the past, does not diminish in anyway the pride and courage displayed by our heroes during this important episode in our history."
Ivan Sache, 29 May 2008