National Flag Symbols and Meaning
The National Flag of the Philippines (Filipino: Pambansang Watawat ng Pilipinas) is a horizontal flag bicolor with equal bands of royal blue and scarlet, and with a white, equilateral triangle at the hoist. In the center of the triangle is a golden-yellow sun with eight primary rays, each representing a Philippine province. At each vertex of the triangle is a five-pointed, golden-yellow star, each of which representing one of the country’s three main island groups—Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, the central star originally referred to Panay.
A unique feature of this flag is its ability to indicate a state of war if it is displayed with the red side on top, which is effectively achieved by flipping the flag upside-down.
The flag’s length is twice its width, giving it an aspect ratio of 1:2. The length of all the sides of the white triangle are equal to the width of the flag. Each star is oriented in such manner that one of its tips points towards the vertex at which it is located. Moreover, the gap-angle between two neighbours of the 8 ray-bundles is as large as the angle of one ray-bundle (so 22.5°), with each major ray having double the thickness of its two minor rays. The golden sun is not exactly in the center of the triangle but shifted slightly to the right. This flag is waved when having ceremonies.
The shade of blue used in the flag has varied over time, beginning with the original color lazuli Rosco. The exact nature of this shade is uncertain, but a likely candidate is the blue of the Cuban flag, which a theory says influenced the flag’s design. Specifications for the flag’s colors with shades matching those used in the American flag were adopted by the National Historical Institute in 1955. President Ferdinand Marcos ordered the colors restored to the original light blue and red of the Cuban flag in 1985, but this was immediately rescinded after the 1986 People Power Revolution that removed him from power. For the 1998 independence centennial celebrations, the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines (RA 8491) was passed, designating royal blue as the official variant.
The flag’s colors are specified by Republic Act 8491 in terms of their cable number in the system developed by the Color Association of the United States. The official colors and their approximations in other color spaces are listed below:
The Philippine national flag has a rectangular design that consists of a white equilateral triangle, symbolizing liberty, equality, and fraternity; a horizontal blue stripe for peace, truth, and justice; and a horizontal red stripe for patriotism and valor. In the center of the white triangle is an eight-rayed golden sun symbolizing unity, freedom, people’s democracy, and sovereignty. Each ray represents a province with significant involvement in the 1896 Philippine Revolution against Spain; these provinces are Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Pampanga, Bataan, Laguna, Batangas, and Nueva Ecija (some sources specify other provinces as alternatives to some of these[a]). However, according to the Declaration of Independence and a research by UP Professor Ambeth Ocampo, the rays of the sun symbolized the first 8 provinces of the Philippines which was declared under martial law during the First Philippine Revolution. Three five-pointed stars, one for each of the triangle’s points, stand for the three major island groups where the revolution started: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
The flag’s original symbolism is enumerated in the text of the independence proclamation, which makes reference to an attached drawing, though no record of the drawing has surfaced.
The first flag of the Katipunan
The symbolism given in the 1898 Proclamation of Philippine Independence differs from the current official explanation. According to the document, the white triangle signifies the emblem of the Katipunan, the secret society that opposed Spanish rule. It says the flag’s colors commemorate the flag of the United States as a manifestation of gratitude for American aid against the Spanish during the Philippine Revolution. It also says that one of the three stars represents the island of Panay, rather than the entire Visayan islands. Panay, which recent interpretations call as “as representative of the entire Visayas region”. The proclamation also declares that the sun represents the gigantic steps made by the sons of the country along the path of Progress and Civilization, and lists Bataan instead of Tarlac among the eight provinces symbolized by the sun’s rays.
It has been common since the 1960s to trace the development of the Philippine flag to the various war standards of the individual leaders of the Katipunan, a pseudo-masonicrevolutionary movement that opposed Spanish rule in the Philippines and led the Philippine Revolution. However, while some symbols common to the Katipunan flags would be adopted into the iconography of the Revolution, it is inconclusive whether these war standards can be considered precursors to the present Philippine flag.
Flag of the Magdalo Katipunan faction
The first flag of the Katipunan was a red rectangular flag with a horizontal alignment of three white Ks (an acronym for the Katipunan’s full name, Kataas-taasang Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan – Supreme and Venerable Society of the Sons of the Nation). The flag’s red field symbolized blood, as members of the Katipunan signed their membership papers in their own blood.
The various leaders of the Katipunan, such as Andrés Bonifacio, Mariano Llanera, and Pío del Pilar, also had individual war standards. The organization was represented in Cavite province by two factions: the Magdiwang faction and the Magdalo faction, with each adopting a flag. Both used a white sun. Instead of the letter K the flags bore the symbol for the syllable ka in Baybayin, the pre-Hispanic writing script of the Tagalogs.
The flag adopted by the Republic of Biak-na-Bato in 1897
The Katipunan adopted a new flag in 1897 during an assembly at Naic, Cavite. This new flag was red and depicted a white sun with a face. The sun had eight rays, representing eight provinces of the Philippines.
The earlier design of the current Philippine flag was conceptualized by Emilio Aguinaldo during his exile in British Hong Kong in 1897. The first flag was sewn by Marcela Mariño Agoncillo, with the help of her daughter Lorenza and Delfina Herbosa Natividad (a niece of Propagandista José Rizal). It was first displayed in the Battle of Alapan on May 28, 1898.
Flag of the Philippines at the Philippine International Convention Center
The flag was formally unfurled during the proclamation of independence on June 12, 1898 in Kawit, Cavite. However, a Manila Times article by Augusto de Viana, Chief History Researcher, National Historical Institute, mentions assertions in history textbooks and commemorative rites that the flag was first raised in Alapan, Imus, Cavite, on May 28, 1898, citing Presidential Proclamation No. 374, issued by then-President Diosdado Macapagal on March 6, 1965. The article goes on to claim that historical records indicate that the first display of the Philippine flag took place in Cavite City, when General Aguinaldo displayed it during the first fight of the Philippine Revolution.
Official Flag of the First Philippine Republic
The original design of the flag adopted a mythical sun with a face influenced by Latin American republics Argentina, Peru, and Uruguay; a triangle, representing the Katipunan which inspired by the Eye of Providence in the Great Seal of the United States and the Masonic Triangle and which enshrined Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité; the stripes and colors derived from the American flag. The particular shade of blue of the original flag has been a source of controversy. Based on anecdotal evidence and the few surviving flags from the era, historians argue that the colors of the original flag was influenced by the flags of Cuba and Puerto Rico.
During the session of the Malolos Congress, Aguinaldo presented the symbolism of the official flag to the members, delegates and representatives of the assembly as follows:
The Flag bears three colors, three stars, and a sun, the meaning of which are as follows: the red is symbolic of Filipino courage which is second to none, and was the color used during the war in the province of Cavite since the 31st of August 1896, until the Peace of Biak-na-Bato [in 1897]; the blue carries an allegorical meaning that all Filipinos will prefer to die before submitting ourselves to the invader, whoever he may be; the white conveys the idea that, like other nations, the Filipinos know how to govern themselves, and that they do not recede from observation of foreign powers. The sun and its rays stirred up Filipinos and spread the light over their world, piercing the clouds that enshrouded it; it is now the light which brightens every spot in the Philippine islands, and under its influence the Itas, Igorots, Manguians, and Moros, all of whom I believe were made in the image of God, and whom I recognize as our brethren, now come down from the mountains to join with us.
Official flag of the Republic of Negros
The original flag that was first hoisted on May 28, 1898 and unfurled during the Declaration of independence on June 12, 1898 is being preserved at the Gen Emilio Aguinaldo Museum in Baguio City. There were plans to restore the flag by replacing the worn-out portion but the idea was abandoned because matching threads could not be found. The flag is more elaborate than the flag which is currently in use. It bears the embroidered words, Libertad, Justicia and Ygualidad (Liberty, Justice and Equality) on one side of the flag and Fuerzas Expedicionarias del Norte de Luzon (Expeditionary forces of Northern Luzon) on the other.
Hostilities broke out between the Philippines and the United States in 1899. The flag was first flown with the red field up on February 4, 1899 to show that a state of war existed. Aguinaldo was captured by the Americans two years later, and swore allegiance to the United States.
With the defeat of the Philippine Republic, the Philippines was placed under American colonial rule and the display of the Philippine flag was declared illegal by the Sedition Act of 1907. This law was repealed on October 24, 1919. With the legalization of display of the Philippine flag, the cloth available in most stores was the red and blue of the flag of the United States, so the flag from 1919 onwards adopted the “National Flag blue” color. On March 26, 1920, the Philippine Legislature passed Act. No 2928 on March 26, 1920, which legally adopted the Philippine flag as the official flag of the Philippine Islands. Up until the eve of World War II, Flag Day was celebrated on annually on October 30, commemorating the date the ban on the flag was lifted.
Official flag of the Republic of Negros
The Commonwealth of the Philippines was inaugurated in 1935. On March 25, 1936, President Manuel L. Quezon issued Executive Order No. 23 which provided for the technical description and specifications of the flag. Among the provisions of the order was the definition of the triangle at the hoist as an equilateral triangle, the definition of the aspect ratio at 1:2, the precise angles of the stars, the geometric and aesthetic design of the sun, and the formal elimination of the mythical face on the sun. The exact shades of colors, however, were not precisely defined. These specifications have remained unchanged and in effect to the present. In 1941, Flag Day was officially moved to June 12, commemorating the date that Philippine independence was proclaimed in 1898.
The flag was once again banned with the Japanese invasion and occupation of the Philippines beginning in December 1941, to be hoisted again with the establishment of the Second Republic of the Philippines, a client state of Japan. In ceremonies held in October 1943, Emilio Aguinaldo hoisted the flag with the original Cuban blue and red colors restored. The flag was initially flown with the blue stripe up, until President José P. Laurel proclaimed the existence of a state of war with the Allied Powers in 1944. The Commonwealth government-in-exile in Washington, D.C. continued to use the flag with the American colors, and had flown it with the red stripe up since the initial invasion of the Japanese. With the combined forces of the Filipino & American soldiers and the liberation of the Philippines in 1944 to 1945, the flag with the American colors was restored, and it was this flag that was hoisted upon the granting of Philippine independence from the United States on July 4, 1946.
Flag of the Philippines at the Philippine International Convention Center
Section 10 of RA 8491 states that when the flag is displayed on a wall during peacetime, the blue field is to the observers’ left, as shown here.
According to Republic Act 8491 itself, it shall be prohibited:
a) To mutilate, deface, defile, trample on or cast contempt or commit any act or omission casting dishonor or ridicule upon the flag or over its surface;
b) To dip the flag to any person or object by way of compliment or salute;
c) To use the flag:
1) As a drapery, festoon, tablecloth;
2) As covering for ceilings, walls, statues or other objects;
3) As a pennant in the hood, side, back and top of motor vehicles;
4) As a staff or whip;
5) For unveiling monuments or statues; and
6) As trademarks, or for industrial, commercial or agricultural labels or designs.
d) To display the flag:
1) Under any painting or picture;
2) Horizontally face-up. It shall always be hoisted aloft and be allowed to fall freely;
3) Below any platform; or
4) In discothèques, cockpits, night and day clubs, casinos, gambling joints and places of vice or where frivolity prevails.
e) To wear the flag in whole or in part as a costume or uniform;
f) To add any word, figure, mark, picture, design, drawings, advertisement, or imprint of any nature on the flag;
g) To print, paint or attach representation of the flag on handkerchiefs, napkins, cushions, and other articles of merchandise;
h) To display in public any foreign flag, except in embassies and other diplomatic establishments, and in offices of international organizations;
i) To use, display or be part of any advertisement or infomercial; and
j) To display the flag in front of buildings or offices occupied by aliens.
The Act mandates that violators shall, upon conviction, be punished by fine or imprisonment.
The detail of Fernando Amorsolo’s The Making of the Philippine flag depicting Agoncillo and company’s manual sewing
The National Flag Day in the Philippines is celebrated every May 28, the very day of the 1898 Battle of Alapan. The official National Flag flying period starts from May 28 and ends on Independence Day, June 12, every year, although the flying period for the flag in homes, businesses and public establishments may start on a specified day of May (to be given by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines) and may last until June 30.