The country marks the start of its Flag Days today. All citizens are encouraged to proudly display the flag, whether at home or in the workplace. As the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office’s contribution to the observance of our flag days, and to kick off the PCDSPO blog, I’d like to reprise a blog entry I originally wrote in 2005 on the various elements of our national flag.
As a basic introduction, the reason our Flag Days begins on the 28th of May is that it was in the Battle of Alapan that our national flag was first displayed in battle, as pointed out by the Presidential Spokesperson in his statement on May 25, 2011. This is in keeping with information provided by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.
The Proclamation of Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898 included this reference to our flag, unfurled before the gathered assembly at Kawit Cavite:
And lastly, it was results unanimously that this Nation, already free and independent as of this day, must used the same flag which up to now is being used, whose designed and colored are found described in the attached drawing, the white triangle signifying the distinctive emblem of the famous Society of the “Katipunan” which by means of its blood compact inspired the masses to rise in revolution; the tree stars, signifying the three principal Islands of these Archipelago – Luzon, Mindanao, and Panay where the revolutionary movement started; the sun representing the gigantic step made by the son of the country along the path of Progress and Civilization; the eight rays, signifying the eight provinces – Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Laguna, and Batangas – which declares themselves in a state of war as soon as the first revolt was initiated; and the colors of Blue, Red, and White, commemorating the flag of the United States of America, as a manifestation of our profound gratitude towards this Great Nation for its disinterested protection which it lent us and continues lending us.
You can see a facsimile of our Proclamation of Independence in the University of Michigan website. There’s also a nice collage in Wikimedia Commons. Apolinario Mabini’s dissatisfaction with the original Proclamation is detailed in his memoirs of the Revolution, and includes an account of President Aguinaldo having a telephone connection between Mabini’s and the President’s houses installed.
Since 1898 the enduring symbols of our nationhood, as Jose P. Laurel once pointed out, are: our Constitution, the presidency, the national anthem and our flag. The flag and anthem, in particular, have been adopted by all our regimes. The flag was banned by American authorities in 1907, the Philippine Legislature reauthorized its use in 1919; it was banned by the Japanese from 1942-43. Its appearance has been regulated several times: its present design and proportions established in 1936, its colors defined and redefined by executive issuance and laws, and it is in terms of the colors that debates have erupted from time to time.
For those interested in vexillogy or the study of flags, a handy resource on the internet is Flags Of The World: which, long before sites such as Wikepedia, was an exponent of collective learning and the sharing of expertise on flags. I have been on and off again, active on the site and its mailing list.
The debate over the colors of the Philippine flag has been discussed in its page on the Philippines and the FOTW mailing list.
Referring to FOTW, one learns that the flags of the world can be divided into families, each family tracing its origin in turn, to other flags that served as inspirations for nationalist and other movements. The most obvious examples are the flag families of France (Mexico, Italy, Ireland, many African countries, to name but a few); Holland (Russia, South Africa, to name just a couple); the United States (Malaysia, Liberia, Chile, to name a few); the Soviet Union (China, Vietnam, etc.). Flag designers looked to the flags of other nations for inspiration and meaning. So, it isn’t all that odd that the Philippine flag was inspired by that of Cuba and the United States, or that this was clearly intended at the time. Cuba, for example, to this day acknowledges and doesn’t hide the historical origins of its national flag (which, after all, was kept by Fidel Castro even after the success of the Cuban revolution).
But it bears pointing out that the flag family to which our flag belongs, the nations of the Spanish Empire that strove to achieve independence at the end of the 19th Century -a family that comprises the flags of the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico- all have a problem with the definition of the color blue. Part of it stems from the same reasons we have a problem with ours: the materials used by flag manufacturers changes over time (in the 19th century, and for our first flag, silk was used; thereafter, canvas was used; nowadays, nylon is used, all of which involves textiles and dyes that do not necessarily lend themselves to standardized colors or even textures); a lack of documentation; and the problem of the flags being originally designed with the United States in mind.
First, by using illustrations from FOTW, let’s look at the Cuban, Philippine, and Puerto Rican flags:
The Philippine flag; The Cuban flag; The Puerto Rico flag
Designed and adopted in 1898 Designed in 1849, adopted, 1902 Designed in 1895, adopted 1905
Notice, first of all, what they have in common. The general design of a triangle in the corner, and then stripes. Also, the use of the colors red, white, and blue. Second, note that Cuba’s is the oldest design, and the almost certainly, Cuba’s flag was the model for that of the Philippines and Puerto Rico. Cuba’s revolution was an inspiration to Filipino revolutionaries in many ways (Rizal wanted to go there under cover of being a surgeon, to study how the fighting was going on; the Cuban constitution was studied by Filipino revolutionaries; American interest in the Cuban cause was considered a good omen for the Filipino cause).
Now here’s something curious about the flag history of Cuba. From FOTW comes this quote.
From Barraclough and Crampton: Flags Of the World (1981) [brc81]: “A Venezuelan general, Narciso López, made in 1848 the first serious attempt to help Cuba break away from Spanish rule. He carried ‘La Estrella Solitaria’ -’The Lone Star’-banner, Cuba’s present flag. (While he was having important meetings on the revolution, his wife embroidered it). His attempt was not successful; only in 1902 Cuba became an independent republic and López’s flag was adopted as the official flag. The three blue stripes are the symbols of the original three provinces. The triangle is a masonic symbol, here signifying liberty, equality and fraternity. The red color is for the blood sacrificed by the Cuban patriots.
Jarig Bakker, 29 October 1998
So we know that the triangle, a symbol of Masonry and the French Revolution, became a Masonically-inspired part of ours, because of a Venezuelan working for Cuban independence. Now here comes an even more curious part. First, look at this:
The flag of the Republic of Texas (1836-1839) and of the State of Texas
This, apparently, was the model for not one, but two flags for Cuba. In Cuba, FOTW explains the relationship of the Texan flag to the 1849 flag:
Crampton’s ‘World of Flags’, 1990, has: “The white star (La Estrella Solitaria) represented a new state to be added to the USA. The red, white, and blue also referred deliberately to the Stars and Stripes.” (p. 32)
Eve Devereux, in: ‘Flags, the illustrated Identifier to flags of the world’, 1994, has: “The ironic similarity between the
“Lone Star” flag of Cuba and the Stars and Stripes of its arch enemy, the USA, is far from coincidental. The design can be traced to 1849 and General Narciso López (d. 1851), a Venezuelan filibuster who, living in the USA, was anxious to liberate Cuba from the Spanish and claim it for his adopted country – hence the single star, to be added to the others.” (p. 10)
Jarig Bakker, 23 June 2000
There’s more. Now look at this flag:
The “Cespedes Flag” of Cuba.
In Cuba – Cespedes Flag (1868) its significance is explained as follows:
The flag was used by Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, known as the Father of Cuba, in his famous uprising known as the “Grito de Yara” of October 10, 1868. This uprising initiated the 10 Year War during which this flag was the flag of Cuban “Independentistas” or pro independence fighters. The 10 Year War ended in 1878 with a truce that allowed Spainish rule over Cuba to continue.
When Cuba became independent from Spain on May 20, 1902, this flag was officially designated the flag of the city of his birth: Bayamo, Oriente, and the flag which Venezuelan-born, Cuban patriot, Narciso Lopez flew in the city of Cárdenas on May 19, 1850, was officially designated the Cuban national flag. In honor of Cespedes and the bravery of the residents of Bayamo, who during the 10 Year War burned the prosperous city to the ground and moved to the forrest rather than surrender it to the Spaniards, Bayamo was proclaimed a “National Monument” and from then on would have its name proceeded by the initials M.N. for “Monumento Nacional.” Since Cuba gained independence from Spain, the flag of Bayamo is displayed alongside the Cuban national flag at official ceremonies and events.
Dr. Eladio José© Armesto, 1 April 2002
So, the two great historical flags of Cuba were both inspired by the flag of Texas! Incidentally, note how the history of the Cuban revolution echoes in so many ways our own, with an on-again, off-again quality to it, ending with temporary success with the help of the Americans, yet both countries ending up protectorates of the United States.
So far, we have red, white, and blue as our common Filipino, Cuban, and Puerto Rican heritage from the United States, with a double-heritage of colors also owed to the Texan flag, as well as the use of stripes, borrowed by Texas from the American flag. We have, as the Filipino and Puerto Rican heritage, the use of a Masonic triangle. But where did the idea of the Masonic triangle originate, for flag use? An interesting note in a past FOTW discussion list message were the designs for provincial flags used in the Philippines during Spanish times.
Philippines, maritime flag ; Iloilo, maritime flag
Both flags circa the 1850s, used for navigation in Philippine waters, from what I understand from messages in the FOTW mailing list. Incidentally, the same navigational flag for Havana, Cuba, was this:
Ignore the black part of the flags; imagine the square end attached to the flagpole, and the end being what is called swallow-tailed. Now, if you reversed the flag, that is, get the end with two points, and fill in the gap (what is black in the images), and stick that on the flag pole, you get:
The flag of the Philippines, formally unfurled on June 12, 1898. This is based on an illustration by a book by Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, one of the champions of changing the blue color of the flag to Cuban blue. The elements then, are as follows: the triangle and stripes from the Spanish navigational flags, as adapted by the Cubans, who also borrowed the colors of the Texan and American flags. Our own borrowing, independent of the Cuban example, is the mythical sun, which you can see in the following Latin American republics (images taken from FOTW):
Argentina ; Presidential flag of Chile
And most startling of all, from Cuba – Historical Flags: this flag, used by a Masonic society known as the “Suns and Rays of Bolivar” in 1823:
The “Suns and Rays” flag ; Simon Bolivar’s own design for the “union of Cuba.”
SimÃƒÂ³n BolÃƒÂvar – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: explains who Bolivar was, needless to say, he was one of the greatest heroes of Central and South American liberation from Spain. Which means, our flag, by way of Cuba, owes its sun, as Argentina, Chile and other countries do, to the Great Liberator Bolivar!
Suffice it to say that the Philippines is not alone in debating the correct shade of blue for its flag. Cuba and Puerto Rico, apparently, have been grappling with the same issue. In Puerto Rico, for example, advocates of the retention of Commonwealth status for the island, and those advocating independence from the United States, advocate different shades of blue for the island’s flag.
In the Philippines, there is the question of whether the flag should have blue and red in American or Cuban hues: the drawing attached to our Proclamation of Independence might be definitive if it weren’t missing. What we do have are Philippine flags dating back to the era, but they invariably use the American shades of blue and red. And yet there are historians who passionately advocate the use of the Cuban colors.
President Marcos tried to change the shades of blue and red used in our flag in 1985 but this was never popular and explicitly rejected after the Edsa Revolution in 1986. With the Centennial of the Proclamation of Independence in 1998, however, the colors of the flag were revised on the advise of historians who’d long advocated a change. However instead of specifically Cuban colors, royal blue was used.
For a guide to properly displaying our national flag, visit the National Historical Commission of the Philippines website.