by Eufemio O. Agbayani III
Historic Sites Development Officer II

For one year, 25 February 1985 to 25 February 1986, Philippine national flags had three shades of blue.

Ever since the Philippine flag was allowed to fly again in 1919 and standardized through an Executive Order in 1936, it had sported a shade of blue currently called ‘national flag blue’ (Cable No. 80077) by the Reference Guide of the Color Association of the United States.

The particular shade was apparently made official on 24 January 1955 through an action of the Office of the President upon the recommendation of the Philippine Heraldry Committee, a precursor of today’s National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

Construction sheet of the Philippine flag with color specifications, 24 January 1955

However, historians such as Bureau of Records Management (now National Archives) director Domingo Abella and NHI board member Teodoro Agoncillo began questioning the accuracy of the said shade. The National Historical Institute (NHI), referring to an original Philippine flag owned by Emilio Aguinaldo and now in the Aguinaldo Museum in Baguio, a sketch by Juan Luna, and other documents and reminiscences, concluded that the ‘national flag blue’ then being used was inaccurate.

The recommendation was opposed by many, including Batasang Pambansa member, Arturo Tolentino, who found the change unnecessary and even unconstitutional, and Miss Marcela M. Agoncillo, daughter of Doña Marcela Mariño de Agoncillo, the principal maker of the first Philippine national flag. The younger Marcela insisted that based on her own personal reminiscences, the original shade was the existing dark blue.

A Misinterpreted Order

To settle the debate, President Ferdinand Marcos issued Executive Order No. 1010 on 25 February 1985 which declared that “the shade of the color blue was lighter than the present dark blue” and instructs the NHI “to take the necessary steps to restore the original color of the First Philippine Flag.” Note that the order did not specify the exact shade of blue, leaving it to the NHI to decide.

By March, flag makers requested the postponement of the implementation. The NHI clarified that it had yet to release its guidelines and thus flag makers simply had to sell their existing stock. However, in April, the Independence Flagpole in Rizal Park, Manila was spotted with a flag with a light blue stripe. Nonetheless, in his official engagements, Marcos continued to use the old blue, awaiting the NHI’s guidelines on the matter.

Image of the flag from a news article published on the Daily Express, 26 February 1985. Articles like these may have spurred the confusion that sky blue had officially been proclaimed as the new official shade.

Flag with sky blue stripe being raised in Luneta despite NHI not having announced its recommendation. From an article published on Bulletin Today, 7 April 1985.

Flag with darker blue stripe during a parade held at the commencement exercises of the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City, 22 March 1985

In late May, the NHI announced the official shade, cable number 80176 or Oriental Blue. To assuage the fears of flag manufacturers, the flags with ‘national flag blue’ stripes were to be gradually phased out while those with oriental blue could also be flown. However, Arturo Tolentino and Marcela Agoncillo continued to oppose the color change.

Confusion and Frustration

The shade of blue issue was politicized especially with the approaching Snap Elections of 1986. The public’s attitude towards the new blue was best shown in a series of three comic strips by artist Nonoy Marcelo.

Series of ‘Ikabod’ comic strips by Nonoy Marcelo

In the first strip, a mouse is confused by the explanation given by ‘Ratnato Perdon-Perdon’, alluding to NHI’s chief researcher Renato Perdon. In the second, the current ‘oriental blue’ was identified with Imelda Marcos’ so-called ‘blue ladies’. One of the mice quipped that if the opposition won the next elections, the shade of blue will be ‘AVSECOM Van blue’, referring to the van that carried Ninoy Aquino’s body after his assasination in 1983. The third strip returns to the theme of confusion—so much so that at the end, the mice coloring his Philippine flag simply wrote ‘Cable 80176’ on top.

To be fair, the “Blue Ladies blue” is indeed sky blue, albeit not pale,…

…and the AVSECOM Van does sport a blue close to the original ‘national flag blue’. COURTESY OF MR. WILLY BAS

EDSA and the Stripe of Blue

The gradual phase-out that the NHI had planned would be interrupted by the EDSA People Power Revolution. It was a great irony that in the snap elections that led to the event, Marcos ran with Tolentino as his running mate. Having been proclaimed by the Batasang Pambansa, Marcos took his oath of office on 25 February 1986—exactly one year since E.O. 1010—only to leave for Hawaii that night. Tolentino was absent in the ceremony, although he later claimed that he was privately sworn in on 16 February.

Marcos loyalists hold Philippine flags with the oriental blue stripe
outside Malacañan Palace on 25 February 1986.

Cory Aquino’s supporters enter the Malacañan Palace on 26 February 1896.
Note that the Philippine flag draped from the window of what is now the Kalayaan Hall has a blue stripe that is definitely not pale sky blue.

While it is hard to ascertain the shade of blue on the flags carried by Filipinos from both sides, we know that the sky blue of Luneta was certainly not one of them. While E.O. 1010 was not officially repealed by President Corazon C. Aquino, she began reverting to the pre-1985 ‘national flag blue’ as evidenced by her presidential photographs. In his early years too, Fidel V. Ramos used flags with the old blue.

Undated postcard showing a presidential photograph of Corazon C. Aquino.
Note the dark shade of blue on the Philippine flag
in contrast with a brighter blue of the restored presidential standard.

Undated postcard showing a presidential photograph of Fidel V. Ramos.

Nonetheless, the NHI recognized the continued validity of E.O. 1010 and used it as legal basis for a 1996 report that recognized Royal Blue (Cable No. 800173) as the official color of blue on the flag. This color was codified by Republic Act No. 8491 signed on 12 February 1998 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations. This is the shade of blue we have used ever since.



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