THE CONTROVERSIAL PHILIPPINE NATIONAL FLAG
by Chris Antonette Piedad-Pugay
Before 1896, the Filipinos had no common flag. The use of flags became common in the Philippines during the height of the revolution. Different flags were created and designed by various Katipunan generals signifying the unit or battalion where they belong. However, these flags cannot be classified as a “national” flag.
Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo aspired to establish a new nation to be signified by a flag and an anthem during the second phase of the Philippine Revolution. With this, he himself made the sketch of the flag that he submitted to Doña Marcela Agoncillo who was then living at 535 Morrison Hill Road in Hong Kong. In sewing the flag, Mrs. Agoncillo was assisted by her daughter Lorenza and by Delfina Herbosa Natividad. After five days of hard work, the flag was delivered to Aguinaldo who went back to the Philippines on 17 May 1898 through S.S. McCulloch. The flag as described by the maker herself was “made from fine silk with a white triangle at the left containing a sunburst with eight rays at the center, a five-pointed star at each angle of the triangle, an upper stripe of dark blue and a lower stripe of red. The white triangle stood for the Filipinos’ hope for equality; the blue color stood for peace, truth and justice; and the red stood for patriotism and valor. The sunburst of eight rays represented the first eight provinces to take up arms against Spain, and the three stars symbolized Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.”
Philippine Flag Banned!
Just like our country and its constitution, the Philippine flag also experienced different controversies. When the Americans took over the Philippines, mutual distrust among the Filipinos and Americans sparked. This prompted the Philippine Commission to enact the Flag Law of 1907 that forbade the Filipinos to use or display the Philippine flag anywhere, even inside Filipino homes. The Filipinos responded with bitter protests as they saw the Flag Law as a violation of the fundamental principle of free expression.
Several efforts were done by Filipino legislators to repeal the law, but to no avail. In 1919, Senator Rafael Palma sponsored the Senate Bill No. 1, a bill repealing the Flag Law of 1907 following Gov. Gen. Francis Harrison’s recommendation that the law should be repealed since the distrust between the Filipinos and the Americans no longer exists. On 24 October 1919, Act No. 2871 was approved and signed by Gen. Harrison; thus, the Flag Law of 1907 was repealed.
Inclusion of a 9th Ray or Crescent in the Flag
In 1970’s, appeals for the inclusion of an additional ray or a crescent in the Philippine flag created another hullabaloo. House bill No. 7725 sponsored by Rep. Sultan Omar Dianalan of the 1st District of Lanao del Sur petitioned for the addition of 9th ray in the rays of the sun in the Philippine flag to symbolize the Moslems and the cultural minorities who fought the Spaniards and waged war against them. Other groups proposed that a crescent be placed beside the sun as a form of tribute to the pre-colonial past. However, historians, headed by Teodoro Agoncillo singled out that when Aguinaldo himself designed the flag, he had in his mind the eight provinces which rise in arms against Spain during the Philippine Revolution namely: Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Laguna and Batangas. He also pointed out that one of the three stars in the flag already represents the Moslem and the Moslem lands.
How Blue is Blue?
The repeal of the Flag Law of 1907 gave reason for the Filipinos to be jubilant, however, it created a new controversy concerning the true color of the flag’s blue field. The issue was raised as early as mid 1970’s until mid 1980’s. Through studies it appeared that the conflict in the shades of blue might have resulted from the alleged hasty preparations of the flag that was used for the Flag Day of March 26, 1920 following the repeal of the Flag Law. The quartermaster was said to have run out of light blue cloth and used dark blue instead similar to the one used for the American flag.
Specification of the blue color of the original flag through a documented interview of Emilio Aguinaldo by the historian Teodoro Agoncillo was noted before the former’s death. In the interview, Aguinaldo specified that the blue color of the flag is “bughaw” neither azul oscuro nor azul marino. Meanwhile, Juan Luna’s painting of the flag on May 21, 1899 in “Monograph” illustrated the flag in China blue, not navy blue, whereas Mariano Ponce in his letter to Ferdinand Blumentritt described the blue color of the flag “as blue as the sky” symbolizing hope. Ponce’s description was complemented by Salvador Vivencio del Rosario’s in his article “La Bandera de la Patria” published on October 1899 where he stated that the flag’s color was “color celeste” (color of the sky). In 1943, however, The Philippine Flag wore a bright royal blue during the inauguration of the Japanese sponsored Republic.
Nonetheless, numerous personalities maintained that the color of the flag is navy blue or dark blue. The daughter of the flag-maker also named Marcela Agoncillo believed that it was not sky blue or light blue but dark blue. She also argued that, if there was error in the color of the flag, why did Aguinaldo never question it during his lifetime? Her description was supported by Teodoro Kalaw’s description of the flag. Meanwhile, Arturo Tolentino raised that the flag that was used and adopted by the 1935 and the 1973 Constitution, which was colored dark blue should be maintained because it was the one which was “consecrated and honored by the people” and the change of its color or shade is a violation of law.
On 25 February 1985, President Ferdinand Marcos issued Executive Order No. 1010 which changed dark blue to a lighter shade, lighter than navy blue but darker than sky blue or azure. As of today, Cable No. 80173 is the basis of the true shade of blue in the Philippine flag.
Where is the Original Flag?
In his letter to Captain Baja dated 11 June 1925, Aguinaldo mentioned that in their Northward retreat during the Filipino-American War, the original flag was lost somewhere in Tayug, Pangasinan. Some people believed that the original flag that was hoisted during the proclamation of independence on 12 June 1898 was the one stored in the Aguinaldo Museum at Baguio City. It cannot be denied that the said flag was authentic and a contemporary of the original flag but experts found out that its materials was made of combined silk and cotton fabric, not fine silk as stated by the flag-maker herself in “Philippine Herald” published in October 1929.There were also reports that the first original flag of the Philippines was returned in July 1957 by US Ambassador Charles E. Bohlen.
Very recently, American War Commission Public Relations Director Rudy Asercion noticed a Philippine flag in an American Trophy Room of the San Francisco War Memorial Building. He then asked if the flag in San Francisco could be the same flag sewn by Agoncillo in 1898. Looking at the flag closely, it was made of fine silk but its sun has 12 rays while the original has eight; it has six-pointed stars while the original had five-pointed stars; the sun and stars in the original flag were sewn by hand while the San Francisco flag has a painted sun and stars; and most importantly, the original flag had a plain blue field while the San Francisco flag has a printed blue field with a floral design. While the flag was proven to be authentic and was really used during the Filipino-American War, it is definitely not the original Philippine flag of 1898. Until the moment, the whereabouts of the original flag of 1898 remains a mystery.
This coming May 28, the whole nation would celebrate the Flag Day to pay respect to the Philippine Flag. Controversies in the past must not be a hindrance on how a Filipino should look up to our flag because no matter what happens this flag that we have right now has served as the unifying symbol of all Filipinos and this is the same banner that the freedom fighters served in war and in peace. In general, our flag symbolizes us as a nation and as a people.