MY FIRST distinct memories of the Philippine flag are as a pre-grader: 6 years old, in Kindergarten. There was a miniature one on my teacher’s desk, proudly standing next to a bobbing-head statue of St. Therese of Lisieux. I used to stare at that statue all the time; was endlessly fascinated by it. You dropped a coin through a slot in its back, and some internal mechanism would trigger the approving head nod. On Mission Wednesdays, we lined up, 25 centavo coins in hand, for our own encounter with what we believed a minor miracle.
Staring at that statue meant inadvertently staring at the flag. This, too, eventually piqued my interest.
Every Monday, I would watch high-schoolers, looking all spiffy in their citizens’ army training uniforms, march into the wide-open school quadrangle, in time with ceremonious drum roll. They would stand at the base of the flag pole, bark out orders my 6-year-old sensibility could not grasp, and then hoist the flag upwards to the strains of “Lupang Hinirang” blaring through the PA system. I would sing along, gazing to the heavens, watching the flag sway rhythmically in the morning breeze.
Even at this young age, I understood—almost instinctively—the connection between the flag and national pride. My little heart would swell, with the anthem’s crescendo, and I was filled with an indescribable love for what I, at the time, barely knew.
Imagine how overwhelmed Filipino revolutionary soldiers must have been when they saw the flag for the first time hundreds of years ago? It was—contrary to popular belief—on May 28, 1898, in Cavite City, then known as Cavite Nuevo (New Cavite) or Cavite Puerto (Cavite Port) where the Cuartel Heneral (the revolution’s HQ), the Teatro Caviteño, was located.
The revolt by the Katipunan against Spanish colonial rule had reached fever-pitch, and the colonizers held on desperately to the last vestiges of authority.
Spanish officials had learned of a shipment of ammunition which had arrived at the Cavite port two days earlier and had been shipped to a revolutionary bailiwick in the small barrio of Alapan, Cavite. They sent a group of a little under 300 soldiers to the barrio, with the intent of confiscating the weapons. They, however, did not anticipate the fierce fight the revolutionaries would put up. The gun battle—which lasted from 10 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon—resulted in the victory of the Filipinos, however unlikely that was thought to be.
The exuberant revolutionaries took their Spanish prisoners to the headquarters in Cavite that same day, where Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of the Philippine Revolution, waved the Philippine flag, to cheers and shouts of victory. The Katipunan had its own flag, but this was the first time ever that the flag of a dreamed-about, sovereign Philippines was displayed.
It was an inspirational act, meant to celebrate what was considered their first major victory, and to fuel the revolutionaries onward in the battle. This was the first unfurling of the flag, which Aguinaldo had made overseas and brought back with him on May 19, when he returned from exile in Hong Kong.
May 28, 1898 has since been commemorated as National Flag Day.
The second and official unfurling—which most erroneously believe to be the first time the flag was displayed in public—was on June 12, 1898 in Cavite el Viejo (“Old Cavite”, now Kawit), Cavite Province. This was the Declaration of Independence, as proclaimed by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo: the independence of the Filipinos and the birth of the Philippine Republic “under the protection of the mighty and humane North American Union.”
June 12 is celebrated to date as Philippine Independence Day.
Some facts which you may or may not know about the Philippine flag, and which you can casually throw around on June 12, if you so fancy:
- The first one was “imported,” as earlier mentioned. Aguinaldo, who designed the elements of the flag while in exile, commissioned its fabrication in Hong Kong. It was sewn by Marcela Mariño de Agoncillo, a daughter of a rich family in from Batangas, who moved to Hong Kong when her husband, Filipino lawyer and jurist Don Felipe Agoncillo, was exiled. The original flag was predominantly hand-sewn of fine silk, with Agoncillo being assisted by her eldest daughter, five-year-old Lorenza, and Mrs. Delfina Herbosa de Natividad, Jose Rizal’s niece. The process was far from easy, and took its toll on their eyesight and hands. At one point, they had to redo the flag after the rays of the sun were not in the proper direction. The flag was finished in 5 days; with the women’s arduous labour.
- The Philippine flag, in accordance with Republic Act No. 8491 (the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines), is twice as long as it is wide, so that the diagonals of the equilateral white triangle lie on the lines connecting the opposite corners of the flag.
- It is sectioned into three main parts: a royal blue field, symbolizing peace, truth, and justice; a scarlet red field, symbolizing patriotism and valor; and a white triangle, symbolizing equality and brotherhood. The first shade of blue used in the flag was patterned after the Cuban flag, and gradated through the years from shades of sky blue to navy blue. Republic Act No. 8491 has decreed it at royal blue.
- Historically, however, the document of the Declaration of Independence says that the white triangle signifies the emblem of the revolutionary Katipunan.
- The document also says that the flag’s colors commemorate the flag of the United States as a manifestation of gratitude for American protection against the Spanish during the Philippine Revolution; something that would probably cause more than a raised nationalistic eyebrow or two.
- The eight-rayed golden sun commonly perceived as the center of the white triangle is actually not exactly dead-center of the triangle, but shifted slightly to the right. The sun symbolizes unity, freedom, people’s democracy, and sovereignty, with each ray representing one of the first eight provinces that started the 1896 Philippine Revolution against Spain. The eight provinces are listed officially as as Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Laguna, and Batangas. Original documenst have Bataan listed instead of Tarlac.
- The official design features an eight-ray sun, whose rays are spaced 3.75°apart. There is an oft-mistakenly used eight-ray sun, whose rays are spaced 5° apart.
- There are three five-pointed stars, one for each of the triangle’s points, representing the three major geographical island groups that comprise the Philippines: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Although originally, one of the stars represented the island of Panay (rather than the entire Visayas region).
- The flag was banned during the American occupation starting from 1907 until 1919 when the law that banned its display was repealed.
- It is the only national flag which may be hoisted inverted—red side up—when the Congress of the Philippines has declared a “state of war.” Normally, the flag is hoisted blue side up.
The flag is required by law to be hoisted or displayed at certain establishments, like government buildings, official residences, public plazas, and schools every day throughout the year. However, local citizens may also display the flag on their house, doorways, and such from May 28 to June 30. As long as you remember that it is prohibited by law to use the flag as a drapery, curtain, festoon, table cloth, or fashion accessory (among other regulations).
Neither can the flag be displayed in discos, bars or nightclubs, casinos, and other places of “vice and frivolity.” Sorry, proprietors of worldly conduct, it seems you’ll have to wave your flag elsewhere on June 12.
Long-gone are my childhood days; yet many decades later, I find myself as fascinated with the Philippine flag: its rich history, inspiring background, and little-known facts. Tomorrow, I shall go and purchase a small one to unfurl from my balcony window until Independence Day comes around.
Now if only I could find a St. Therese of Lisieux coin bank, as well…