Aside from the Masonic influence on the Katipunan, the design of the Philippine flag has roots in the flag family to which it belongs—that of the last group of colonies that sought independence from the Spanish Empire at the close of the 19th century, a group to which the Philippines belongs. The Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office traces the origins of the Philippine flag’s design elements, which have been in use since General Emilio Aguinaldo first conceived them—the stars and stripes; the red, white, and blue; the masonic triangle; and the sun—and have endured since.
The flags of the world can be divided into families; in turn, each family traces its design origin to its influences for nationalist and other ideological movements. The Philippine flag, as it was conceived by General Emilio Aguinaldo, adopted the color palette of the flag of the United States—red, white, and blue—together with other elements derived, in turn, from the flag of the State of Texas, elements that are shared by the Philippine, Cuban, and Puerto Rican flags. All three countries sought independence from the Spanish Empire at the close of the 19th century, and bore a close affinity for the republican revolution that gave birth to the United States of America.
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. - From The World of Flags by William Crampton, 1990.
The ironic similarity between the “Lone Star” flag of Cuba and the Stars and Stripes of its archenemy, the USA, is far from coincidental. The design can be traced to 1848 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. - From The Illustrated Identifier to Flags of the World, by Eve Devereux, 1994.
The symbolism of the Cuban flag is uncannily similar to that of the Philippine flag: The three blue stripes of La Estrella Solitaria, or the Lone Star, represent the three parts of Cuba that initially broke away from the Spanish Empire; the triangle is a masonic symbol signifying liberty, equality and fraternity, the ideals of the French Revolution; the red color stands for the blood shed by Cuban nationalists. Although the López-led revolt was ultimately unsuccessful, his flag was nonetheless adopted as the nation’s standard when Cuba achieved independence in 1902.
Cuba’s revolution was an inspiration to Filipino revolutionaries in many ways: Jose P. Rizal wanted to go there under the 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. Indeed, 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 as protectorates of the United States.
Peculiar to the family to which our flag belongs is the problem of a definitive and uncontested shade of blue, which partly stems from ideological differences between movements and advocates. In Puerto Rico, for example, advocates of the retention of Commonwealth status for the island, and those advocating independence from the United States, pushed for different shades of blue for the island’s flag.
Debates like this remain prevalent, given historiographic limitations: in our case, the missing original drawing of the flag unfurled in Kawit; the loss of the actual flag; different oral and written approximations of the shade of blue as well as watercolor illustrations. As for contemporary examples, they represent problems not unique to those faced by the Philippine flag: The materials used by flag manufacturers change over time (in the 19th century, and for our first flag, silk was used; thereafter, canvas was used; presently, nylon is used—all these involve 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 flag of the United States in mind.
In the Philippines, there is the question of whether the flag should have blue and red in American or Cuban hues. Although samples of the Philippine flag dating back to the era exist, they invariably use the American shades of blue and red; and, given the family to which the flag belongs, there remain historians who passionately advocate the use of the Cuban colors. In 1985, President Ferdinand E. Marcos tried to change the shades of blue and red used in the flag, but this was never popular and was explicitly rejected after the EDSA Revolution of 1986. With the Centennial of the Proclamation of Independence in 1998, however, the colors of the flag were revised on the advice of historians who’d long advocated a change. But instead of specifically Cuban colors, royal blue was used.
The flag, as part of the Cuban and Puerto Rican heritage, the use of a Masonic triangle—a design element that can be traced to the maritime flags used in Spanish colonial ports at the time. Both Manila and Iloilo, the islands’ main ports in the 1850s, had maritime flags used for navigation in Philippine waters. The maritime flag for the port of Havana, Cuba, has stripes.
Both the Manila and Iloilo maritime flags were also swallowtail flags—flags that feature a v-shaped cut similar to the tail feathers of the eponymous bird—and had blue and red stripes, respectively. This shape can be inferred to have easily provided a template for flags used on land: both in Cuba and Puerto Rico, and later, by Katipunan commanders in their military campaigns. For example, one of the most iconic revolutionary flags was the personal standard of Gen. Gregorio del Pilar, one of the youngest commanding officers in the revolutionary forces and later the Philippine Army, who used a red and black swallowtail form with a blue triangle filling in the v-shaped portion. It was under this standard that the “boy general” would be felled in a valiant attempt to delay the Americans and buy time for President Aguinaldo’s retreat. Earlier, Gen. Pio del Pilar (no relation to Gregorio), a close ally of Supremo Andres Bonifacio, used a solid red swallowtail form and added a white triangle with three K’s at each point, symbolizing the Katipunan. At the center of the triangle was the first time an eight-rayed sun was portrayed in a revolutionary standard, representing the first eight provinces in Luzon that rose up in arms against Spain.
Another borrowing from the flag family is the mythical sun, in use by Latin American republics Argentina, Peru, and Uruguay. Although seemingly independent of the Cuban example, the anthropomorphic sun is similar to that of an 1823 Masonic society called the “Suns and Rays of Bolívar”—a secret association that, although was not led by Simón Bolívar, strongly supported the Latin American liberator’s ideals and political maneuverings.
The iconography of the Latin American revolts against Spain would have been familiar to Filipinos. Coinage from ex-colonies of Spain regularly reached the Philippines, requiring the coins to be defaced by the authorities in Manila. However, even these attempts to obscure the symbols of governments that had been former Spanish colonies couldn’t fully obscure their symbols, ranging from suns of liberty, to liberty caps, and mottoes inspired by the French Revolution.
Masonic influences came to the Philippines by way of the ilustrados—or “enlightened class”—of the Philippines, who either had the means to study in Europe or were sent to Spain under an educational program sponsored by the Spanish Government in the mid 19th century. There they had learned about liberalism and political movements that challenged traditional institutions of religion, monarchy, and aristocracy. One of the organizations that heavily influenced the ilustrados was Freemasonry—a fraternal society with its own rituals, symbols, and emblems, and which, furthermore, welcomed Filipinos into its ranks. Many of the ilustrados became Freemasons, and upon returning home from their European sojourns had brought back the same zeal for reform that had swept the Old World and shaken its feudal fiefdoms.
This new class of reform-minded intellectuals soon thereafter founded lodges in the Philippines too, and from their ranks rose more militant movements such as the Katipunan. Notably, Andres Bonifacio and General Emilio Aguinaldo, the primary leaders of the Katipunan, were themselves Freemasons, and the flags brandished by their commanders showed considerable masonic influences throughout the revolution.
The circular, and cosmopolitan, nature of our Revolution, then, is aptly and ably demonstrated by our flag: a triangle, representing the Katipunan and, in turn, an iconization of the ideals, trends, and events that inspired it—from the Eye of Providence in the Great Seal of the United States that inspired the Masonic Triangle and which, in turn, came to be enshrined in the motto of Revolutionary France—Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité—and prominently enshrined in the flags of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines; the stripes and colors derived from the American flag, the banner of the first republican revolution against European monarchy; the sun and stars of the revolutionary banners of the former colonies of Spain: all these combined to create a national flag that has endured and has been enshrined in our nationhood.