On May 28, 1898, days after the return of General Emilio Aguinaldo from exile in Hong Kong, Filipino troops were once again engaged in a battle against Spanish forces in Alapan, Cavite. It was in this skirmish that the Philippine flag was first unfurled as the revolutionary standard. Sewn in Hong Kong by Filipino expatriates and brought to the country by Aguinaldo, the flag was a tri-color featuring red and blue with a white triangle framing three yellow stars and an anthropomorphic eight-rayed sun.
Half a month later, on June 12, 1898, following the proclamation of independence from Spain, the same flag was waved by at Aguinaldo’s residence in Kawit, Cavite, as the Marcha Nacional Filipina played.
Throughout the Filipino Revolutionary War until the capture of Aguinaldo that precipitated the end of the Philippine-American War, the flag of the same design was flown with the red field on top to denote a state of war. Aguinaldo wrote about this unique feature of the Philippine flag in a letter to Captain Emmanuel A. Baja dated June 11, 1925:
Several press representatives called on me then to inquire as to how the Flag should be flown. I answered them that it should be always hoisted with the blue stripe up in time of peace. But on the battlefields and in camps during the past war, first with Spain and then with the United States of America later, our National Flag had been hoisted with the red stripe up.
Upon Aguinaldo’s capture, the Philippine Republic was abolished; the American Insular Government, under the jurisdiction of the U.S. War Department, was established. With the war over and Philippine leaders officially accepting American sovereignty over the islands, the Philippine flag was flown with the blue field on top. It was to be displayed that way henceforth during peacetime.
American Occupation and the Commonwealth Government
For six years, the Philippine flag and other banners and emblems of the Katipunan continued to proliferate. In response, the Philippine Commission, dominated by Americans, passed Act No. 1697 or the Flag Law of 1907, which outlawed the display of the Philippine flag and replaced the country’s flag to the stars and stripes of the United States of America. The same law prohibited the playing of the national anthem.
It took 11 years until the Philippine Legislature, finally in the hands of elected Filipino representatives and senators, repealed the Flag Law, through the efforts of Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison, and reinstated the Philippine flag as the official standard of the nation. Modifications were made to Aguinaldo’s flag: The sun no longer had anthropomorphic features, and its rays were stylized. This design would be used from 1919 until the inauguration of the Commonwealth of the Philippines in 1935.
From 1919 to 1941 Flag day was celebrated on October of every year by virtue of Proclamation No. 18, issued by Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison in commemoration of the day the Flag Law was repealed.
Months after the inauguration of the Commonwealth, President Manuel L. Quezon issued Executive Order No. 23, s. 1936, instituting the description and specifications of the Filipino flag, which would remain in effect until the Second World War. Throughout this period, the American and Philippine flags flew side-by-side.
President Manuel L. Quezon, in 1941, moved the commemoration of Flag Day from October to June 12. This marks the first instance that June 12, the date of Aguinaldo’s proclamation, was commemorated.
The Second Republic and the Second World War
Bombing attacks on the Philippines and the American naval base at Pearl Harbor plunged the United States of America into war with Japan and the Axis powers. President Quezon issued Executive Order No. 386, s. 1941, mandating all Philippine flags to be flown with the red field on top to signify a state of war.
Meanwhile, the Second Philippine Republic was established in the islands under the auspices of the Empire of Japan, with Jose P. Laurel serving as president. The flag was raised by former President Emilio Aguinaldo and General Artemio Ricarte during the inaugural of the Second Republic on October 14, 1943. Laurel issued Executive Order No. 17, s. 1943, which essentially brought back the Aguinaldo design of the Philippine flag. This flag would eventually be displayed with the red stripe up in 1944, when the Second Republic declared that it was under a State of War.
From 1943 until the end of the War in the Pacific, two versions of the Philippine flag existed: the Commonwealth flag used by the Government-in-exile based in Washington D.C., as well as by guerrillas in the islands, and the Aguinaldo flag used by the Japanese-sponsored government. Following the surrender of Japan and the liberation of the Philippines, the latter’s use would be discontinued with the dissolution of the Second Republic.
In the aftermath of World War II, the Commonwealth of the Philippines was restored and with it the specifications of the Philippine flag in accordance with Executive Order No. 23, s. 1936. On July 4, 1946, Philippine independence was recognized by the United States, giving birth to the Third Republic of the Philippines. In ceremonies held at what is now Luneta, United States High Commissioner to the Philippines Paul V. McNutt and Philippine President Manuel Roxas lowered the American flag for the last time and in its stead rose the Philippine flag to henceforth fly alone on Philippine soil, except in military bases still held and occupied by the United States Armed Forces. Starting May 1, 1957, the Philippine flag was raised beside the U.S. flag in U.S. military bases in the Philippines.
Third, Fourth, and Fifth Republics
Commonwealth-era specifications, in accordance with Executive Order No. 23, s. 1936, would remain in effect throughout the Third and Fourth Republics until 1985, when President Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Executive Order No. 1010, s. 1985, changing the shade of blue of the Philippine Flag from navy blue to light blue. The change was due to a longstanding debate among historians concerning the original shade of blue used in the national flag. Debates centered on whether Cuban blue (since the flag was patterned on some aspects of Cuba’s national flag), or sky-blue (based on written accounts by some revolutionaries as well as a watercolor from the era), or navy blue (based on the colors of the American flag) was used. Ocampo says the actual color used—pale sky blue—owed less to historical precedent and more to available cloth supplies at the time.
The change in color proved unpopular. After the EDSA revolution of 1986, President Corazon C. Aquino restored the pre-martial law specifications of the National flag through Executive Order No. 292, s. 1987, yet again in accordance with Commonwealth regulations. Under her term, the Philippine Senate rejected the Bases Treaty with the United States, thus putting an end to more than 90 years of American military presence in the Philippines—in particular, the sprawling naval base in Subic Bay and the Clark Airfield in Pampanga. As the American flag was lowered in these areas, it marked the last time a foreign flag would fly in Philippine territory.
Commonwealth regulations were maintained until 1998, when Republic Act. No. 8491 or the “Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines” was enacted, changing the shade of blue once again from navy to royal, viewed as a suitable historical compromise to settle earlier debates. These are the specifications in use today.