FFE Magazine

Tatlong Bituin at Isang Araw: The Philippine Flag

The Philippine National Flag or Pambansang Watawat ng Pilipinas is a unique heritage passed down by the fathers of the first republic of the Philippines. It has distinct bicolor fields of blue and red and a white triangle at the hoist. Within this hoist is a golden yellow sun with eight rays and 3 five-pointed golden yellow stars at each corner of the triangle.


Today, the flag is also called Tatlong Bituin at Isang Araw or Three Stars and a Sun.



We are very sure of what our flag looks like. However, not all Filipinos know the history of the flag or what it symbolises. What does the flag mean for Filipinos today?

This question can be answered by exploring the changes made to our flag through the years.



History of the Philippine flag


The flag as it is today traces its roots from Emilio Aguinaldo’s original design, first flown on Philippine soil in the year 1898. However, the colors and symbols can be further traced to influences from South America, the Great Seal of the United States, the State of Texas’ flag and various port flags used in the Philippines.


The Philippine flag, US flag, the flags of Spanish ex-colonies Cuba and Puerto Rico, and flags from the Latin American countries Argentina, Peru and Uruguay bear a close resemblance due to heavy influences and iconographies shared by the countries.


Variant used during the Philippine Revolution against Spain and the US, 1898-1907


The first flag was sewn by expatriates in Hong Kong and first used in a skirmish against the Spanish in Cavite, May 28, 1898.


On June 12 of the same year, this revolutionary flag was waved from the balcony of General Emilio Aguinaldo’s residence in Kawit, Cavite, signaling the country’s proclamation of independence. From 1898 to 1901, the flag used the reverse variant (red field over blue) to signal that the country was at a state of war.


By 1901 up to 1907, when the Philippine leaders officially accepted American sovereignty over the country, the blue field was placed on top of the red. Variants with the blue field on top of the red were henceforth used during peace time.


Variant used during the American Occupation and the Commonwealth Government, 1919-1936


In 1907, the use of all Philippine flags was outlawed by the Americans because of the proliferation of Katipunan emblems. The country used America’s Stars and Stripes flag until 1919, when the Flag Law was repealed. Aguinaldo’s flag was modified during this period: the sun’s features were removed.


Variant used during the World Wars, 1936-1985


The flag underwent several changes following Executive Order No. 23, s. 1936. In this variant, the white triangle was lengthened; the styling of the sunburst was changed; the direction of the stars’ points moved; and the size of the trimming established.


During this period, especially during World War II, many variants of the flag were flown based on political allegiance. Upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Manuel L. Quezon mandated the use of the reverse variant to indicate that the country was in a state of war.


Under the Empire of Japan, the Second Philippine Republic used the peacetime and reverse variants of Aguinaldo’s flag in 1943 and 1944.


From 1943 until the end of the War in the Pacific, two flags were flown: the government-in-exile based in WashingtonD.C. used the Commonwealth variant. Meanwhile, the Japanese-sponsored government continued to use Aguinaldo’s flag. The 1936 flag was restored after World War II, when Philippine independence was recognised by America.


The inauguration of the ThirdRepublic of the Philippines saw the Philippine flag raised for the first time alone, without the American flag on its side.


Variant used during the last years of Martial Law, 1985-1986


The shade of the blue field was changed from navy blue to sky blue under Executive Order No. 1010, s. 1985 by President Ferdinand Marcos.


Disputes regarding the original shade of blue used in the national flag were raised when accounts showed that the revolutionaries based their flag upon the watercolor used in the era and aspects of Cuba’s national flag, which was sky blue. Navy blue was based on the colors of the American flag, which came later.


In 1986, President Corazon Aquino restored the pre-martial law specifications through Executive Order No. 292, s. 1987. The sky blue was changed back to navy blue in the process. Also during her term, the American flag over Subic Bay and Clark Airfield in Pampanga were lowered and the Philippine flag was the sole flag flown within Philippine territories.


Current variant used, 1998-present


In 1998, to settle disputes regarding the shade of blue used in the upper field, the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines was enacted. This changed the shade from navy blue to royal blue. These are the specifications used today.


 Parts of the flag


All parts of the Philippine flag symbolise an idea, a historical or geographical fact. The equilateral triangle is said to come from Masonic influences and the shape of old port flags. The white triangle is also an emblem of the Katipunan, the secret society formed to oppose Spain. The white symbolizes equality and fraternity; the blue peace, truth and justice; and the red patriotism and valor.


These colors can be traced to the flags from the Americas, especially denoting the US flag as a symbol of gratitude for protection against Spain.


The eight-rayed golden yellow sun traces its roots from South American flags and symbolises unity, freedom, democracy and sovereignty. Each ray also represents one of the eight provinces which sparked the revolution in 1896: Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Laguna and Batangas.


The five-pointed stars that comes from the US flag each symbolises the three major island groups of the country: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

Other historical flags


Katipunan flag variants used before 1898


Before Aguinaldo’s flag was used in the Philippines, the Katipunan already used flags that signified their opposition to Spanish rule. Some Katipunan flags used the three Ks or the pre-Hispanic Baybayin character for ka. Both the Ks and ka stood for the Katipunan’s full name: Kataas-taasang Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan or the Supreme and Venerable Society of the Sons of the Nation.


A sun symbol and the anthropomorphised sun as later adopted by Aguinaldo in the national flag were also adopted by some Katipunan flags. Red was said to symbolise revolution.


Much of the Philippines’ history is etched in the national flag. Discovering what the flag meant to Filipinos of the past may just give us, the inheritors of this colorful nation, a true sense of our present heritage.


                Do you remember the first time you saw the Philippine flag? Any memorable or funny stories about memorising the Lupang Hinirang and the Panunumpa sa Watawat? Share your experiences below!





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