Controversy over flag colors

Ambeth R. Ocampo

June 11, 2021 12:00am

One of the memorable moments in my colorful past was being designated implementor of Republic Act No. 8491, better known as the “flag law.” I learned the hard way that you could sometimes get into trouble when you attempt to follow or enforce the law. In December 2002, during a state visit to Japan, President Gloria

Macapagal-Arroyo became the second Philippine president, after Carlos P. Garcia, to address the Diet. She made history as the first female head of state to address Japan’s national legislature, but unfortunately the Philippine flag was displayed the wrong way. When I called it out, the first excuse given was that the photo was flipped during transmission. Then blame was shifted to the Japanese, who didn’t know that our flag has wartime and peacetime modes depending on how it is displayed.

Then there was Martin Nievera’s birit version of the National Anthem before a Pacquiao match. Our anthem is not an ordinary piece of music that performers can change at whim to highlight their artistry or vocal range. Harry Roque, then a congressman, said I could not pursue the case because the infraction happened outside the Philippines. Another lawmaker wanted me to sing it correctly during a hearing. Legislators didn’t have to shoot the messenger, they could just repeal or amend the flag law.

I also reminded them that Article XVI of the Constitution, General Provisions, Section 1 states: “The flag of the Philippines shall be red, white, and blue, with a sun and three stars, as consecrated and honored by the people and recognized by law.” Why do we presume the sun and stars should be gold or yellow? If the Constitution is quiet on the color of these, why not periwinkle?

On the issue of flag colors, in 1985, Filipinos woke up and saw the Philippine flag flying in front of the Rizal Monument in Luneta sporting a light blue field. This caused panic in the flag-manufacturing business, because they were stuck with navy blue material that couldn’t be used. On Feb. 25, 1985, Ferdinand Marcos issued Executive Order No. 1010 stating that while the 1973 Constitution “prescribes the colors of the national flag of the Philippines as red, white and blue, with a sun and three stars, [it is] silent as to the shade of the color blue.” Marcos added that “in the original flag designed by General Emilio Aguinaldo that was unfurled during the declaration of Philippine Independence in Kawit, Cavite on June 12, 1898, the shade of the color blue was lighter than the present dark blue being used in the making of the Philippine flag.” Therefore, the National Historical Institute (NHI) was ordered “to restore the original color of the First

Philippine Flag.”

Teodoro Agoncillo told me that our flag was based on the flags of Latin America, not North America, so the dark blue field in our flag should be light blue. Taking Agoncillo as its sole authority, NHI submitted a draft executive order for Marcos’ signature. However, when the NHI came under fire for EO 1010, Agoncillo was already dead and could not defend them. Forced to do complete staff work after the fact, the agency came up with the following:

An 1899 watercolor by Juan Luna that depicted a Philippine flag with a sky blue field. A gift to Ferdinand Blumentritt, the watercolor is currently on loan to the National Museum from the National Library. Luna surely saw and knew the colors of the original flag, but, as it was argued, what if the color in Luna’s watercolor was originally navy blue but had faded with age into the present sky blue?

Apolinario Mabini was presented as well, because he said that the blue in the flag was “azul celeste,” literally sky blue, the color of heaven. And Juan Tagalog (pen name of Salvador Vivencio del Rosario) wrote on Oct. 25, 1899 that our flag had “color celeste” that “proclaims to the world the nobility of our cause.”

Finally, a letter of Mariano Ponce dated Sept. 28, 1898 that included a sketch of the original flag in use during the revolution. It was presumed that, as Aguinaldo’s secretary in Hong Kong, he was familiar with the original flag sewn by Marcela Agoncillo. Ponce described the blue field as “azul oscuro,” wrongly translated as “dark blue.” Spanish can be quite exact. Azul oscuro is not azul marino (marine blue) or navy blue. Neither is it azul celeste or azul cielo (sky blue). Ponce’s “azul oscuro” is the shade between navy and sky blue. It is royal blue. This historically accurate shade of blue, legislated in the flag law with Cable No. 80173, is what’s on our flags today.


Comments are welcome at