The Philippine flag - its masonic roots
Time and again it has been asserted that masonry played an important role in the design of the Philippine flag and that some of its symbols were meant to memorialize the Craft. These assertions are essentially plausible, for the man principally responsible for its design President Emilio Aguinaldo was a zealous masonic partisan. In one of his speeches delivered after the Revolution, Aguinaldo said; "The successful Revolution of 1896 was masonically inspired, masonically led, and masonically executed. And I venture to say that the first Philippine Republic of which I was its humble president, was an achievement we owe, largely, to masonry and the freemasons." Speaking of the revolutionists, he added; "With God to illumine them, and masonry to inspire them, they fought the battle of emancipation and won." During the Revolution, Aguinaldo frequently displayed a marked bias in favor of freemasons and masonry. He made membership in the masonic fraternity an important qualification for appointments to government positions. His nepotism was so pronounced, a critic of masonry denounced it as one of the "evils" of the Revolution. In his Memoirs, Felipe Calderon, the President of the Malolos Congress, claimed that the "sectarian masonic spirit" undermined the insurrection. He also argued that some serious dissensions among Filipinos originated, "more than for anything else, from the mania of Aguinaldo, or rather of his adviser, Mabini, to elevate any person who was a mason" It should not come as a surprise to anyone, therefore, if Aguinaldo decided to extol masonry in the Philippine flag.
Some of the claims made in favor of the masonic link of the Philippine flag, however, are so lavish they strain the readers credulity. If all are to be accepted at face value, we cannot avoid the conclusion that our national emblem is a clone of the masonic banner and that all the devices and symbols used in it are of masonic origin, from the triangle, to the sun and stars, down to its colours. The lavish claims, however, were made by freemasons and, therefore, the possibility of exaggeration or embellishment, owing to over enthusiasm, cannot be discounted. Moreover, Aguinaldo did not make a written affirmation of the masonic connection of the flag. On the contrary, some of his official statements do not jibe with the exceedingly generous assertions of the freemasons. A close scrutiny of the claims in favor of Freemasonry must, therefore, be undertaken. But first let us describe the Filipino flag.
The Hong Kong designed flag that Aguinaldo brought with him from his exile on board the US dispatch boat McCullock, and which became the official flag of the first Philippine Republic, consisted of two horizontal stripes, blue on top and red below. It had a white equilateral triangle at the hoist that is smaller than that in our flag today. Within the triangle, at its center, a mythological sun was depicted with eyebrows, eyes, nose and mouth in black, bearing eight rays without any minor ray for each, and three five-pointed stars, one at each angle of the triangle. All these devices were in gold or yellow colour.
Shortly after its landing on Philippine soil, the flag saw a baptism of fire and blood in several combats with Spanish colonial troops. On June 12, 1898, it was officially consecrated as our national flag at the ceremonial Proclamation of Independence held at Kawit, Cavite. The signer of the proclamation took their oath of allegiance saying: "The undersigned solemnly swear allegiance to the flag and will defend it to the last drop of their blood."
The Aguinaldo flag served as our national emblem up to the conquest of our country by the Americans. During the American régime, the display of the Philippine flag was proscribed from 1902 to 1919. In October of 1919, the ban was officially lifted, but seventeen years of non-use blurred memories about its details. The generation born under the aegis of the new dispensation was unfamiliar with the flag and the few samples that survived were either tattered, faded or termite-eaten. Hence, when Philippine Flag Day was observed on October 30, 1919, there was no uniformity in the design of the Filipino flag. Any tricolour with or without the sunburst device and three stars within a white triangle was taken as the Filipino flag. For well over a decade the confusion surrounding the design of the flag persisted.
To do away with irregularities and discrepancies, President Manuel L. Quezon issued Executive Order No. 23, on March 25, 1936, specifying the different elements of the flag. Quezon not only set a uniform pattern for the making of our national emblem as to the size and arrangement of its symbolic elements, he also caused major amendments of its features, to wit:
the mythological sun was changed to a solid golden sunburst without any marking;
the eight single rays in Aguinaldos flag replaced by eight major rays with two minor beams for each ray;
the size of the equilateral triangle was made larger by making any side equal to the width of the flag at the hoist; and
the colour blue in the upper stripe was standardized to dark blue.
Let us now evaluate the statements that postulate the link between the flag and masonry, viz a viz official announcements on the origin and meanings of the flags symbols.
Masonic Claims -
Among the more credible assertions relied upon to establish the tie between masonry and the flag are the following:
In October 1899, Ambrocio Flores, Grand Master of the Gran Consejo Regional and at that time a general in the army of Aguinaldo, wrote letters to the Grand Lodges in the United States appealing to them to employ their influence to help the fledgling Philippine Republic. In these letters he compared the Philippine flag to the masonic banner saying, "...this national flag resembles closely our masonic banner starting from its triangular quarter to the prominent central position of its resplendent sun surrounded in its triangular position by three 5-pointed stars. Even in its three coloured background, it is the spitting image of our Venerable Institutions banner so that when you see it in any part of the world, waving with honor amidst the flags of other nations and acknowledged by these nations, let us hope that with this flag, and through it, our common parent, Freemasonry will likewise be so honored."
In his beautiful Grand Oration pronounced in 1928, historian Teodoro M. Kalaw, Sr., uttered these words: "And the triangle appearing on the Philippine flag, the loftiest symbolism of the struggles of the Filipino people, was put there, according to President Aguinaldo, as an homage to Freemasonry."
Felipe Calderon, writing with a pejorative and anti-masonic tone, said in his Memoirs:
It is not a secret to any person that one of the causes of the Philippine insurrection against Spain, ... was the animosity of the people ... against the religious corporations .... As a result of this animosity against the religious corporations, a tendency which we might call anti-Catholic developed in certain organizations and individuals of the Revolution so that masonry considered the insurrection, and therefore also the revolution , as it own work and even put the triangle in the Filipino flag. As I have already said, this was an evil that had a noxious influence upon the entire body of the Revolution, because Mabini and its followers considered every mason as qualified to carry out any undertaking, and at that time membership in a masonic lodge was the best recommendation a man could possess.
In the Question and Answer column of the April 1929 issue of The Cabletow, there appeared the following:
Question - The statement was frequently made that the triangle, sun, and stars in the Philippine flag are of masonic origin. This same statement, made by the managing editor of the CABLETOW in a lecture delivered by him, has lately been repeated in Bro. Emmanuel A. Bajas book entitled "Our Countrys Flag and Anthem." Having heard the correctness of this statement doubted, I would like to know on what authority it is based.
Answer. - The Editor of this column has heard this statement made by several freemasons who can be
considered authorities on the subject, including Wor. Bro. Emilio Aguinaldo, erstwhile president of the Philippine Republic, Bro. Tomas G. del Rosario, M. W. Bro. Felipe Buencamino, and several others. x x x."
PGM Emilio Vitara, a long time private secretary of President Aguinaldo, revealed that Aguinaldo personally acknowledged the indebtedness of the Philippine flag to masonic emblems and symbols.
Official and semi-official explanations of the symbols -
Ranged against the forgoing claims, are the following official and semi-official pronouncements relative to the symbols in the flag:
In the Proclamation of Philippine Independence signed in 1898 by Aguinaldo and 96 other Filipino leaders, which consecrated the Hong Kong-designed flag of Aguinaldo as the national emblem of our country, it was stressed:
The white triangle represents the distinctive emblem of the famous Katipunan Society, which means of its blood compact suggested to the masses the urgency of insurrection, the three stars represented the three principal islands of the Archipelago, Luzon, Mindanao and Panay, wherein this revolutionary movement broke out: the sun represents the gigantic strides that have been made by the sons of this land on the road to progress and civilization: its eight rays symbolize the eight provinces: Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Laguna and Batangas, which were declared in a state of war almost as soon as the first revolutionary movement was initiated; and the colours blue, red and white, commemorate those of the flag of the United States of North America in manifestation of our profound gratitude towards that great nation for the disinterested protection she is extending to us and will continue to extend to us.
In a speech before the Malolos Congress, Aguinaldo added the following nationalistic interpretation of the meaning of the three colours of the flag:
Behold this banner with three colours, three stars and a sun, all of which have the following meaning: the red signifies the bravery of the Filipinos which is second to none, a colour that was first used by the revolutionists of the province of Cavite on the 31st of August 1896, until peace reigned with the truce of Biak-na-Bato. The blue signifies that whoever will attempt enslave the Filipinos will have to eradicate them first before they give way. The white signifies that the Filipinos are capable of self-government like other nations… The three stars with five points signify the islands of Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao…And, lastly, the eight rays of the rising sun signify the eight provinces of Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Morong, Laguna, Batangas and Cavite where martial law was declared. These are the provinces which give light to the Archipelago and dissipated the shadows that wrapped her… By the light of the sun, the Aetas, the Igorots, the Mangyans, and the Moslems are now descending from the mountains, and all of them I recognize as my brothers.
Further explanation was supplied by a letter, dated 6 September 1926, from Carlos Ronquillo, the then private secretary of Aguinaldo, addressed to Emmanuel A. Baja.
The sun I am referring to ... was the mythological sun with eyes, eyebrows, nose and mouth. It was not the artistic one nor the Japanese sun. It was the same sun which appears on the flag of some South American Republics. And I can assure you of this because I drew the design myself by order and instruction of the President, General Aguinaldo.
The adoption of the sun was resolved in order that the flag of the Katipunan could be transformed into "the flag of the republic" sustained and defended heroically not only by the Katipunan men but also by the whole people who had joined the Revolution which was started by the worthy "Association of the Sons of the People."
A few months before the Peace of Biak-na-Bato, the Battalion of Pasong Balite, whose commander was the brave gallant General Gregorio H. Del Pilar, had adopted as their ensign a flag which much resembled the present national flag. It had a blue triangle without a sun or stars, the upper half portion was red and the lower half was black. Like the present Philippine flag, its general outline was inspired also by the Cuban flag.
From these statements it would seem that the devices in the flag were adopted for reasons other than paying homage to Freemasonry. Only the triangle is traceable to Freemasonry through the Katipunan which itself was admittedly and unabashedly patterned after Freemasonry. Even the models would appear to be not the masonic banner, but the flags of Cuba, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. With all these as a backdrop, let us now evaluate and examine the contentions of the freemasons.
The letter of Flores -
The assertion of Ambrocio Flores that the Filipino flag was a spitting image of the masonic banner definitely packs a lot of weight. As a General in the army of Aguinaldo, Flores was familiar with the Filipino flag, and as Grand Master of the Gran Consejo Regional he was also thoroughly conversant with the masonic banner. He, therefore, knew what he was thinking about when he compared the flag of the masonic banner. Unfortunately no document has come down to us that corroborate the statement of Flores. His claim, therefore, cannot be verified.
The triangle -
The loftiest and most sublime symbol of masonry in the days of the Revolution was the equilateral triangle. The masonic ritual called it the most perfect figure that could be drawn with lines and regarded it as an appropriate emblem of perfection or divinity.
The triangle was the first masonic object shown to a candidate for the admission into the mysteries of the craft. Prior to initiation he was brought to a chamber of reflections by the "Terrible" and placed in front of a table upon which was laid a triangle. Here he was obliged to answer questions concerning his concept of mans duty to God, to himself and to his fellowmen. Inside that lodge the triangle was everywhere. It was on aprons worn by all the officers and members. Stone triangles were placed upon the throne of the "Venerable Maestro" (Worshipful Master) and on the altars of the "Prime Vigilante" (Senior Warden) and the "Segundo Vigilante" (Junior Warden). The tables of the Senior and Junior Wardens and the "Limosnero" (Almoner) were triangular in shape and so were the stools provided for the initiates. The perfect ashlar was represented by a "cubico pyramidal." And the noblest emblem in the lodge, the one which is equivalent to todays letter "G" suspended in the East in all lodges, was the "Delta Sagrada" (Sacred Triangle) with the name of the Great Architect of the Universe inscribed in the center in Hebraic characters.
The triangle also appeared constantly in masonic communications. Many words frequently employed in documents, like taller, logia, hermano, Venerable Maestro, bateria, Salud, Fuerza y Union, were abbreviated and the abbreviations ended not with single dot but three dots arranged in a form of triangle.
In as much as the triangle was the heavyweight among masonic emblems, it became the favorite symbol of the freemasons, including Aguinaldo. This is the symbol the freemasons inscribed on their rings, cuff-links and other jewelries. Aguinaldo, for his part, used it repeatedly in his letters and documents. He incorporated it in the postage and telegraph stamps issued by his government and on the coins which he ordered minted. Even the insignias on the chevrons of the officers of the Revolution bore the triangle. In social gatherings Aguinaldo never forgot the triangle. On his 31st birthday (22 March 1900), he served lunch to his guests in his mountain hideout on a "triangular table for 150 persons." When the anniversary of the ratification of Philippine independence by the Malolos Congress was celebrated in Palanan, Isabela on 29 September, Aguinaldo again tendered lunch for the celebrants on a huge triangular table that could seats 200 persons. Years later, when he entertained his guests in the spacious yard of his mansion in Kawit, Cavite after his installation as Master of his lodge, had all the tables where food was served arranged in the form of a giant triangle.
The Spanish authorities were also aware of the importance placed by freemasons upon the triangle. Its discovery on any document was taken as a dead give-away that it was masonic. Thus, among the pieces of evidence accepted as proof of the guilt of the Thirteen Martyrs of Cavite, were a booklet with a triangle on its frontispiece and a large photograph confiscated from Hugo Perez, the Master of España en Filipinas lodge in Cavite containing several pictures of the members of his lodge arranged in triangular form.
In light of the important role the triangle played in masonic rituals and symbolism it would be the logical and natural choice of any endeavor to pay tribute to Freemasonry. Taking into account Aguinaldos ardent love affair with the masonic triangle, and considering further that the claimed masonic tie of the triangle in the Filipino flag does not collide with official explanations of the symbols in the flag, and considering, finally, that even a masonic critic in the person of Calderon asserted that the triangle was included in the flag by freemasons, I submit we can accept the statement which Kalaw attributed To Aguinaldo that the triangle in the flag was placed there as a tribute to masonry.
The Sun, Stars, and Colors - The sun, stars, and colours red, white and blue are minor emblems in the pantheon of masonic symbolism. They were overshadowed by the square, compasses, level, plumb, etc. The only place were the sun, stars, and the three colours had a degree of importance was in the "Decoracion de la Logia" (Decoration of the lodge).
The rituals of the Grand Oriente Español most emphatically stated that the lodge was a representation of the universe. It directed that the lodge be rectangular in shape and its four walls be denominated East, South, West and North. In the East it was required that a "disco radiante" (radiant disk) be placed representing the sun. Rays radiated from the East, diminishing in brilliance until they reached the West where they were convered with clouds. The ceiling was painted to represent a starlit sky. Stars were also used on the fingers of the canopy covering the throne of Venerable Master. Likewise the altar was draped with red velvet on which was embroidered the square and compasses with a five-pointed stars in the center. Furthermore, a five-pointed star, with the letter "G" in the center, was the symbol of the fellow craft degree.
Red and blue were the dominant colours in the lodge. The walls of the lodge were draped with blood red colour (colgaduras encarnadas) and the altars of the Wardens, the tables of the Orator, Secretary, Treasurer and Almoner, the long benches, the stools for initiates, and all the chairs in the lodge were upholstered or covered with red. On the other hand, the canopy covering the throne of the Worshipful Master was sky blue and even the ceiling of the lodge had a hint of blue. To a Master, therefore, sitting upon his throne, the colours which he saw if he looked straight ahead or to either side was red, and blued if he looked up. Also, the banner which the Statues prescribed for the Federation of the Gran Oriente Español had a blue stripe on top and a red one at the bottom. That for a Blue lodge was blue and the one for a Chapter of Rose Croix was red.
If we give a free reign to our imagination, a similarity between the decoration of the lodge and the Filipino flag could easily be perceived. But imagination cannot be the basis for the historicity of the masonic heritage of the flag. Moreover, it is doubtful if Aguinaldo in those days ever saw a lodge decorated in strict accordance with the specification of the ritual. Masonic meetings were then held on the run, because of the persecution of freemasons by the Spanish colonial powers. Meetings had to be kept secret from profane eyes and were moved from one place to another to avoid detection. Even the triangular tables and other paraphernalia had to be so designed that they could be dismantled and rearranged at a moments notice to resemble ordinary furniture. For freemasons to have painted the walls and ceiling of their meeting place in conformity with ritual would have been the height of imprudence. The most that can therefore be said is that Aguinaldo must have been aware of the prescribed decoration of the lodge through the rituals with which he was undoubtedly familiar.
In conclusion, I submitted that of all the symbols and devices in the flag it is only the triangle whose masonic parentage may be accepted. The basis for the masonic link of the sun, stars, and colours of the flag are too slim to make out a solid case. But the presence of even only one masonic symbol in the flag should make freemasons proud. After all, it was the premier symbol of the Craft the symbol of perfection that was selected for inclusion.
The masonic connection of the Philippine flag does not end with its design. Freemasons have played significant roles during the most memorable events where the flag has been unfolded on Philippine soil. On June 12, 1892, when Philippine independence was proclaimed at Kawit, Cavite a Proclamation of Independence, written by freemason (Ambrocio Rianzares Bautista) and signed by another mason (Aguinaldo), was read. Thereafter a freemason (Rianzares Bautista) displayed the flag before the populace. On October 14, 1943, Philippine Independence was proclaimed anew under the sponsorship of the Japanese Imperial forces. A freemason (Jorge B. Vargas of Sinukuan lodge) read the proclamation terminating the Japanese Military Administration and thereafter another freemason (Aguinaldo) hoisted the flag marking the first time since the start of the Japanese occupation that the flag was displayed in public. On July 4, 1946, for a third time, Philippine independence was announced to the world. On this occasion a Proclamation signed by a mason (President and PGM Harry S. Truman) was read by another freemason (Paul V. McNutt) at the Luneta after which a third freemason (President Manuel A. Roxas, Past Master of Makawiwili lodge No. 55), raised the Philippine standard.
Considering the historic link between the Philippine flag and Freemasonry, no one should begrudge the freemasons of the Philippines if they behold our flag with unbounded pride. To Philippine freemasons, the flag is not only an emblem of liberty and a symbol of the valour and sacrifices of our people, it is also a memorial to the fraternity which they so dearly loved.
Text provided by MW Bro. Reynold S. Fajardo, PGM, GMH. Grand Secretary, Grand Lodge of the Philippine, 2004/11/15