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May 29

Executive Order No. 310

Writing Executive Order No. 310 was a profoundly satisfying experience, because it addressed several problems. The first was caused by sloppy legal writing: the presidential coat of arms, and the presidential seal (they are not one and the same thing) were created by an executive order issued by President Manuel Roxas. On the presidential flag (yet another thing, as distinct from the coat of arms and seal), it would have looked something like this:

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Image looted from the book on flags by Alfred Znamerowski

People who have seen the Roxas presidential flag, ask about the significance of the four stars. Answer: none. The design was based on the Commonwealth presidential flag, which was in turn derived from the American governor-general’s flag, in turn derived from the flag of the President of the United States (and most Federal officials).

Harry Truman modified the American presidential coat of arms, seal, and flag and the result was the elimination of the stars in the corner of the flag, and the use, instead, of a ring of stars. President Elpidio Quirino followed suit (Roxas and Quirino weren’t just slavishly aping the Americans: the presidential flags of many nations, particularly in the Americas, Central and South, did, and do, likewise).

The copying of the American ring of stars, however, was defined in Quirino’s amendments to Roxas’s Executive Order as constituting golden stars. Due to carelessness, however, flag makers and designers simply copied the American style, resulting in the following:

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Taken from the internet, I forgot where, sorry.

This was used by Presidents Magsaysay, Garcia, Macapagal, Marcos, Aquino, and Ramos, even though if anyone had bothered to read the Executive Order, they would have noticed that its provisions specified that the ring of stars should be gold or golden-yellow, and not white or silver. Matters were complicated by President Estrada (sensibly) amending the Roxas order, to specify that the ring of stars (frozen at 52 since the Quirino era) should reflect the number of provinces in the Philippines at any given time.

An additional problem was the Vice-President’s coat of arms, seal, and flag, and this was the cause of a running battle I had with the National Historical Institute. The American vice-president’s flag is white, while the president’s is blue; a similar distinction was carried over in Roxas’s order. Roxas’s order also modified the presidential coat of arms, so that it would be distinct from president’s when used by the vice-president. There is a logic to this. An important consideration in any official symbol, is that it should be readily identifiable, and not be a cause for confusion.

The language of the Roxas order is confusing, but it seems the vice presidential coat of arms followed the pattern of the presidential coat of arms, except that the sun and sealion were blue for the vice-president. When Quirino amended Roxas’s order, things were made even more confusing by stating that the vice presidential coat of arms would be identical to the president’s, except for the ring of stars. The field of the vice-presidential flag, however, would remain white.

After Edsa, when the vice-presidency was restored, a literal reading of the order resulted in a totally senseless practice: the vice-presidential coat of arms and seal were portrayed on a presidential blue background, while the vice presidential flag portrayed the coat of arms on a white field. I kept insisting to the NHI that it had to be one or the other, and that only the latter was correct, both due to common sense and tradition. They were hard-headed. An intense lobbying effort had to ensue to a) convince the executive department this confusion was unhealthy; b) convince the office of the vice president to go along; c) get the new order signed.

Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Jr., in one of his last official undertakings, was supportive. The President was supportive as were many cabinet officials, who were worried about the way the presidential coat of arms and seal were being used by all sorts of officials; Presidential Protocol, when informed of how badly the presidential seal was being portrayed, after I showed them a proper illustration of it, were supportive. Reference was made to similar regulations governing the seal and coat of arms of the President of the United States. The result, I think, is a much more understandable set of regulations.

Executive Order 310 finally establishes the coats of arms, seals, and flags of the President and Vice-President of the Philippines according to past issuances, tradition, and basic principles of heraldry in a Philippine setting. The result is that the presidential and vice-presidential seals are easily distinguishable from each other:

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The presidential seal includes the presidential coat of arms, encircled by two golden rings, containing the legend “Sagisang ng Pangulo ng Pilipinas” and three gold stars. Note how the circle of stars in gold is much more aesthetically pleasing, and more Filipino-looking, than the white stars sloppily used over the years. This is the official illustration incorporated in EO 310, and it was made by Eric Agoncillo Ambata.

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The Vice-Presidential seal includes the vice-presidential coat of arms (on the traditional, and distinct, white field), encircled by a solid blue ring with the legend, “Sagisag ng Pangalawang Pangulo ng Pilipinas.” This is also the official illustration as incorporated in EO 310, and was rendered by Eric Agoncillo Ambata.

The order punishes unauthorized use by officials other than the president and vice-president. It also provides for another thing I obsessed about while in government, which was the lack of graphic design standards for official symbols. Other governments have all their symbols, signage, stationery, etc. carefully laid out, with precise specifications, in handbooks and manuals for government use. Our government lacks one, which accounts for the sloppy and inferior quality of our government’s signs, forms, and stationery. Unfortunately, due to budgetary constraints, no manual has been produced yet. The private sector seems unwilling to pitch in and do one gratis for the government.

8 comments

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  1. hudyat

    Interesting. Never realized there was so much confusion with regards to that matter. Working in a govt. agency, i can attest to your comments on the last paragraph

  2. mlq3

    Thanks. I hope a graphic standards manual will be written, it will make life easier for a lot of people.

  3. jdavies

    What’s with the three stars at the base of the circle on the presidential seal, and the lone star
    on the vice president’s?

  4. mlq3

    The three stars solves the problem of the words looking funny with nothing to separate the begining and the end. Aesthetically, the best thing to use are three stars -Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao. The Vice-President’s seal had a dot, but Guingona complained it was well, dotty, so a star was used for aesthetic reasons, again to separate the beginning and end of the text.

  5. jdavies

    One can make a funny assertion then, that the Vice President commands only a lone star,
    virtual that is, because the provinces and three groups of islands are never represented!

    Makes sense why the Vice President, historically, will always want to be the president!
    It’s an I want-more-stars thing, Hehehe…

  6. mlq3

    Yup, the perils of being second banana.

  7. Butch

    Mr. Quezon,

    I have a simple question. What is the real coat of arms of the Republic of the Philippines? In the Malacañang website as well as in Wikipedia it directly copied the American bald eagle. Most official documents have two animals in yellow. The House, Senate and Supreme Court had similar designs. I dont see anything that has a brown color on it. I hope you could write an article about this.

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