One provision of the Constitution which has remained unchanged over the years is the description of the Philippine flag. It says: "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."
These words were first etched in the Constitution, on the basis of existing tradition, during the deliberations of the 1934-1935 Constitution Convention. The original draft set the order of the colors as "white, red and blue." But someone suggested the order "red, white and blue" on the argument that students had learned to memorize the colors in that order as set in a popular limerick. And so "red, white and blue" it had to be; and the exact words of the 1935 Constitution have remained. It remained that way under the 1973 Constitution and now in the 1987 Constitution. (But the display of the flag was banned during the Japanese occupation.)
Attempts in the 1987 Constitutional Commission to return to the order "white, red and blue" or "blue, white and red" failed. In jest, it was Commissioner Azcuna who had proposed starting with blue because of the Ateneo colors! Nobody proposed "green!"
Colors, however, have not been the only items that have received attention. A recurring suggested change has been the addition of one or two more rays to the sun in the flag. As it stands today, the sun is presented as having eight rays. Historical tradition says that the eight rays represent the original eight provinces which rose against Spain. These provinces, Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Batangas, Laguna, Cavite and Nueva Ecija, were identified in a decree of Governor General Ramon Blanco placing them under martial law.
On commission level, during the deliberations of the 1987 Constitutional Convention, there was a suggestion to add two more rays to represent the Cordilleras and Muslim Mindanao. This was not accepted.
For some time too Zambales officials pushed for the addition of a ray to represent the province of Zambales. This was supported by a resolution of the Zambales Provincial Board on the basis of a decree issued by Governor General Camilo Polavieja which suspended elections and declared a state of emergency in some provinces including Zambales. But the National Historical Institute did not consider this sufficient to justify the addition of another ray for Zambales.
The latest brainchild has been that of Senator Gordon suggesting another ray to represent Mindanao. No clamor has arisen in support of this. But it does bring up an important question: If change there must be, how can a change in the design of the flag be achieved?
Incidentally, the precise description and specification of the details of the flag were set by President Quezon through Executive Order No. 23 dated March 25, 1936. Quezon's desire was to achieve consistency in the fashioning of flags pursuant to the constitutional provision and Act No. 2928. The E.O. was very specific about every element in the flag. On the design of the sun, for instance, the E.O said: "Solid golden sunburst without any markings - Sun with eight rays, equally spaced; Arc x with Sun ray = Free arc y; two opposite rays in horizontal axis and two in vertical axis; sun's diameter D = W/5; each ray has one major beam, twice as broad as the minor beam on either side; length of major beam R = 5/9D; length of minor beam r = 4/5R."
To repeat, if change is to be made on the design of the flag, how is it to be achieved? And does the constitutional design include eight rays even if the number of rays is not specified in the text?
My contention is that the eight rays are covered by the phrase "as consecrated and honored by the people and recognized by law." The eight rays date back to the earliest designs of the flag.
It will be noted that the Constitution specifies how the name of the country, the national anthem and the national seal may be changed. "The Congress may, by law, adopt a new name for the country, a national anthem, or a national seal, which shall all be truly reflective and symbolic of the ideals, history, and traditions of the people. Such law shall take effect only upon its ratification by the people in a national referendum." Name, anthem and seal may be changed by an act of Congress, but any change must be ratified by the people in a referendum. The prescribed process is more strict than what was in the 1973 Constitution which allowed the National Assembly to make the changes, but it is less strict than the process for constitutional amendment.
The provision on the flag, however, does not specify how the design may be changed. The result is that the provision is placed on the same level as all the other provisions of the Constitution not qualified by the phrase "as may be provided by law." Thus it can be changed only by a constitutional amendment. This means that any proposed change can come only from Congress as a constituent assembly, from a constitutional convention, or from the people through initiative. And it must be submitted to the people for approval in a plebiscite.
5 October 2009