Coat of arms of King Felipe II, the King of Spain during the Spanish conquest of the Philippines. Though there is no record of him actually coming to the Philippines, as reigning monarch his coat of arms would be the first personal coat of arms connected to the country. Image by Heralder from Wikimedia Commons.
Heraldry would have first came to the Philippines during the Spanish conquest of the 16th-century. In the Spanish tradition, hidalgos (“nobles”, a title generally earned through military service to the monarch of Spain) adopted coats of arms to identify themselves, their families and their property. These were regulated by the Spanish Cronista de Armas (“chronicler of arms”), and passed on to their children. As Spanish conquerors and colonists intermarried with Filipinos, those Spaniards with coats of arms would have been entitled to pass them on to their descendants in the Philippines.
Coat of arms of various Spanish settlers in the Philippines. Images from Heraldario español, europeo y americano by Vicente de Cadenas y Vicent, Cronista Rey de Armas via Sebastian Nelson at the International Heraldry Society Facebook group.
Similarly, some Filipinos were granted coats of arms directly from the Spanish crown for service to the colonial government. For example, Antonio Tuason, a Chinese mestizo, was made a noble by King Carlos III in 1783 and received a “colorful coat of arms“. In his will, he ordered his descendants “shall also display my coat of arms upon all his crests and buildings and he who shall fail to do any of these things, shall forfeit his right of succession.” Senior members of the clergy, such as Archbishops or Cardinals, would have also adopted shields as they rose through the Church hierarchy.
The historic Raymundo House in Malabon City was built for Dr Jose Raymundo in 1861. A coat of arms is engraved above the door, described as a Hapsburg eagle. Image by Judgefloro from Wikimedia Commons.
Unfortunately, there is no central record of these coats of arms or who has inherited them in the Philippines. Although there are some Philippine engravings and prints from the Spanish era that are found in libraries from time to time, it is mostly up to families themselves to make sure that their shields and the history behind them are passed down from generation to generation.
The Villanuevas of Vigan can trace their heritage to a Spanish administrator from the Basque region who settled in the area. The family coat of arms features Spanish noble elements, including the robe behind the shield, and the helmet with golden bars. Image by Eileen Paat from GMA News.
During the American occupation, personal heraldry in the Philippines became unregulated: the United States had no laws that control how coats of arms are adopted or passed on. (Of course, even without official heraldic laws or a heraldic authority, America has well-developed traditions that shape Philippine heraldry. Learn more about them at the American Heraldry Society.)
A Philippine Heraldry Committee was created by President Quezon in 1940, but was responsible only for government heraldry. It did not concern itself with personal heraldry.
Even after Philippine independence, personal heraldry remains today entirely up to individuals and families. Although a Philippine Heraldry Committee was formed in 1940, succeeded today by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, it deals only with government heraldry, like official seals and flags, and military symbols. (Learn more about government heraldry on the Interactive Registry of Government Seals and Symbols of the State.)
The 1993 Araneta family reunion in Iloilo printed a program that features a coat of arms. Image from the Araneta clan.
Today, Filipinos often use heraldry as a way to celebrate their family history. Coats of arms connect modern families with past generations and link with those to come. In fact, heraldry is often seen at family reunions: they remind relatives of the bonds that bring them together.
The Villanueva coat of arms is featured on a banner at their family reunion. Image from La Familia Villanueva de Ylocos.
Some families without existing shields even decide to create them at reunions, as a way to commemorate their ancestors and continue their ties to the future. For overseas Filipinos, coats of arms not only maintain a sense of belonging to family and homeland, but also capture our cultural heritage to share around the world.