Personal heraldry in the Philippines

Coat of Arms of Philip II of Spain, English King Consort-Spanish Variant (1556-1558)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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The Lopez family printed a shield onto T-shirts for a reunion in Iloilo in 2013. The symbol appears to be a sheaf of sugar cane. Image from Inquirer.net.

As a sign of personal or family identity, heraldry is versatile and adaptable to all sorts of purposes. The coat of arms can be portrayed on the usual shield, or with accoutrements specific to one’s profession, like the stole and hat in some religious communities. Elements from the arms can be used as a badge, traditionally worn by those loyal to or in the service of the armiger. Flags and banners are also used, to mark homes and property, and can be a dynamic and vibrant way to display the arms outdoors.

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The arms of Rendell Tamaca Salgado are depicted in various forms, illustrating the versatility of heraldry and the clarity of his personal symbols. Image from the Armiger.

Perhaps most importantly, heraldry captures the imagination of old and young alike, and ensures that family identity and history remain alive across generations.

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The son of Rendell Tamaca Salgado proudly bears his father’s arms, ready to carry his family identity to be celebrated by future generations. Image from the Armiger.

Join the Filipino Heraldry Society and the Philippine Heraldry and Vexillology group on Facebook to learn and share more about heraldry in the Philippines.

Header image by Ramon F Velasquez (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

9 thoughts on “Personal heraldry in the Philippines

  1. I would like to create my own coat of arms, just for personal use or representation. I really like this page. Very informative. I never knew that there are some existing coat of arms in the Philippines. I am planning to share my coat of arms to my siblings, and if they will pass it to their children, then I would be grateful. For me it is an artistic way to represent yourself or your family through symbols or charges. I just don’t know how to make it official though

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    1. Hello Sir Bong, thanks for the comment. In the Philippines you are free to create a coat of arms and use it as you wish, as long as it does not copy the design of someone else. To make it “official”, you simply need to create it and use it – just like most of the world, including the US, there is no official registration of personal coats of arms in the Philippines. Once you create your coat of arms, please share it with us – we will publish it here so that is is recorded for your family and the world to see. This will help make sure that your family and friends will know the meaning of your design, as well as establish that the design belongs to you and prevent others from copying it. Thank you again Sir Bong!

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  2. I have my family coat of arms. How to register it so that no other family can copy it? Is there an agency in the Philippines that would make my family arms officially used by me and my descendants alone?

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    1. Hello Sir Eric, thanks for the question. Currently there is no official government agency that can register your family arms or enforce your wish that your family and descendants alone may use it.

      However, by submitting it to the Philippine Armorial, we will publish it here, along with any design rationale or history you wish to share. That way, there will be a publicly-available record online that establishes your claim to the arms, as well as a reference for your family and descendants. We do not charge any fee for this service.

      You could also register your coat of arms as a trademark. However, you would need to establish that you are using the arms as part of a trade or service. In other countries, some people have registered arms as a trademark for “all trades” (for example, a Canadian registration at http://www.ic.gc.ca/app/opic-cipo/trdmrks/srch/viewTrademark?id=0916322&lang=eng&tab=reg). In the Philippines, it is unclear if you actually need to be engaged in a trade or service to register a trademark. If yes, then it is probably impractical to try as you would need to set up the necessary businesses to satisfy the requirements. If no, then this could be an option for you.

      We suggest reviewing the info at https://ipophil.gov.ph/services/trademark/about-trademark and contacting a lawyer for more information. You might also be interested in the information at https://www.americanheraldry.org/education-resources/grants-and-registrations/heraldic-registration-in-the-united-states under “Why not trademark or copyright my arms?” – this is an American site but the situation is similar here.

      Thank you again Sir Eric!

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      1. Thank you for your very informative reply Philippine Armorial. I wish I could share my COA on your website. Atleast by that way there would be an easy access for my children to claim their right of usage of our own family COA.

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  3. I really wanted to post my coat of arms and its full armorials on your site (philippinearmorial) but I fear somebody would in the future copy it and make it his own. Or one of its symbols be transported to another individuals’ or another families’. That I will never allow for all eternity. This is the only way I know how to preserve our ancient identity that was relayed to me by my great grandmother. It is 12 symbols unified in a single shield; TAMING in my own language (bisaya). As the current head of my clan, I modified it and codified it as it is to be the final COA of my bloodline.

    I really hope that in the Philippines, there would be strong agency that will protect a family identity, just like the family COA/ armorials.

    Thank you for your reply. Best regards!!!!

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  4. Good day philippinearmorial. Can you consider my coat of arms in your archive for any future reference? Thank you

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