Heraldry started on battlefields in medieval Europe: painted shields and cloaks (“coats of arms”) were the only way that knights could identify their allies and enemies. Of course this was never necessary in the Philippines, but heraldry today still serves the same purpose: identification. Simple designs with symbols that refer to personal or family history are best, because they will hold meaning and importance as they are passed from generation to generation.
Personal heraldry in the Philippines is unregulated. Anyone can design and use (“assume”) their own coat of arms. There are no official rules and no government agencies that control how a Filipino can adopt a coat of arms, but our history as both a Spanish and then an American colony has established a few practices that help define Philippine personal heraldry:
- Coats of arms follow a basic structure of charges (symbols), displayed on a shield, underneath a crest (usually a helmet or other headdress along with other symbols above the shield)
- Only the essential colors of blue, red, purple, black and green, and the “metals” silver (white) and gold (yellow) can be used
- Every coat of arms traces back to a single person, and the right to use it can only be inherited by relatives of that person. Simply having the same family name is not enough: although there are many names of Spanish origin in the Philippines, it is usually impossible to confirm any actual blood or adoptive relationships with the original Spanish conquerors and colonists who had coats of arms. In fact, most Filipinos have absolutely no blood or adoptive relationship to any Spanish family of the same name: Spanish names were simply assigned during colonization. It is better to design a new coat of arms – one that reflects your real family – than take one that just happens to be associated with the same family name, if a blood or adoptive relationship cannot be proven.
- Coats of arms can be inherited from both the mother’s and father’s side of the family, not just the father’s, as some other European countries traditionally do.
- Everyone is free to adopt their own new coat of arms, regardless of family history, social class or wealth
- A coat of arms celebrates personal or family identity, but does not indicate nobility, superiority or other special privilege
- As a republic where all people are equal, elements that are associated with royalty or nobility should not be used, like supporters (people, animals or other creatures) beside the shield. Above the shield, barred or open helmets, coronets or crowns should not be used
- (Learn more about American heraldry traditions at the American Heraldry Society.)
It has never been legitimate anywhere for a person to take someone else’s arms for his own. Since arms are hereditary emblems of identity, the proven descendants of a person who bore arms have a right to those arms in accordance with the rules of heraldic succession applicable to the place and time. However, the mere coincidence of bearing the same family name as another person is not proof of descent from that person. Commercial enterprises that claim to sell the arms of a name do so under false pretences, and anyone who pays them for such arms has been duped. (American Heraldry Society)
Philippine symbols in a coat of arms
Coats of arms usually focus on symbols that refer to personal or family history: service, work, education, faith, values, home town, and so on. Most Filipinos have designed their own coats of arms to also include elements that indicate Philippine heritage. Some possible symbols are:
- the colors blue, red, yellow and white, reflecting our national flag and coat of arms
The Benemerito coat of arms features Philippine national colors. Image from American College of Heraldry.
- suns or stars, reflecting our national flag and coat of arms
The Mangahis coat of arms features a Philippine sun. Image from American College of Heraldry.
- weapons, like the kampilan sword or balisong knife
The inverted Y-shape on the Pinpin coat of arms refers to a balisong knife. Image from the International Association of Amateur Heralds.
- flowers or trees, like the sampaguita or anahaw
The Macalisang coat of arms features an anahaw leaf above the helmet. Image from the Chinese Armorial.
- animals, like the carabao or tarsier
The Payumo coat of arms features a sealion. Image from the American College of Heraldry.
- shapes or colors that represent your home town
The green band surrounded by blue bands on the Suarez coat of arms represent the Philippines (land surrounded by ocean) and Manila (land surrounded by the bay and the ocean). Image from the US Heraldic Registry.
- shield in the shape of a kalasag (rectangle with oval cutouts) or taming (round), historic forms associated with native warriors
The kalasag shield and kampilan swords are unmistakeable symbols of the Philippine warrior spirit. Image from Rendell Tamaca Salgado.
- mythical animals, like the bakunawa dragon or sarimanok bird
- instead of a European-style knight helmet on top of the shield, a traditional Filipino head dress like a salokot
- characters in Baybayin
Local government heraldry can sometimes be useful to find ideas to represent your home town or province. (Learn more about government heraldry on the Interactive Registry of Government Seals and Symbols of the State.) Unfortunately, most seals and flags are based on existing national symbols and aren’t unique, or use complicated scenes or landscapes that can’t be used directly in a personal coat of arms.
However, some artists have been able to create meaningful and simple unofficial symbols based on the official designs, that show how you can develop elements for a coat of arms:
The official seal for Muntinlupa does not have any unique symbols that are specific to the area: stars, an eagle and the national colors could represent any Philippine city. However, Timow Paragas was able to adapt the meaning of the official seal into a unique design: an octagon to symbolize the Emerald City, and 3 3-pointed stars for the 9 barangays and the 3-word motto. Images from the Interactive Registry of Government Seals and Timow Paragas.
The official seal for Negros Occidental uses a complicated landscape of a farm and a seascape of a ship to symbolize the province’s sugar farming and exporting industry. Landscapes are not appropriate for a coat of arms. Instead, Timow Paragas designed a simple and memorable emblem: a hexagon that reflects the chemical shape of glucose. It also incorporates a historic symbol associated with the Province. Images from the Interactive Registry of Government Seals and Timow Paragas.
The Roman Catholic church is also a potential source of ideas for symbolism. Coats of arms of the Philippines’ ecclesiastical jurisdictions often draw from local geography or history.
Regional coats of arms of the Roman Catholic church reflect the geography and history of where its parishes are found. Images by Gonzalo Sy-Quia Jr and Roberto Rodriguez, from “The Coats of Arms of the Ecclesiastical Jurisdictions of the Philippines”, by Mariano Mariaga, in Philippine Studies, June 1957.
Registering a coat of arms
Because personal heraldry is not regulated in the Philippines, there is no need to register a coat of arms in order to use one. However, registration can be helpful to establish ownership of a particular design for you and your family (and prevent copying or stealing). More importantly, registration will record your coat of arms for your family and future historical research. You can even (and should!) explain what your design means so that they will understand what you are commemorating.
The Brillantes coat of arms was registered with the the Cronista de Armas for Castille and Leon, in Spain. The text indicates it is associated with an officer of the Philippine military. Image by Sulbud from Wikipedia.
Although the National Historical Commission has a Heraldry Division, it is not involved with personal heraldry. Because of our colonial history, many Filipinos have submitted their coats of arms for registration by the Spanish Cronista de Armas, or US registers of coats of arms, such as the options listed by the American Heraldic Society.
The coat of arms of Ricardo Gonzales Suarez are registered with the US Heraldic Registry. Online registers like these help ensure that the design is recorded publicly, and that the image and symbolism can be found by future researchers as well as family. Image from the US Heraldic Registry.
Filipinos in countries where heraldry is regulated (like the UK) should check their local authorities for guidance about adopting and using a coat of arms. The American Heraldry Society has a good reference on heraldic authorities around the world.
Add your coat of arms to the Philippine Armorial
Everyone with a connection to the Philippines – Philippine citizens or residents as well as everyone of Philippine heritage – is welcome to add their coats of arms to our Gallery. We are also happy to publish your arms, badges and other heraldic devices, blazon and background information on our pages. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on our Contact page.