Philippine Coat of Arms: a Catholic Interpretation

Icons of the Philippine Coat of Arms

Icons of the Philippine Coat of Arms

Wikipedia has an excellent entry on the Philippine coat of arms that describes its evolution from that of a colony of Spain, to that of the US, and finally to its independence as a sovereign nation. The historical interpretations of the the heraldric devices such as the sun, stars, eagle, and lion are well-known. What I shall propose here is a possible reinterpretation of the devices in the light of the Scriptures and the Catholic Faith.

The top icon is Crown of Spain who gave the gift of Christianity to the Philippines; it may also be interpreted as the billowing sails of Magellan’s Spanish galleon whose front hull is shaped like the bottom of the shield. The yellow and white are the colors of Vatican City, the seat of the Catholic Church. The three stars and the sun represent the doctrine of the Trinity–three Divine Persons in one God; they also represent the the wounds of Christ on his hands, head, and heart. The sun represents the radiating Sacred Heart of Jesus pierced by thorns or the Immaculate Heart of Mary pierced by swords. The blue and red represents the water and blood that flowed from the pierced Heart of Christ, as seen in the Icon of Divine Mercy.  This is reenacted during mass when the water (blue) is mixed with (wine), which becomes the Blood of Christ after consecration.  The sun on a white ellipse may also represent the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ hidden under the appearance of bread in the Sacred Host.

The Eagle icon is the Eagle of the United States of America. The Eagle also traditionally represents St. John the Evangelist because of his lofty description of the pre-existent divinity of Christ as the Logos or the Word of God (Jn 1:1). In the Book of Revelation, the wings of a great eagle was given to the woman pursued by the Red Dragon so that she can escape to the desert (Rev 12:14). The eagle is at the foot of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with the man with the the eagle’s wings (angel) representing Juan Diego whose native name was Cuauhtlatoatzin or “The Talking Eagle.” Our Lady of Guadalupe is the second patroness of the Philippine Islands as defined by Pope Pius XI; the primary patroness of the Philippines is still Our Lady under the title of The Immaculate Conception whose colors are blue and white.

Lastly, the Lion icon is the Lion of Spain. The lion represents the Judah, the Lion’s whelp, from whose loins the Messiah, the Son of David, Jesus Christ, shall come:

“You, Judah, shall your brothers praise –your hand on the neck of your enemies; the sons of your father shall bow down to you.9Judah, like a lion’s whelp, you have grown up on prey, my son. He crouches like a lion recumbent, the king of beasts–who would dare rouse him10 The scepter shall never depart from Judah, or the mace from between his legs, While tribute is brought to him, and he receives the people’s homage.11 (Gen 49:8-11)

The present-day Jews are named after the Tribe of Judah, who survived the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians but was later sent to Babylonian exile.  The Lion of Judah is the municipal emblem of Jerusalem.  The lion also traditionally represents St. Mark the Evangelist because he begins his Gospel with St. John shouting in the desert where the wild beasts like lions live. St. Mark also described Jesus as living in the desert for 40 days to be tempted by the Satan, living with wild beasts, and ministered by angels (Mk 1: 1-13).  St. Peter describes the devil as the roaring lion:

Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour.9 Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. (1 Pet 5:8-9)

Thus, if the sun represents the human person, he would always have his guardian angel (eagle) and a demon (lion) by his side to influence his will whether to obey God or to go against His Holy will.

The Philippine Jeepney: Heraldry Spaces and Functions

The Philippine jeepney is the most colorful transportation in metro Manila (Alliance Francaise postcards here, more flamboyant pictures at the Stuart Exchange here).  One reason for this is that they were made by Filipinos who gives the choice of painting to the owners (in the same way as they serve noodles separate from the seasonings).  So when the jeepney is bought, its bare silvery metal sheets makes it look like a medieval European knight in full plate armor.

In medieval warfare, knights distinguish each other using heraldry, which are pictures emblazoned in their shields.   Knights who cover their heraldry are called dark knights (c.f. batman), for no one knows who they are and where they came from.  When the gunpowder made the armor obsolete, the art of heraldry remained in the form of coat of arms.

The coat of arms is essentially a shield with two supporters (humans or beasts) on its left and right side.  On top of the shield is a helmet with a crest.  The motto may be seen above the crest or below the shield.  The shield is divided into several parts using a vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines.  Each part of the shield is a space for charge (a picture).  For example, the coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI shows a chalice-like shield with a tripartite division: a moor’s head on the dexter corner (right side of the bearer), a bear on the sinister corner (left side), and a scallop shell at the bottom.  Instead of a helmet is a bishop’s mitre; instead of supports, crossed keys.  A pallium hangs below the shield.  There is no papal motto written, but in his episcopal coat of arms it is ”Cooperatores Veritatis.”

The Philippine jeepney also uses a form of heraldry.  But because jeepney looks different from a medieval knight, we shall propose different ways of describing the jeepney’s heraldric devices.

The heraldry of the Philippine jeepney is divided into three divisions: front, side, and back.

The front consists of a dashboard on top of the window, a space below the window, and everything else on the jeepney’s front.  The dashboard, which doubles as a sun shield, describes the name of the jeepney.  It can be “Messenger,” “Rebel,” or “James and Jun.”  The space below the window is the tag line: “Gift of God” or “Mario loves Jane.”  On top of the engine cover is a statuette of a horse, an eagle, a trumpet–or even a real dear’s horn.  On the two sides near the front lights are posts for the crests that look like tails of horses; sometimes they are just bare posts grouped together to form whiskers like that of a cat.  Flash lamps of yellow are arrayed above the dashboard or on its sides.  The overall effect is gallantry–bold and sylish.

The side part of the jeepney consists of the driver’s door, the space between front and rear wheels, and the space above the rear wheel.  The driver’s door is the most intimate space.  Here is painted the driver himself, or his beautiful wife, or his children; sometimes you’ll see Mary or Christ, too.  The space between the wheels is flat space measuring about 1.5 feet by 3 feet.   This is the space for main heraldric charge for it dictates the mood of the overall jeepney.  The charge may be pictures of Aragorn, Britney Spears, or Our Lady of Manaoag; it may be also be a sports car, a fairie with unicorn, or a Zodiac sign (most common).  The space above the rear wheel is not ideal for portraits because of the bulging metals.  So this space is usually reserved for the title of the main portrait.

The back part of the jeepney consists of two top corners and one long board as mud shield.  The top corners measure 1 foot by 1 foot.  The pictures drawn here are usually similar or facing each other.  These pictures act like seals or post stamps.  The mudshield board is for the farewell speech like “God bless our trip” or a warning like “Distancia amigo” (Put some distance, my friend).  It can also be just another name like “Baluarte” (Bulwark) or “Tubong Tondo” (native of Tondo).

So the next time you ride a jeepney, look at its front, side, and back and study its heraldry.  Try to guess what sort of driver you are riding with and have some fun.