As we look forward to the 122nd year of Philippine independence from Spain, we pay homage to the emblems of our society that have captured the spirit and soul of our rich culture.

We all studied this in grade school, but maybe you'd forgotten; the national symbols of our country hold much significance to both our culture and our history. As a melting pot of various international influences—Spanish, Chinese, American, to name just a few the Philippines has managed to create a way of life and a way of thinking that is different from many of our fellow Southeast Asians. Our rich although oftentimes turbulent history has shaped much of the way we see ourselves today. Knowing this, Tatler Philippines takes a look on all the official and unofficial symbols of not just our freedom, but our identity as well. 

Official Symbols

Not many people are aware that only a handful of objects we think are national symbols are recognised by law. These include our national anthem, of course, but doesn't mention a national hero or national fruit. The following is a list of objects that is recognised by the Constitution as national symbols. 

National Tree: Narra

The narra tree is a hardy species of indigenous flora. Although it can be found scattered around Asia and Africa, it is particularly respected in the Philippines as the national tree. The tree itself can reach heights of up to 100 feet and carries with it a majestic crown of leaves. Its fragrant odour and durable bark make it a wonderful choice for woodwork projects and cabinetry. 



National Flower: Sampaguita 

The sampaguita is prolific in Manila—a fragrant white bud that many can find as floral offerings in churches and other places of worship. Belonging to the jasmine genus, sampaguita usually blooms at night, opening up into a star-shaped flower that can be used to make leis, corsages, and flower crowns. 

National Bird: Philippine Eagle 

The endangered Philippine eagle is a majestic bird of prey that has powerful talons, a 7-foot wingspan, and blue-grey eyes. Mostly solitary and territorial by nature, the Philippine eagle needs thousands of hectares of forest land in order to thrive. They can live up to 40 years in captivity and only lay eggs every two years or so, only after the first of their offspring has gone off on its own. 

National Gem: Philippine Pearl

The Philippine pearl (Pinctada maxima) industry is one of the most lucrative in the world. In fact, would you be surprised to learn that the world's largest pearl, weighing 34 kilos, comes from the country hailed as Perlas ng Silanganan (Pearl of the Orient)? The pearl had, in fact, been discovered in 2006 but was only revealed to the press by the pearl farmer who found it 10 years later, in 2016. He had reportedly kept it hidden under his bed as a good-luck charm. 

The "Pearl of Allah", weighing around 7 kilos, was also found off the shores of Palawan. 

Read also: Inside The Jewelmer Pearl Safari

National Sport: Arnis

Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared arnis as the national sport of the Philippines in 2009. Arnis has multiple names across the Philippines such as Eskrima, Kali, and Garrote. It's a Filipino Martial art that usually involves one or two sticks used to strike, thrust, and parry for defence and offence. 

National Motto: "Maka-Diyos, Maka-tao, Makakalikasan, at Makabansa" 

The national motto as decreed under the Heraldic Code of the Philippines emphasises the values that Filipinos are taught to have. There is a focus on God, our fellow man, the environment, and the country. 

Unofficial Symbols

Although the following national items are unofficial in the eyes of the Constitution, a house bill prepared in 2014 has been created to try to give these people and objects the recognition they deserve. House Bill Number 3926, also known as "An Act Declaring The National Symbols of the Philippines" aims to make the national song, hero, dance, bird, fish, animal, leaf, fruit, food, costume, slippers, and house official. 

National Hero: Jose Rizal 

It's surprising to think that despite our familiarity with Jose Rizal, he is in fact, not recognised by the Constitution as our national hero. And although the proposed House Bill No. 3926 seeks to award Jose Rizal the title of national hero, actually in 1995, the Technical Committee (created by former President Fidel V. Ramos through Executive Order No. 5) nominated nine Filipinos to have the title. These include Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Sultan Diaptuan Kudarat, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquina, and Gabriela Silang. 

National Dance: Cariñosa

In Spanish, the word cariñosa means "the affectionate one". The courtship dance, of Hispanic origin, portrays acts of flirtation between two dancers, which the female dancer often holding a fan or a handkerchief. 

National Animal: Kalabaw 

The kalabaw (water buffalo) has long been held as the Philippine farmer's most valuable asset. Its hardworking nature and sturdy build are a great help around the fields that cover our landscapes in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Not only do they help plow rice fields alongside their owners, but the kalabaw also offers many different products that can be used for commercial reasons (such as their milk and their meat). 

National Fish: Bangus

Who doesn't love a good side of bangus (milk fish) with their sinangag in the morning? Milkfish aquaculture was first developed in the Philippines about 800 years ago and has since become a thriving industry for farmers and chefs in the country. The animal itself is quick to adapt to various kinds of environments and offers Filipino diners a variety of recipes that can be made with its distinct taste. 

National Leaf: Anahaw

The anahaw (palm) is a large, glossy, fan-shaped leaf that is often used for aesthetic purposes, as well as practical purposes. Its large shape offers plenty of shade and can even be made into fans, food wrappers, and landscaping decorations. 

National Fruit: Mango

The Philippines is known worldwide for its homegrown mangos. Sweet, golden, delicious and juicy, mango is one of the country's crowning glories, especially those grown from Cebu and Guimaras. The Philippines can grow a variety of mangos including paho, supsupin, indyan, kalabaw, and piko. The kalabaw variety is among the most popular fruits in the country and has been recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1995 as the sweetest fruit in the world. 

National Food: Adobo 

Many already consider adobo to be the national food of the Philippines. This versatile recipe is a local classic that many believe to have originated from pre-colonial times. House Bill No. 3926 says that adobo is an indigenous cooking style that the Spanish first observed when they came to the Philippines. Today, many variations have come from this recipe including chicken adobo, pork adoboadobo sa gata, adobong puti, adobong giniling and more. 

National Costume: Baro't Saya and Barong Tagalog

Is Buwan ng Wika ever complete without someone in a baro't saya and barong tagalog? These beautiful outfits are distinct and traditionally Filipino. The barong Tagalog, worn by men, is a lightweight, embroidered formal shirt worn over an undershirt. The finest pieces are usually made from indigenous materials and have folk patterns embroidered on the front. 

The female counterpart is the baro't saya, which is composed of a collarless, short-sleeved blouse (baro) and a wraparound skirt (saya). Many innovative designers have designed and redesigned modern versions of this classic Filipina outfit, all of which imbue the feminine spirits of Maria Clara. 

National Slippers: Bakya

The bakya are wooden clogs traditionally worn with the baro't saya. These were worn well before the introduction of rubber shoes and slippers, which are more common in the Philippines nowadays. 

National House: Bahay Kubo

The nipa huta humble shelter made from bamboo and anahaw leaves, shall be deemed the national house should this bill be passed. The nipa hut carries a rich legacy not just of traditional Filipino architecture, but also of the bayanihan spirit of the Filipino people. In the past, whole communities would help each other transport a neighbour's nipa hut from one point to another. 

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