Marking Philippine history
Looking Back

Marking Philippine history

How does one settle the debate over Baguio’s “official flower”? Should it be by legislation, through a city ordinance, a presidential proclamation, or an act of Congress, or should it be by acclamation, the flower with the most votes wins? Long before the city resolution from 1991 adopting Xerochrysum bracteatum aka strawflowers aka “everlasting” as the official flower of Baguio, I have always associated these dried flowers, strung into a garland and hung in home altars in the lowlands, with Baguio. Come to think of it, “everlasting” is a common souvenir of Baguio, competing with: strawberry jam, ube jam, raisin bread, coffee, longanisa, blankets, and the “Man in the Barrel” for visitors’ attention. Then came the annual flower festival, Panagbenga, that made the sunflower or “marapait” compete with “everlasting” for city branding.

In 1930, following inquiries into the national flower and tree of the Philippines, the Bureau of Science created a committee to make a recommendation. Dr. Leon Ma. Guerrero was appointed chair with Eulogio B. Rodriguez, Eduardo Quisumbing, and Luis J. Reyes as members. Jorge Vargas, undersecretary of agriculture and commerce, endorsed it to then United States governor general Frank Murphy who issued a proclamation on Feb. 1, 1934 as follows:

“Forests are one of the stabilizing factors in the welfare of any land, particularly so in the Philippine Islands where the utilization of timber and other forest products constitutes an industry of great importance to the people. The adoption of a tree emblematic of this importance makes itself felt more and more in proportion as Philippine lumber becomes better known in the markets of the world. In view of this, and in conformity with the steps taken by other countries in this direction, the selection of a tree from amongst the numerous species in the Islands appears fitting and proper.

“Sentiment, likewise, has dictated in other countries the selection of national flowers either symbolical of certain national traits or sentiments, or reminiscent of some important historical or traditional events. France has her fleur-de-lis and Japan her cherry blossom. In the same way the Philippines should have her national flower.”


“Upon recommendation of the Undersecretary of Agriculture and Commerce, and because of its popularity, utility, aesthetic value, hardiness, rapidity of growth, nativity and history, I hereby declare the tree known as Narra (Pterocarpus vidalianus Rolfe) to be the National Tree of the Philippine Islands.

“In like manner, upon recommendation of the Undersecretary of Agriculture and Commerce, and considering its popularity, ornamental value, fragrance, and the role it plays in the legends and traditions of the Filipino people, I hereby declare the Sampaguita (Jasminun sambac (Linn.) Att.) to be the National Flower of the Philippine Islands.”

I have yet to find a report of the deliberations of the committee in 1933 to find out what the other choices were for national tree and national flower of the Philippines. I am curious if they also deliberated on a national fruit, national vegetable, or national animal. Text of the Murphy proclamation above I found in the University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library’s Philippine Collection. Preserved in the Library are 15 scrapbooks of newspaper clippings compiled by Norman Hingston Hill (1887-1971), covering the years 1933-1936, when he served under Murphy, the last US governor general of the Philippines (1933-1935) and first US high commissioner to the Philippines (1935-1936).

Interested in Philippine history and heritage, Murphy created the Philippine Historical Research and Markers Committee in October 1933 chaired by Walter Robb with Fr. Miguel Selga, SJ, H. Otley Beyer, Jaime C. de Veyra, Conrado Benitez, Edward R. Hyde, and Eulogio B. Rodriguez as members, and R.R. Ely as committee secretary. Continuing the work of the 1933 historical committee today is the National Historical Commission of the Philippines that installs heavy bronze markers in historic sites throughout the archipelago (and sometimes even abroad).


Murphy’s Executive Order No. 451 explained the creation of the committee as follows:

“My attention has been invited to the importance, more pressing every year, of identifying, designating, and appropriately marking the many historical antiquities abounding in the Philippine Islands, that the present generation may be impressed with the significance and value of these antiquities and that they may not be lost to posterity here and throughout the world.


“The City of Manila, in particular, has a long and romantic history; there are countless antiquities still in a prime state of preservation, indeed still in daily use, that manifest that history and many inspiring incidents of it. It is almost essential, from the cultural viewpoint, it is actually essential that as many of these antiquities as possible be verified and appropriately marked with indelible legend on bronze; and aesthetically it is important that the bronze tablets utilized for this purpose be of general uniformity …”

The Philippines has a government agency responsible for history that traces its roots back to 1933 and the administration of Frank Murphy.


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TAGS: History, opinion

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