The Seal that is in current use in the University was approved by the Board of Regents at its 77th meeting on February 25, 1913. It shows an eagle with its wings spread and perched on a shield that carries three icons representing the fields of specialization in the University, namely, agriculture, engineering, and medicine. Inscribed on the circular band that surrounds it are the words “University of the Philippines” on top and “1908” at the bottom.
An earlier seal, however, was utilized by the University before 1913. It was adapted from the coat-of-arms of the Philippines approved by the Philippine Commission in 1905. It showed an eagle with outstretched wings on the crest of a shield that symbolized the city of Manila and the 13 colonies of America which fought for independence against Great Britain. Like the eagle in the coat-of-arms of the Philippines, the eagle in the University Seal was the American bald or white-headed type. This was the same eagle which appeared on the Seal that was approved in 1913.
The eagle is among the most predominant animals used in heraldry, the art of devising or adorning insignias or coat-of-arms. It was used in the national emblems of ancient Rome, France, and the United States. Recognized as the king of birds, it has become a favorite in heraldry as a particular symbol for courage and power. The most common attitude by which the eagle is depicted in heraldry is with its wings spread out and pointing upwards. The head is usually turned to the right, that is, to the observer’s left. The Great Seal of the United States features the eagle in this position, from which the seals of the Philippines and the University were based.
Several variations of the eagle can be gleaned, however, from the different instances in which the university has appeared from the 1910s to the pre-sent. These mutations include the positioning of the wings, the direction where the head turns, and the icons that represent the fields of specialization in the University.
The establishment of UP in 1908 was considered the early 1900s as the best the American educational system had to offer. The University was also seen as the foundation upon which Filipino nationalism would take root.
Conscious of its role in national development, the University initiated a move to redesign its coat-of-arms which was seen as a remnant of colonialism. President Salvador P. Lopez opened a competition through Memorandum Circular dated November 13, 1971. He stated, “Just as a new seal was designed for the Philippines when it became independent in 1946, so a new seal for the University should have been designed and adopted at that time…. The eagle appears to be particularly inappropriate as the dominant element in the seal of the university.”
The winning design was made by Galo B. Ocampo, then director of the National Museum. The move to adapt it as the new university seal was deferred by the Board of Regents for further study.
Up to the present, different versions of the university seal as in existence. These are being used by the different units and offices of the University in their publications and communications. Novelty items, carrying the different versions of the seal are being sold by commercial establishments doing business inside the campus.
There is a need to standardize the seal of the University, in the light of the current proliferation. Article XV Section 83 of the Code of the University of the Philippines describes its design, its diameter, and the inscriptions “University of the Philippines” and “1908.” This is the only instance where the genus of the seal is specified (as approved in the 77th Board of Regents meeting held in 1913). But the position of the bird, details of the icons and colors were not indicated. No records have yet been uncovered to provide for the appropriation of the university colors of forest green and maroon in the university seal.
Since the seal of an institution is not only a mark for its legal and public documents, communications, and publications, but more importantly, a symbol of the institution, then clarity in its elements must be imposed. A seal does not only feature a distinctive object that would make identification clear and easy.
More than that, it signifies the sentiments and aspirations that guide the institution and its constituents.
The current directive by the Heraldry Division of the National Historical Institute regarding the design of seals discourages the use of foreign heraldic objects and this criteria has a bearing on the university seal.
Though a change in the elements of the seal may be considered, the study of the conception, clarification of its elements, and its standardization are of utmost need to avert the indiscriminate proliferation of the university seal.
The university seal, with the eagle as the dominant object including the icons of the fields of specialization, faithfully symbolize what the University aspires for—the highest in the field of knowledge as well as a commitment to the nation. It is only proper that the symbol of the State University be given the necessary serious attentions it deserves.
(This article is reprinted with permission from the author and publisher. It first appeared in the August-September 1998 issue of the Diliman UPDate.)