Postage stamps and postal history of the Philippines

This is a survey of the postage stamps and postal history of The Philippines.

In 1767, the first post office was established in the city of Manila, which was later organized under a new postal district of Spain, encompassing Manila and the entire Philippine archipelago, in 1779. The postal district was reestablished on December 5, 1837. A year later, Manila became known as a leading center of postal services within Asia. Spain joined the Universal Postal Union in 1875, which was announced in the Philippines two years later.

During the Philippine Revolution, President Emilio Aguinaldo ordered the establishment of a postal service to provide postal services to Filipinos during that time. It was later organized as a bureau under today's Department of Trade and Industry, then known as the Department of Trade, on September 5, 1902, by virtue of Act No. 426, which was passed by the Philippine Commission. The Philippines eventually joined the Universal Postal Union as a sovereign entity, on January 1, 1922.

The pre-stamp era

During the early Spanish regime in the Philippines, exchange of letters and communications were limited to those belonging to the officials of the government and the dignitaries and priests of the Catholic Church, the letters, communications and the documents were carried by "badageros" who rendered free services to the colonial government. Badageros either hiked or rode on horseback in dispatching the early postal service from "Tribunal (town hall) to tribunal or to the "Casa Real" (provincial capital).

The badageros who acted as courier (counterpart of our present postman) were also called the "Polistos" classified as male citizens from 18 years who did not hold any public office like the "Gobernadorcillo" (Mayor), "Teniente primero y segundo" (vice-mayor), the Juez, "Cabesas" (councilors), the Commesarios" and "Cuadrillos" (Policeman) and "Escribanos (clerks). Badageros performed their courier services by rotation. Two Badageros were assigned every day at the Tribunal to be relieved the next day. If letters or communications were rush in nature, the badageros had to go and dispatch them even at midnight.

There used to be posted armed guards (also Polistas) at the outskirts of every poblacion and when challenged by the guards at night, the couriers just answered aloud the word "Badageros" and the guards would allow them to pass. Upon delivery of the letter of communication at the next tribunal, the recipient was required to sign on a booklet to show receipt like our present special delivery-registered letters. Sometimes important papers like appointments from the "Capitan General" (Governor General), were receipted with signatures of the appointees and persons present as witnesses.

There were no known envelopes used during those early times and the letters, communications, and documents were just folded up. No secrecy in the mails was then practiced. One interesting point in this early services was that a letter or communication changed hands many times depending upon the number of "Poblaciones" between the place of origin and the place of final destination. One pair of badageros did not go beyond the adjoining town, but the letters and communications were delivered the next succeeding town till messages reached the final destination. This accounted for the long delay in the transmission of the said messages. In some cases, it took from one to two months before a communication could be received by the addressee.

There appeared to be unknown adhesive postage stamps issued in the Islands before 1854, but the existence of a postal service was clearly evident. On the titles and official duties of one "CAPITAN GENERAL DON FELIX BERENGUER DE MARQUINA", who executed a documentary appointment in 1791, there appeared as his titles and duties, viz" BRIGADIER DE LA REAL, General de estas Islas Filipinas, Presidente de su Real Audencia y Caancelleria, Director General de las Tropas de S.M. en estos Dominion, Superentendente General Subdelegado de Real Hacienda, y Renta de Correo".

No over-all expenses were necessary to maintain this postal systems as badageros employed rendered their services free to the Colonial Government. - Melecio A. Dalena

Before February 1, 1854, the use of postage stamp in the Philippines was unknown. There existed, however a more or less crude form of postal services in the country before that date. Evidence from existing records show that as far back as 1791 the transmission of mails was already being carried on in a limited manner by the Spanish Government.

The exchange of letters during those early times was confined to the officials of the Spanish administration and the clergy of the Catholic Church. Not only were the letters sent by these people without stamps, but were also without envelopes. The letters were merely folded up. The secrecy and inviolability of communications now guaranteed by the Philippines Constitution was not then practiced.

First stamps

An 1887 telegraph stamp of the Philippines.

On December 7, 1853, Spanish Governor General Antonio de Urbiztondo issued a circular whereby he ordered the establishment, beginning February 1, 1854, of prepaid postage compulsory for all mail matters circulating within the Islands whether addressed from one province to another or between the towns of the same. Urbiztondo's now famous "CIRCULARES E INSTRUCCIONES PARA EL ARREGLO DEL POSTE DE LA CORRESPONDENCIA DE ESTAS ISLAS", established the first regular mails in the Philippines and began the use of postage stamps on letters.

The first stamps were issued on 1 February 1854[1] and were of four denominations the 5 quartos, the 10 quartos, the 1 real, and the 2 reales. These stamps depicted a profile of an effigy of Spanish Queen Isabela II.

Up to 1872, all the stamps used in the islands were identical with those issued in the other colonies of Spain. In the year, however, another Philippine postage stamp was issued. It bore the figure of Spanish King Amadeus and the words "CORREOS FILIPINAS". Three years later, a new set of stamps were issued. They bore the figure of King Alfonso XIII. In 1891, postage stamps showing the picture of Alfonso XIII as a child of about three years and the words "FILIPINAS" were issued. These Alfonso XIII stamps were the last ones to be circulated by the Spanish Government until its fall in 1898.

Unlike our present practice of affixing stamps in the upper right hand corner of the envelope, stamps during the Spanish period were in some instances, pasted on the upper left hand corner of the cover.

During those times also stamp sellers received a commission from their sales as shown by the following provisions of Urbiztondo's Circular: "The chief of the province in charge of the issuance of stamps and the Administrator of the Estancadas of Tondo with the consent of the superintendent are given 10% commission on the sales of stamps as remunerations and to cover the expenses that they may incur in the performance of their work, labor, and the consequent responsibilities".

It seems also that the Spanish postal authorities tolerated the splitting of large denomination postage stamp into two stamps of a lower value. A local philatelist, for instance, owns an envelope postmarked in Manila on July 6, 1857 and addressed to one S.D. Felino Gil of Guagua, Pampanga. The envelope bore on its upper left hand corner a 10 quartos stamp cut diagonally to pass as a 5 quartos stamp. The explanation of this oddity seems to be that due to the lack of a 10 quartos stamps the stamp teller cut the stamp in half so he could have two 5 quartos stamps to conform in all likelihood with the local postal rate at that time.


When the Filipinos rose in revolt in 1898 against Spain, their Revolutionary Government issued its own postage stamps. As a symbol of its new found freedom, the young Republic made its stamp in the shape of a triangle perhaps, to signify the French Revolution's LIBERTY, EQUALITY, and FRATERNITY.

The Filipino rebels issued in all 14 different stamps. There were three regular varieties for postage one for registration, one for newspapers, seven for revenues and two for telegraphs. These stamps, however, were indiscriminately used by the people so that a letter sometimes had two or more of these stamps affixed on its envelope.

Upon the occupation of the Philippines by the United States as a result of the Spanish–American War, the American military government issued regular stamps overprinted with the word "PHILIPPINES", for postal purposes. These stamps issued on June 30, 1899 were used up to August 1906, when the American civil government which supplanted the military began to use the "PHILIPPINE ISLANDS-UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" series. Pictures of famous Filipinos, Americans and Spaniards, like Rizal, President McKinley, General Lawton, Lincoln Admiral Sampson, Washington, Franklin, Carriedo, Magellan, and Legaspi were portrayed in the new stamps.

The first airmails

On April 4, 1919, a pioneering American flyer by the name of Ruth Law made some exhibition flight over Manila. To honor the unusual occasion, special cards were postally cancelled by the Bureau of Posts, thus inaugurating the first aerial mail service in the Islands.

When the Spanish aviator Edwardo Gallarza and Joaquín Loriga arrived in Manila on May 13, 1926 from Madrid in their airplane after a trip of only 39 days, postal authorities commemorated the event by the overprinting of all values of the 1917-1927 regular issues with the words "AIRMAIL MADRID MANILA 1926". These were the first airmail stamps in the Philippines. It is interesting to note that a letter postmarked August 11, 1843 in Madrid, Castilla, España was received and cancelled in Manila, Yslas Filipinas on April 13, 1844 or a matter of 245 days.

The first regular airmail stamps issued in the Philippines, were released only on June 30, 1941. These stamps showed a giant clipper flying cover an open sea on which a Moro Vinta is sailing peacefully.

A design error

Main article: Pagsanjan Falls stamp
A 1932 Philippine stamp supposedly depicting Pagsanjan Falls. A printer substituted a picture of Vernal Falls in California resulting in this significant error.

In 1932 an error in a Philippine stamp caused quite a mild sensation in the American philatelic world. In the year the Philippines issued an 18 centavo stamp depicting Pagsanjan Falls. And observant American newspaperman, one Ernest A Kehr noticed the similarity between the falls shown on the stamp and that of another one in California. He therefore, communicated his suspicions to Lowell Thomas, the famous radio commentator. When the latter checked the matter at Washington D.C., he was informed by the authorities that what had been reproduced on the stamp and labeled Pagsanjan Falls was in reality Vernal Falls, in Yosemite, California.

Although postage stamps were being used in the Philippines since 1854, it was only February 15, 1935 that stamps depicting historical events were issued. In that year a set of pictorial stamps consisting of fourteen different values were released. Five of them the 10 cents Fort Santiago, the 16 cents Magellan, the 30 cents Blood Compact, 1 peso Barasoain Church and the 2 pesos Battle of Manila Bay, commemorated unforgettable chapters in the hectic history of the Philippines.

New government

A 1943 stamp for the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.

Upon the inauguration of the Commonwealth Government on November 15, 1935, all these stamps were overprinted with the word “COMMONWEALTH”. These sturdy stamps were to see the fall of the Commonwealth, the coming of the Japanese invaders, the return of the American liberation forces, and the birth of the Third Philippine Republic.

World War II

Upon the outbreak of World War II on December 18, 1941, Manila, which was declared an open city was easily captured by the Japanese who entered it on January 2, 1942. On March 4, the Japanese resumed mail service in the city. At first they released the so-called “provisional” or “emergency issues”. They were seven of the pre-war Commonwealth stamps approved by their censors and with the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND COMMONWEALTH” deleted in black.

Recognizing the propaganda value of stamps and psychological value of their designs, the Japanese authorities carefully chose the motif of the stamps issued by them during the occupation of the Philippines. In their new postage series released on April 1, 1943, the Japanese portrayed typical Philippines scenes on them. These issues had four basic designs. The first one showed a typical “bahay kubo” with palm trees behind it. The second one pictured a Filipino woman planting rice. The third one depicted a Moro vinta sailing in the open sea. The last stamp was a “hybrid” one. It showed Mt. Mayon and Mt. Fuji Yama together. Between them was a rising sun and at their base were some palm trees.

On the inauguration of the puppet Second Philippine Republic, the Japanese issued a commemorative stamp showing a Filipina woman in native dress. On her left side was a hoisted the Philippine flag and on her right side the Rizal monument at the Luneta. A string of pearls served as its border and beneath it is a broken chain. In their further bid for the cooperation and friendship of the Filipinos, the Japanese tried to arouse their patriotic fervor. So on the 72nd anniversary of the martyrdom of Fathers Burgos, Zamora, and Gomez, the national heroes’ series was issued by the Japanese. These portrayed Rizal, Burgos and Mabini. This trio of Filipino heroes on postage stamps was the first of its kind in the history of Philippine philately. The last stamps issued by the Japanese were the Laurel issued which showed President Laurel in this inaugural attire. Above him was the seal of the Republic and below was a farmer plowing a field with a carabao.

1945 Philippine stamps.
First Philippine Semi-postals

The Japanese Occupation also marked the issuance of the first Philippine semi-postal stamps. Semi-postal stamps are those issued for the dual purpose of paying postage and raising some revenue for other activities of the government, mostly charitable ones. Ironically enough these stamps were prepared by the Commonwealth Government, but due to the sudden outbreak of the war were not released as planned. The original object of these stamps was to raise revenues for National Defense, but when Japanese released them on November 12, 1942, their theme was changed to Food Production to suit the needs of the invaders.

In spite of the strong pro-Filipino flavor of these stamps issued by the Japanese, the people did not seem impressed. In fact, in many places especially in the Visayas and Mindanao, the people not only disdained to use these stamps but actually used another kind, the mere possession of which would have forfeited their lives, a guerrilla stamp. Some of these stamps were printed in Australia and brought to the Philippines by submarines. They were used in guerrilla correspondence and in postal communication to the United States. These stamps consisted only of one denomination the 2 centavo variety. The bore the words :FREE PHILIPPINES - GUERILLA POSTAL SERVICE – TWO CENTAVOS SERIES 1943”.

On October 20, 1944, the American liberation forces finally landed on the shores of Leyte. Nineteen days later, with the characteristics dispatch of the Americans, the Post Office of Tacloban was reopened for postal amidst the still smoking ruins. The stamps issued to the public were all available pre war Commonwealth stamps overprinted with the word “VICTORY” in rubber stamp.

The Third Republic

The inauguration of the Third Philippine Republic on July 4, 1946, was commemorated by a stamp showing a Filipino woman in native dress with a crown of laurel and holding in her hands the Philippine Flag. In the background were the flags of all the nations. The stamp, therefore, not only symbolizes the independence of the Philippines but also heralded her new role in the great family of the nations.

Indicative of the growing stature and importance of the young Republic in the affairs of the world were the various stamps issued in honor of the international conventions and exhibitions held in this country, like the Conference of the United Nations Economic Commission in Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) held in Baguio on November 24, 1947. The Conference of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) held also in Baguio on February 23, 1948, the 5th World Congress of Junior Chamber International (JAYCEE) held in Manila on March 1, 1950, the Fourth Meeting of the Indo Fisheries Council held in Quezon City on October 23, 1952 and First Pan Asian Philatelic Exhibition (PANAPEX) held in Manila on November 16, 1952.

Even the new Special Delivery stamp issued on December 22, 1947 pictured the unmistakable progress of the Philippines. Where the old Special Delivery stamp portrayed a postal messenger jogging against the background of Mt. Mayon the new stamp showed a mail messenger riding on a bicycle to deliver a letter. In the background may be seen the imposing Post Office Building in Manila.

The Philippines also remembered on her stamps the two Americans greatly responsible for the blessings of freedom which she now enjoys Douglas MacArthur and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And it was significant and fitting, perhaps that the last objects President Roosevelt looked and touched before he suddenly died were Philippine stamps. In describing the great man’s last moment’s in his book “Roosevelt in Retrospect”, John Gunther confirmed this. He wrote “This was about half an hour before the final seizure. F.D.R. filled an envelope with duplicate stamps which he marked “to give away” and then inspected some issues put out by the Japanese during the occupation of the Philippines”.


To commemorate the centenary of the first postage stamps issued in the Philippines, the postal authorities will issue a series of special stamps. In the center of the stamp is an exact replica of the first stamp issued in the Philippines, the 5 Quartos carmine showing a profile of an effigy or Queen Isabela II of Spain, On its left side may be seen Magellan landing on its shores. He hold in his left hand a flag and his upraised right hand a sword. Directly behind him is a priest holding aloft a cross and followed by two soldiers. In the back ground are 16th century Spanish ships. On the right side of the stamp is a picture of a Filipino woman in native dress, holding a Philippine flag. In the background is the Post Office Building in Manila and a mail carrier. Flying above them is a large, modern commercial plane.


Of all the commemorative stamps issued in the Philippines, the one honoring the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress held in Manila on February 3 to 7, 1937 was the most memorable one. It reached the courts, as originally contemplated by the postal authorities, the design of the stamp was a chalice with the Sacred Heart above it and a grape vine and stalks of wheat for its border.

When Bishop Aglipay supreme head of the Philippine Independent Church heard of it, he promptly filed a writ of prohibition with the Court of First Instance of Manila and later with the Supreme Court to prevent the sale of these stamps on the ground that their sale would violate the Constitution which prohibited the appropriation of any public money for the use, benefit or support of any sect, church or system of religion. According to Bishop Aglipay the stamps were propaganda for the benefit of the Catholic Church.

Although the fighting bishop lost his suit against the government, the latter decided to change the design of the controversial stamp. As finally issued the stamp showed a map of the Philippines with rays radiating all around it. Manila, the seat of the congress was indicated by a star.


See also


  1. Rossiter, Stuart & John Flower. The Stamp Atlas. London: Macdonald, 1986, p.252. ISBN 0-356-10862-7

Further reading

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