Luningning Tan-Gatue, 86, has kept the Philippine flag flying for decades.
Flag-making is her family’s business. And the period leading up to Independence Day is extremely busy for her.
Granddaughter Addrianne Marie goes over the orders, which could come in the “hundreds of thousands” during the “peak season” from mid-May to June 12. Addrianne’s twin, Addrielle Ann, takes charge of the payroll and other administrative matters.
The twins’ mother, Carmelita, makes sure the orders are ready for pick up. Quality control is her forte. Her husband, Gregory II, oversees the needleworkers and cutters who work at the back of their cramped store on Rizal Avenue Extension in Santa Cruz, Manila.
The hubbub at the front store and the nonstop whirring of high-speed sewing machines at the backroom mean business is good. Add to the tumult the sound of metal against metal as a workers install eyelets on every finished flag. The cord that goes through the eyelets will keep the flag attached to the pole as the one-meter-by-two-meter tricolor flutters against the wind.
Luningning, who comes from Laguna, has a keen sense of business which she acquired from her husband, Gregorio Tan-Gatue. She has kept the family emblem as First Family of Philippine Flags soaring for decades.
“The secret is hard work, and to make sure the business stays in the family,” she said. “You can start from scratch, but if you work hard, you will reap the fruits of your labor.”
According to Gregory, the Tan-Gatue flag-making business started around 1910. His Chinese great-grandfather, Alejandro Tan-Gaute, went into business supplying linen to American troops. But the troops also needed the United States flag, and Tan-Gatue, an entrepreneur, ventured into making flags and emblems, with the help of the US officer who provided him with the specifics.
When the Commonwealth government was created, a Philippine tricolor was needed to fly beside the star-spangled banner. Again, Tan-Gatue was commissioned to mass-produce the item.
When the US flag was finally lowered, and the Philippine flag raised to fly alone, signifying the country’s independence from the United States during ceremonies at Luneta on July 4, 1946, the Tan-Gatues hold the distinction of having sewn both flags.
Today, the Tan-Gatue’s flag-making business remains in the hands of cousins. Luningning’s Super Atlas Flag competes with International Flag House and Global Flags, which are owned by the brothers of her late husband.
Addrienne and Addrielle, both graduates of De La Salle University, belong to the fifth-generation Tan-Gatues being groomed to take over the business.
Business side of sewing
While the twins know and understand the process from cutting to sewing, they are more inclined to the business side. Addrienne has a degree in business management, while Addrielle finished marketing.
Still, the same love for the business seems ingrained in the two girls. Like their grandmother and parents, the twins also spend their days at the Super Atlas Flag store in Santa Cruz.
Today, the most popular flags are made of nylon, which usually lasts from three to six months, depending on the weather, according to Luningning.
“Nylon is lighter, so you can see they flutter nicely,” Luningning explained.
Flags that are displayed outside buildings are either made of nylon or cotton. For those displayed inside offices, the tricolor is usually fashioned from satin.
The Philippine government is the number one client of the Tan-Gatues. How many flags do they order? Luningning can only say “thousands, thousands.”
The Armed Forces of the Philippines needs flags for its offices, camps and various field units. The Philippine Veterans Administration Office needs flags to give to the widows and families of deceased veterans. The Department of Foreign Affairs needs flags for all the embassies and consulates abroad.
There is also a flagpole at every provincial capitol, every town and city hall, every barangay hall and all schools nationwide, public and private.
Producing flags for more than 41,000 barangay halls alone keeps Luningning’s workers busy.
“We don’t advertise, we don’t offer our services anymore. People come to us to place orders. And offices invite us to attend biddings,” Luningning said.
As the matriarch, Luningning could well sit on her laurels. These days, her twin granddaughters are already trained to attend biddings, raising the Tan-Gatue emblem even higher that their great-great-grandfather could ever imagine.