Looking Back

Binuhay ang patay!

/ 05:12 AM September 21, 2018

Dick Gordon is so often starved for attention that the public is well-advised to ignore his antics. Unfortunately, with the Senate floor as his stage, he still manages to enter our homes and news feeds, because he does make good copy and blurts out engaging sound bytes.

This week, he pulled a fast one in an attempt to revise Philippine history again by pushing legislation that would add a ninth ray to the sun in our flag. His proposal is not new; it was first proposed in the 1970s as a well-meaning move to include Mindanao in the national narrative, by adding a ray to the flag to symbolize the anti-Spanish, anti-American and anti-Japanese struggles of Muslim Mindanao in national history.


Playing the Mindanao vs. Imperial Manila card, Gordon repeatedly resurrects an issue that has been discussed, resolved and definitively settled after the adoption of the 1987 Constitution, which states in Article XVI, General Provisions, that: “The flag of the Philippines shall be red, white, and blue, with a sun and three stars, as consecrated and honored by the people and recognized by law.”

When I was chair of the National Historical Institute, the implementer of the Flag Law, I pointed out that the constitutionalists forgot to state the color of the sun, or the number of rays it should have. When I floated the idea of correcting this through an amendment, some imaginative people suggested that I was being used by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to use this small detail to change the Constitution and introduce other substantial revisions.


I presume this flaw in the Constitution is Gordon’s means to add his ninth ray to the flag. Gordon’s timing is perfect, because the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) cannot object to the bill while its budget is under review by Congress. The NHCP was not even asked to comment on the bill, with Gordon smugly declaring that he knows NHCP will object but will be forced to follow the law when it is passed. It is sad that elected officials often overlook their oath to follow and defend the Constitution.

Every schoolboy knows the symbolism of the elements and colors of the flag. The eight existing rays represent the provinces first placed under martial law at the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution against Spain in 1896: Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Laguna, Batangas, Cavite and Morong, or present-day Rizal. The late nationalist historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo would often remind people of the history and context of the flag—how it was born of the Philippine Revolution and consecrated by usage.

Mindanao was not involved in the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution against Spain. Furthermore, as the late O.D. Corpuz remarked: “Mindanao is already represented by a star in the flag, what do they need a ninth ray for?”

Aside from the ninth ray in the flag discussed by the framers of the 1987 Constitution, it was proposed that the flag include not just Muslim Mindanao but the Cordilleras as well, whose proud people also resisted Spanish colonization. Instead of a ninth ray, the addition of the crescent moon and a “budong” cane was proposed, but was thrown out because it was not aesthetic. If the flag did not represent the people and aspirations of the Philippines in 1987, they should have changed it entirely, but they did not.

Aside from the ninth ray, Sen. Vicente Sotto III wants to change the lyrics of the national anthem, also by amending or repealing the existing Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines. Those who carried news that we will see a change soon did not read Article XVI, Section 2, of the 1987 Constitution, which states:

“The Congress may, by law, adopt a new name for the country, a national anthem, or a national seal, which shall all be truly reflective and symbolic of the ideals, history, and traditions of the people. Such law shall take effect only upon its ratification by the people in a national referendum.”

From my layman’s literal understanding of this provision, Congress cannot change the flag, and that any changes in our national symbols through legislation need ratification through a national referendum.


All this reminds me of a wry remark by Carmen Guerrero Nakpil: “We are probably both the most lawless and the most legalistic community on the planet.”

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: History, opinion, Philippine flag, Philippines, Richard Gordon
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