At the recent breakfast meeting cohosted by the Makati Business Club for Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, prime minister of Malaysia, I was struck that, as we began the proceedings with the national anthems of the Philippines and Malaysia, the Filipinos were largely mute, letting the canned version of “Lupang Hinirang” sing for them. On the other hand, the few Malaysians in the room sang their “Negaraku” loud and clear.
This scenario is repeated on many occasions when our national anthem is played: Instead of singing loud and proud, many Filipinos merely stand silently, often not even at attention, perhaps mesmerized by the videos that sometimes accompany the playing of the national anthem, filled with images of actors, actresses and pop stars. I am in no way criticizing the companies that produced such videos as a public service. In fact, I think they have served as reminders on how to behave, including putting our right hand over our heart while singing.
There is a specific law, Republic Act No. 8491, otherwise known as the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines, which governs, among others, the hoisting and display of the flag; the conduct of flag-raising ceremonies; and the singing of the national anthem.
Though a relatively obscure law, it was invoked in a 2018 incident in San Fernando, Cebu, where two bus drivers sped off while the town’s local officials were holding a flag ceremony. The drivers were apprehended and required to make a public apology and were also suspended by their respective employers. Also in 2018, police in Lemery, Batangas, arrested 34 moviegoers who refused to stand up during the singing of the national anthem.
Section 38 of RA 8491 specifically requires that, when the national anthem is played at a public gathering, whether by a band or by singing or both, the attending public shall sing the anthem “with fervor.”
The law also requires all persons to stand at attention and face the Philippine flag, if there is one displayed, and if there is none, to face the band or the conductor. At the first note, all persons shall execute a salute by placing their right palms over their left chests. The salute shall be completed upon the last note of the anthem.
The law also provides the technical specifications for the flag to ensure its durability and the use of quality materials. It also requires that the flag shall be replaced immediately when it begins to show signs of wear and tear. Thus, it is baffling to see, even at some government buildings, so many faded or frayed flags, which are obviously made of cheap or substandard fabric.
Finally, the law penalizes violations of any of its provisions with a fine of P5,000 to P20,000, or by imprisonment of not more than one year, or both, at the discretion of the court. In the case of the Lemery, Batangas arrests, it was reported that those arrested were detained pending the filing of the appropriate charges. It is not known, however, whether the charges prospered and resulted in convictions. In any event, it was a lesson those arrested are unlikely to forget.
No matter how modern times have become, reverence and respect for our flag, national anthem and other national symbols will never be passé. They embody our national ideals and aspirations, without which we are rudderless. To paraphrase the declaration of principles in RA 8491, our flag, national anthem and national symbols manifest our virtues as a people and inculcate in the minds and hearts of our people a just pride in our native land.
The next time you sing the national anthem, don’t just mouth the lyrics by rote. Let them stir your heart and mind with what we can each do for our country. Ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo.
Patricia A. O. Bunye ([email protected]) is a senior partner at Cruz Marcelo & Tenefrancia focusing on intellectual property, mining and energy.
Business Matters is a project of Makati Business Club.
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