Of hymns and ‘Bagong Pilipinas’ | Inquirer Opinion

Of hymns and ‘Bagong Pilipinas’

What makes a good hymn?

A hymn is a metrical composition, meaning “it has stanzas or verses that repeat the same (or nearly the same) syllabic pattern, just like metrical poems. In fact, the best hymns can stand on their own textual merit as poems. A regular meter is an important part of what makes hymns more [easily to sing] by an entire congregation of mostly novice musicians; the repetition makes it easy to anticipate the prosody and catch on to the song more quickly.”

The intention of a hymn is for people to sing it together. In a religious set up, hymn singing is a congregational or community expression of thanksgiving, commitment, prayer, adoration, asking for help or forgiveness, supplication, and celebration. Since this is both an individual/private and community articulation through music and words, it needs a harmonious and lyrical mode elegantly laid out in poetic form and musicality. A quality hymn can be easily learned and sang and establishes a poetic logic, where musical notes are connected so that the rising and falling of notes can produce a lovely and beautiful melody. Listening to a good hymn encourages one to meditate, act according to what is instructed in its lines and words, and to sing it repeatedly with passion and conviction.

Such definition leads me to think about the recent memorandum by President Marcos ordering government agencies and institutions to integrate the singing of the “Bagong Pilipinas” hymn in weekly flag ceremonies. I wonder if it is really a hymn, and if singing it gives testimony to our assertion of sovereignty and independent foreign policy, as well as enduring peace based on social justice, national industrialization, and genuine agrarian reform, given that our agricultural country is the number one rice importer in the world.


My question is: does the “Bagong Pilipinas” hymn move us to become better Filipinos? Does the hymn in form and content ignite our patriotism and nationalism? Does it renew our commitment to love of country and make us proud Filipinos? What is “Bagong Pilipinas” under Mr. Marcos? What good does “hymn” singing do when the youth are forced to sing “Bangon Pilipinas,” when we cannot be proud as Filipinos amid the grinding hunger and poverty that are a reality to many?

When human rights violations are committed and laws are weaponized against people asserting their democratic rights and doing services to the communities? When the Philippines lags behind in reading comprehension, mathematics, and science, and shows minimal improvement? When the living wage translated to minimum wage is impossible for a family to survive on with dignity? When our health is in constant peril as there are only four doctors per 10,000 people? When malnutrition, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, kills 95 Filipino children every day, and 27 children out of 1,000 do not reach their fifth birthday?

In spite of all these, we are never wanting in Filipinos who give the best of their time, talents, abilities, and services to others in urban poor communities and rural areas, those who live with indigenous people, and weep with the families of victims of the drug war still seeking justice. We have lawyers and journalists who would not exchange money for truth and justice. We have scientists and environmentalists, medical practitioners, and health workers who share their intellectual gifts and services to people and our environment. We have artists and musicians who would rather use art to raise and deepen the awareness of people so they can articulate and act in transforming society. We have farmers and workers who assert their right to live with dignity.

May these people not be subjected to Red-tagging. They are our hope, and the government should praise and encourage them. We need more of them. We need more people who would internalize the song popularized by Patatag: “Bayan naming minamahal/ Bayan naming Pilipinas/ Ang buhay ay puhunanin/ Makamtam lang ang Kalayaan. Bayan naming minumutya/ Kami’y handang magpakasakit/ Ang buhay ay nakalaan/ Dahil sa’yo o aming bayan. Perlas ka ng Silangan/ May likas Kang kayamanan/ Dahil dito’y sinakop ka/ Ng mga dayuhan. Kaya dapat kang magtanggol/ Lumaban ka o aming bayan.”



Norma P. Dollaga is a deaconess of United Methodist Church whose episcopal assignment is at Kapatirang Simbahan Para sa Bayan. She is the recipient of 2024 World Methodist Peace Award.

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