Looking Back

‘Lupang Hinirang’ or ‘Bayang Magiliw’?

Archived on YouTube is an engaging TED talk delivered by Joey Ayala at the University of the Philippines Diliman that proposes a more musical and euphonic way of singing the national anthem. While his version makes sense and is definitely in tune with Filipino sentiment and musicality, it runs counter to the present Flag Law that needs review and perhaps revision by Congress. To appreciate Ayala’s version, it is definitely better than the “hataw-birit” renditions sung as introduction to Manny Pacquiao’s boxing matches in the United States that mimic the American anthem.

One has to look back on the history of the Philippine national anthem. Contrary to popular belief, the anthem sung today is not the same as that played during the Declaration of Independence on June 12, 1898. The anthem had no lyrics in 1898, and the Tagalog version sung today was made official only in December 1963. How the Julian Felipe background music for June 12 acquired its lyrics and became the national anthem is a story worth retelling.


If you want to imagine how Emilio Aguinaldo heard and approved of Felipe’s music in 1898, you have to think of the anthem played on a piano, in the key of C major, in 4/4 time without the Tagalog lyrics. Felipe’s music was altered in the 1920s to make it easier to sing—the changes were in the key (from C to G major) and the time signature (from 4/4 to 2/4). Today it is sung, not just listened to.

Jose Palma (1876-1903), poet and staff member of the revolutionary newspaper La Independencia, composed the lyrics of the anthem during the Filipino-American War. Antonio Luna moved the staff and printing press of La Independencia up north from Malolos, and during a rest stop in Bautista, Pangasinan, they amused themselves by playing popular Filipino music on the guitar and adding words to the tunes. OPM (Original Pilipino Music) goes back one century, and it is not far-fetched to imagine the Independencia staff composing bawdy or funny verses for the tunes over a campfire.


One night in August 1899, Palma was inspired to compose lyrics for the “Marcha Filipina” that was played in Kawit during the Declaration of Independence. Because copies of the music were readily available, Palma set the words in with help from the poet Fernando Ma. Guerrero and other Independencia staffers who tried it out and thus became the first to sing the anthem with Spanish lyrics. Palma wrote down the poem now known as “Filipinas” and published it in the Sept. 3, 1899, issue of La Independencia.

Anyone who tries to sing the Spanish version of the anthem today will notice that the words do not fit the music very well. Besides, the anthem and flag were banned during the early American occupation of the Philippines. It was only after the Julian Felipe music won a prize in a Boston contest in 1918 that it became popular again, but not as an anthem. It was only in 1943 that Jose P. Laurel instructed the Institute of the National Language to translate the Spanish lyrics into Filipino.

The original Spanish version by Palma is as follows:

“Tierra adorada/hija del sol de Oriente/su fuego ardiente/en ti latiendo está./Tierra de amores/del heroísmo cuna/los invasores/no te hollarán jamás./En tu azul cielo, en tus auras/en tus montes y en tu mar/esplende y late el poema/de tu amada libertad./Tu pabellón que en las lides/la victoria iluminó/no verá nunca apagados/sus estrellas ni su sol./Tierra de dichas/de sol y amores/en tu regazo dulce es vivir/es una gloria para tus hijos/cuando te ofenden, por ti morir.”

During the Commonwealth an English version by Osias and Lane was sung and is still remembered by old-timers today. It goes:

“Land of the morning/Child of the sun returning/With fervor burning/Thee do our souls adore./Land dear and holy/Cradle of noble heroes/Ne’er shall invaders/Trample thy sacred shores./Ever within thy skies and through thy clouds/And o’er thy hills and sea/Do we behold the radiance/feel the throb/Of glorious liberty./Thy banner dear to all our hearts/Its sun and stars alight/Oh, never shall its shining fields/Be dimmed by tyrants might!/Beautiful land of love, o land of light/In thine embrace ’tis rapture to lie/But it is glory ever, when thou art wronged/For us thy sons to suffer and die.”

The 1943 Pilipino translation opens with: “ Lupang mapalad na mutya ng silangan/Bayang kasuyo ng sangkalikasan/ Buhay at yaman ng Kapilipiniuhan/ Kuhat bawi na sa banyagang kamay.”


Quite different from the 1956 version adopted by the Department of Education that we all know today as “Lupang Hinirang” or “Bayang Magiliw” because of the first line that goes: “Bayang magiliw/ Perlas ng silanganan/Alab ng puso/ sa dibdib mo’y buhay.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Surian ng Wika under Virgilio Almario will propose yet another translation that will run counter to the present Flag Law. I’m glad I am not the killjoy implementor of the Flag Law anymore.

We often listen to or sing the national anthem without knowing and appreciating its history and development. Having short memories, we have all but forgotten Presidential Proclamation No. 60 issued on Dec. 19, 1963, as well as the Flag Law making the Filipino version official. Worse, Jose Palma’s stirring “Filipinas” is not known by a generation that has lost its facility with Spanish and is thus separated from the past because of language.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, column, flag law, joey ayala, National Anthem, TED, university of the Philippines diliman, youtube
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