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Siling Labuyo: Out of Tune

Last weekend, my wife and I went to see a movie at the Naval Base. It is customary before starting the movie for the singing of the national anthem. The military audience (active or retired) would dutifully stand at attention and watch the showing of a patriotic video while the anthem plays out in the background. At the last note, some would chant “Ooorahh!!!” to let out some of that patriotic fervor built up inside. As in previous instances, everybody took their seats and got ready for the previews. But something was amiss when another announcement showed up on the screen – “Please stand for the singing of the national anthem.” The audience laughed but then stood back up when the anthem started playing and remained standing until it was over. Somebody told the projectionist about the booboo but one never interrupts the playing of the anthem and so it went. I mention this little episode to invite everyone’s attention to an attempt by Philippine legislators to revise a current law on the correct rendition of Lupang Hinirang – the Philippine national anthem. House Bill No. 5224 dictates how the anthem must be played or sung and criminalizes non-compliance. The bill if agreed by the Senate and signed into law by the president would make it mandatory for people to stand up during the playing or singing of the anthem and to “sing with fervor.” The original law enacted in 1998 did not make it mandatory for people to sing during gatherings. Non-compliance could now cost one anywhere from P50,000 up to P100,000 pesos. The current law sets the fine between P5,000 to P20,000. More than the fervent singing, one must stand and face the flag, if displayed or face the conductor or the band playing it and render the civilian salute of placing one’s right palm over the left chest. Putting the palm in the middle chest won’t cut it. Sorry for lefties because you cannot use your left hand over your right chest. Legislators are mostly righties and right it must be even if they are wrong. So, if you are a Lola frying banana fritters in front of a school, you must put down your spatula, turn off the gasul lest you burn what you are cooking while turned around to face the flag, sing with fervor, and smell the banana or camote burn for the duration. Anyway, burning a few fritters is least costly than being fined P25,0000 for your first offense. For future days, perhaps Lola should not start cooking before the singing of the anthem unless inviting the P100,000 fine for repeat offense. Even at P25,000, that is a lot of bananas and camotes to sell for years to come. The bill wants to standardize the singing or playing of the anthem to an exact science – Julian Felipe’s or bust, 2/4 not sliding ¾ when played and within the range of 100 to 200 metronomes or 4/4 when sung. Got that? 100-200 metronomes! A metronome is a device that sets audible beats to a particular tempo. Bands or orchestras or even guitar soloists better buy one or risk action from the anthem police who will be carrying a metronome to ensure the band is playing it to the right beat. If the drummer is offbeat, you might get poked with a drumstick. If you’re singing to the 4/4 beat, don’t sing it like the way Ariel Ureta did during Martial Law or you end up in jail. Performance singers, who prefer a particular genre when singing the anthem, think again. No country type, Madonna or Whitney pop or Beyoncé-rock singing allowed. You will be singing an anthem in a country like North Korea where expressive performance is not allowed. You cannot prolong a note just to conform to your style of singing, strictly 4/4 beat it must be! If you are a student – elementary or college, private or public school students must memorize the lyrics or face administrative sanctions or worse, pay a fine. The National Historical Commission of the Philippines will come up with the correct musical score to make sure you have the right signature of sharps or flats. There is also a proposal to lift the current prohibition on the display of the flag in front of buildings and offices occupied by aliens. If it becomes law, visitors from Mars, faraway Neptune, or China can safely stay in Philippine hotels without being turned away because the Philippine flag is hoisted there. Likewise, hotels that wanted to display their brand of patriotism by displaying the flag in front of their hotel but could not because of the prohibition will be allowed under this proposal. Aliens are not required to sing or salute the flag. Enterprising small business owners can no longer sell shorts, drapes, or table covers that depicts the flag. The same goes for homeowners who display the flag on the wall like the Last Supper. Unless you’re a clandestine Supremo, turning the flag upside down could be interpreted as a form of disrespect or mutilation of the national symbol and subject to criminal prosecution. The current Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines contains some of the prohibitions talked about here but not as flagrant as the proposed updates. The fact that the bill was approved in the final reading with a unanimous vote of 212-0 tells me that there is something wrong with the air-conditioning at the Batasan. Legislators appear to be under the spell of the dictatorial Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez who rules with an iron fist. More and more, the Philippines is sounding more like a country run by kings and dictators who govern by fiats. Granted that the proposal provides some leeway for those who object for religious beliefs, the fact that they want the flag consecrated and honored sounded cultish. Holy flaggin crap! These people are nuts! Under the Bill of Rights, Article III, Section 4 of the Philippine Constitution, “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press … for redress of grievances.” Not standing, nor singing, or even burning of the flag might offend people’s sensitivities; they are a form of dissent and are protected by the Constitution. This writer finds it objectionable for San Francisco Forty-niners’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick to kneel instead of standing during the playing of the national anthem, or how we used to sing it in high school for certain lines like “Sa dagat at bundok, maraming Huk, Kasama si Taruk!” but did so as a form of dissent or expression. Patriotic fervor is something that develops in you but not dictated upon by some bureaucrat who wants to act like a state police. I served the U.S. military for 28 years but will be the first -just like others before me- to defend these rights no matter how objectionable. Russian, Chinese and North Korean parades look impressive because of unified movements or the fervent singing of their heraldic anthems seems robust but albeit under the threat of a gun – artillery gun in North Korea. For the Philippines to even consider such authoritarian approach masquerading as an approach to instill patriotism in people is wrong. It will stifle creativity and independent thinking if we pretend this is okay in a democracy. Freedom of speech is nothing if not heard or expressed.

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