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Siling Labuyo: Sen. Sotto’s misplaced priorities

The Philippines leads ASEAN with 6.4% inflation rate. Sen. Trillanes was just arrested for a supposed crime that was already dismissed by the same court/judge. President Rodrigo Duterte was just found guilty of human rights violations by a United Nation’s body, against its own people; drug smuggling in the country still rampant, Pres. Duterte fanning news about a destabilization or coup de etat by soldiers and personalities from the opposition, peso sinks to a new low, Duterte just got anal-yzed with a stainless probe (colonoscopy) and maybe medically questionable, another bombing in Mindanao that claimed many lives, and the list of pressing issues is long.

Senate president Sen. Tito Sotto could pick any these pressing issues to address, but he used his bully pulpit instead to announce his desire to slightly revise the Philippine national anthem while also wanting to lower the age of criminal liability to 13 years old. Talking about misplaced priorities.

Sotto wants parts of the lyrics of the Philippine national anthem revised as an amendment to Republic Act 8491 or the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines, by singling out the last line of Lupang Hinirang, “Aming ligaya na pag may mang-aapi, ang mamatay ng dahil sa ‘yo.” Why? Because, according to him, it is defeatist. Sen. Richard Gordon agrees. Gordon has its own proposal to increase the number of rays in the sun on the Philippine flag from eight to nine to represent Muslim leaders, but that’s another matter.

Anyway, Sotto suggested that the line “ang mamatay ng dahil sa ‘yo” be replaced with “ang ipaglaban ang kalayaan mo.” His proposal not only tinkers with Julian Felipe’s concept of his immortal composition of 1898 (anthem lyrics written by Jose Palma), the syllabication of Sotto’s proposal is awkward.

There is nothing defeatist about the line, if he only understands the history behind the anthem that was originally titled «Marcha Nacional Magdalo” and morphed to “Marcha Nacional Filipina.” In his “Music for the National Soul” piece published by the Philippine National Historical Commission, Peter Jaynul V. Uckung chronicled how the Lupang Hinirang came about. That it was a song or march that inspired the revolutionary movement against the Spaniards in the 19th century.

Thus in the context of such revolution that the idea of Filipinos giving up their lives in defense of their country – and many of them did, was a noble and heroic thing to do. Consider the anthem a tribute to their heroism. Sotto’s revisionist version, does not call the citizens to make that ultimate sacrifice but rather “just” fight for the country – if we win, we win; and if we lose, we lose – but dying is not an option because it is “defeatist.” Where is the inspirational message there? That is perhaps where Sotto is astray and reflects his lack of inspired vision and leadership.

He needs to understand that just because somebody says he/she is willing to make that ultimate sacrifice does not mean that they will most certainly die in battle but rather, has the courage to go there, if needed be. That’s the kind of citizens Filipinos ought to be in defense of the Motherland. When the Chinese decides to invade the Philippines one day – not far-fetch given their obsession of the South China Sea islands, you want a citizenry who will offer their life and service to the country without hesitation. Sotto is like saying, “don’t go on suicide missions because that is suicide and it is defeatist!”

Sotto’s other call is to lower the age of criminal liability to 13 years of age versus the current one which is 15. He does not cite any study done in the Philippines of the significance of the two years difference. He cites varying numbers from other countries based on his Goggle search – all lower than the Philippine new proposal. The gist of his explanatory notes is that at 13, Philippines will be at par with the Americans and Europeans, or still be higher than others (and therefore okay).

He cited videos involving minors while committing crimes, kids beating on kids as if this is something new; “Street children” harassing motoring public; siblings turning on their siblings; and young people getting hooked on drugs during their early childhood and now part of Duterte’s drug war lists consisting of more than 20,000 kids as users, pushers, or runners – as evidence that Republic Act No. 9344, as amended, otherwise known as “The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006” has become ineffective.

Sotto’s cue is Duterte’s call on Congress to lower the age of criminal liability as part of Duterte’s campaign to curb criminality in the country, including arresting “tambays.” So, is this really a priority of putting the burden of the illegal drug trade on the back of children? Sotto does not even address why these children abuse drugs that early in life. Hasn’t he heard of poverty in the Philippines? Ineffective or corrupt justice system where the poor fills up government jails? Does he realize that the country does not have adequate facilities to absorb more of these young criminals in regular jail cells?

Does he even know what that two year difference (from 15 to 13) equates to in terms of increase in number of inmates? Can the government budget absorb the extra inmates or just like anything else, just squeeze it in there and pack them like sardines? Why he prioritizes this over other more pressing problems is anybody’s guess but it will be worthwhile noting that the failure he noted in his explanatory notes to the proposed amendment are areas that he was involved in or has cognizance during his tenure in the senate.

Sotto was President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s (GMA) chairman of the Dangerous Drug Board (2008-2009). He was also chairman of various senate committees on Illegal Drugs (1996 to 1997), Local Government Code (1996 to 1998), Youth and Sports Development (1995 - 1996), and on Rural Development (1995 - 1996). He even wrote or publicized what he considered as “scholarly works” on his vision of a drug-free Philippines. So, que paso señor Sotto? Are you just going to dance to Duterte’s “la danza de la muerte” or dance of death?

Finally, the rising criminality among adolescents is a symptom and product of a highly dysfunctional society beset by governmental inefficiency, deeply rooted corruption, and huge gap between the rich and the poor. The immense drug problem throughout the Philippines points to a breakdown in law and order of epic proportion that has allowed the trade to flourish due to Narco-politics. The continuing flight of overseas contract workers that GMA globalized sustains a Philippine economy that the oligarchs and politicians exploits for their own greed.

Mr. Sotto, it is high time that you be the adult in the room and start checking on the abuses of the president, of the bastardization of the justice system, of the faltering economy, and the continued Chinese encroachment at the Spratly’s. As the senate president, you can shake the tree and let the fruits fall where they may but you must stop giving comic relief, step out of “Eat Bulaga,” and do some serious business for the Filipino people. Si?

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