Confused National Identity

by Ellen Tordesillas

In a way, I’m glad that deviation from the original composition in the singing of the Philippine national anthem is causing controversy.

That means that people still care very much about our national anthem, which is one of our patriotic symbols. The latest in the “Lupang Hinirang” controversy is the version of much- admired Arnel Pineda (of the international band “The Journey”) sang last Sunday at the Pacquiao-Clottey fight at the Dallas Cowboys stadium in Texas.

I only caught up with Arnel’s performance in Monday’s evening news reports (I don’t watch boxing fights) but here’s the comment of the musically-inclined journalist Inday Espina-Varona in her Facebook wall: “The first two notes of Arnel’s Lupang Hinirang had us betting he wouldn’t hit the high notes. He was fine with the first high notes, sang the anthem straight and pure, and then he had to do the runs… ayan, sablay.”

As in past Pacquiao boxing fights when the singers of “Lupang Hinirang” took artistic liberty of Julian Felipe’s composition, the National Historical Institute was displeased with Pineda’s rendition of the national anthem.

NHI is the government body tasked to promote Philippine history and cultural heritage by ensuring respect for the national anthem, Philippine flag and other national symbols.

NHI Heraldry Section Chief Teddy Atienza cited section 37 of Republic Act 8491 which states “ The rendition of the National Anthem, whether played or sung, shall be in accordance with the musical arrangement and composition of Julian Felipe.”

Atienza said Felipe’s original musical arrangement has a marching tempo. Violators may be fined P5,000 to P20,000 or jailed for a year.

Of course, many came to the defense of Pineda. In my blog, a New York -based lawyer, SaxnViolins said, “ You may disagree with the interpretation, but the US upholds the freedom of speech of singers or other entertainers. Note the various interpretations, including Jimi Hendrix’s wailing guitar rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.

“A singer has to feel the music, whether a ballad or an anthem. And they sing it with that feeling. Of course, sabi ng iba, pasiklab lang daw. Seems to me it is the people who pedantically insist on the original version who are making pasiklab about their knowledge of the law, which if tested Constitutionally will fail (if the issue were presented to a fair tribunal), not a fawning one.”

SnV also cautions those who suggest Pineda should be jailed : “Oops, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Criminal law is territorial. So the crime should have been committed in the Philippines, for it to be punishable under Philippine law. Philippine law has no jurisdiction in foreign soil. Thank God.”

RA 8491 was the initiative of former President Ramos who found the so-called “modern” versions of Lupang Hinirang disrespectful. I remember one event where Ramos reprimanded organizers after the rock version of the national anthem was performed.

Section 38 of RA 8491 states that “ When the National Anthem is played at a public gathering, whether by a band or by singing or both, or reproduced by any means, the attending public shall sing the anthem. The singing must be done with fervor.

“As a sign of respect, all persons shall stand at attention and face the Philippine flag, if there is one displayed, and if there is none, they shall 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. Those in military, scouting, citizens military training and security guard uniforms shall give the salute prescribed by their regulations. The salute shall be completed upon the last note of the anthem.”

I have an anecdote related to this provision. A few years ago, there was an event organized by the National Commission on Culture and Arts. It’s executive director Cecile Guidote Alvarez (whose national artist award conferred by Gloria Arroyo was questioned by the artists community) has a theater group composed of handicapped children.

While “Lupang Hinirang” was being played, Alvarez had the children act out the national anthem. Many artists and historians in the audience were aghast. Ivan Anthony Henares, executive director and trustee of the Heritage Conservation Society, wrote NHI, then headed by historian Ambeth Ocampo , reporting the disrespect of the national anthem by the NCCA head, whose job is to promote Filipino culture and arts.

Henares said Alvarez violated the RA 8491.

I got a copy of Henares’ letter. Since I was going to write it about it in my column, I called up Alvarez to get her side. She happened to be in Germany and it must have been midnight there when I called up. She turned ballistic when I told her about Henares’ letter. “Nobody can accuse me of being unpatriotic. I fought Marcos!,” she said.

Her logic stunned me. Non sequitur.

The flag, the anthem, the motto and others patriotic symbols embody our ideals and aspirations as a nation. They are being preserved and promoted to deepen our national pride, which seem to be weak and wanting.

I look at the controversies on the singing of the national anthem as part of our continuing search for a national identity. Over a century and a decade as a nation, and we are still confused as to our national identity. Sad.

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