Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Sacrilege

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

In commemoration of national flag days from May 28 to June 12, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III encouraged all Filipinos to display the Philippine flag at home, schools, offices, business establishments, etc. Unfortunately, the significance of the Presidential directive was diluted by the flap involving the display of an inverted flag in the president’s official Web site for a few hours on the same day the President issued the directive.

It was obviously an honest mistake. I just can’t imagine someone risking the President’s ire, and in the process his or her job, over a practical joke involving the flag. It’s possible that someone was simply careless or just didn’t know any better. The incident however was indicative of the cavalier way in which people in this country take the flag and what it represents. We all got riled up every time someone bungles the singing of the national anthem during one of Manny Pacquiao’s fights but we rarely notice the overly casual and often careless way in which some people display the Philippine flag during similar occasions. I have seen people use the Philippine flag like shawls during Pacquiao’s fights - they wave it around like a rag or lasso and then simply sling it over their shoulders when they get tired, or worse, just dump the flag into their bags; a friend told me that some people throw away in trash bins miniature Philippine flags after the revelry. I even saw pictures of dogs dressed up in Philippine flags.

Not very many people are aware of the specific provisions of Republic Act 8491, An Act Prescribing the Code of the National Flag, Anthem, Motto, Coat-of-Arms and Other Heraldic Items and Devices of the Philippines. The law actually provides very specific rules and prohibitions around the design, hoisting and display of the Philippine tricolors.

Probably in response to the President’s recent call, there has been a profusion of flags in government offices and in major thoroughfares lately, particularly in areas considered the bedrock of nationalism. Even certain malls and commercial establishments seemed to have had a sudden attack of nationalism. All these should swell the heart and make us all proud to be Filipinos. Sadly, that’s not the effect it makes on people.

I was in some parts of Laguna over the weekend and I was aghast to see hundreds of Philippine flags adorning the national road like decorative rags all the way from the town of Los BaƱos to the City of Calamba. All along the national road, there’s a Philippine flag that hangs from makeshift wooden poles every 20 meters or so. We’re celebrating the 150th year of Rizal’s birthday this year so it stands to reason that some towns in Laguna would go out on a limb to display nationalistic fervor. Unfortunately, no one seemed to have had the sense to ensure that the Philippine flags were displayed appropriately and in ways that inspire pride and honor. To begin with, the flags are exposed and left to the elements. It was raining hard when we were passing through and the flags looked pitiful being battered by heavy rain and wind. And horror of all horrors, each of the flags was pierced through in one corner with wire and harnessed to a post as if to ensure that they don’t get tangled up, a clear violation of the provision of the law that lists the following as a prohibition: “To mutilate, deface, defile, trample on or cast contempt or commit any act or omission casting dishonor or ridicule upon the flag or over its surface.” The effect was that the flags looked like symbols of bondage and suppression rather than of freedom and liberty.

At a mall I visited last week, Philippine flags of different sizes were dangling from the ceiling like chandeliers. It was clear that the flags were being used as decorative pieces. Everywhere else we see various examples of the same careless attitude towards the flag.

To help remind people of the law, let me quote here some salient provisions of Republic Act 8491.

Section 2 of the law’s declaration of policy states: “Reverence and respect shall at all times be accorded the flag, the anthem, and other national symbols which embody the national ideals and traditions and which express the principles of sovereignty and national solidarity. The heraldic items and devices shall seek to manifest the national virtues and to inculcate in the minds and hearts of our people a just pride in their native land, fitting respect and affection for the national flag and anthem, and the proper use of the national motto, coat-of-arms and other heraldic items and devices.”

The following acts are prohibited, according to Section 34: a) To mutilate, deface, defile, trample on or cast contempt or commit any act or omission casting dishonor or ridicule upon the flag or over its surface; b) To dip the flag to any person or object by way of compliment or salute; c) To use the flag: 1) As a drapery, festoon, tablecloth; 2) As covering for ceilings, walls, statues or other objects; 3) As a pennant in the hood, side, back and top of motor vehicles; 4) As a staff or whip; 5) For unveiling monuments or statues; and 6) As trademarks, or for industrial, commercial or agricultural labels or designs. d) To display the flag: 1) Under any painting or picture; 2) Horizontally face-up. It shall always be hoisted aloft and be allowed to fall freely; 3) Below any platform; or 4) In discotheques, cockpits, night and day clubs, casinos, gambling joints and places of vice or where frivolity prevails. e) To wear the flag in whole or in part as a costume or uniform; f) To add any word, figure, mark, picture, design, drawings, advertisement, or imprint of any nature on the flag; g) To print, paint or attach representation of the flag on handkerchiefs, napkins, cushions, and other articles of merchandise; h) To display in public any foreign flag, except in embassies and other diplomatic establishments, and in offices of international organizations; i) To use, display or be part of any advertisement or infomercial; and j) To display the flag in front of buildings or offices occupied by aliens.

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