Amending the words of the law

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - September 26, 2018 - 12:00am

Senate President Vicente Sotto III stirred a hornet’s nest last week after he echoed a composer’s wishful thinking to tweak a line of our country’s national anthem to reflect a more positive note. Subsequently, Sotto clarified his proposal to amend the national anthem, “Lupang Hinirang,” was just a composer’s wish and that he has no intention to file a proposed legislation to implement it. 

Sotto was proposing to change the last line of the “Lupang Hinirang” which at present vows the Filipino’s readiness to die for the country when faced with oppressors: “Aming ligaya na ‘pag may mang-aapi, ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo.” Sotto suggested to rephrase this into one that vows to defend freedom –“… ang ipaglaban ang kalayaan mo.”

Aside from being a successful song composer, musician and record producer before, the comedian-turned-politician is also a champion bowler and competitive golfer. This is perhaps where the Senator is coming from in finding the existing phrase “to die for” as having a “defeatist” message.

A veteran legislator and now a Senate president, Sotto only knows too well he could only turn his wishful thinking into reality if there is an amendment of the law, specifically, Republic Act (RA) 8491, or the 1998 Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines.

“It’s just a usual wish of a composer who thinks a word or two can stand improvement in any song, whether it’s an anthem or any song,” Sotto was quoted telling GMA News Online when asked how serious was he in his proposed revision. On his Twitter account, the Senate president posted a video of singer Joey Ayala titled “How Lupang Hinirang ought to be sung.”

Sotto, however, believes “the original translation from Spanish to English to Filipino is the cause of the wrong cadence of words.” As our STAR editorial on this issue correctly cited, the national anthem has gone through changes over time since Julian Felipe arranged the melody in 1898 and Jose Palma wrote the original lyrics in Spanish in 1899. Apart from being translated into English and, finally Filipino, the beat of “Lupang Hinirang” has also been slightly modified from solemn hymn into marching beat.

This reminded me of an incident a few years back involving a late friend Eric San Juan who emceed a gathering attended by former president Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) at the once grand Intercon hotel in Makati City. Eric led the singing of our national anthem. With full bravado, Eric concocted his own version of the last line: “Aming ligaya na pag may mang-aapi, ang PUMATAY ng dahil sa iyo.”

FVR, who was the guest of honor at the affair, did not take sitting down Eric’s bastardized version. FVR stood up, without waiting for his formal introduction, and gave Eric a public tongue-lashing. Paraphrasing from memory FVR’s “sermon” on Eric, the former president pointed out no one among us, Filipinos included, should take life away from his fellow human being, or sacrifice our very own lives even in the name of our motherland and defense of our beloved country. That’s why we pursue peace by all means necessary except killing one another.

And we heard this from FVR – a soldier and veteran of the Korean war and anti-communist insurgency campaign in the Philippines, and the country’s first ever Protestant president.

Another incident during FVR’s term came to my mind when the Philippine national anthem was sung by the audience in a gathering at the Malacañang Palace. Again, the former President did not like the way the national anthem was sung. It was rendered in very slow tempo and with obvious lack of fervor of those singing from the audience. So again, FVR stood up even before the emcee could make proper introduction. And with his usual barking orders to men in the field, he ordered all to sing it anew, telling us to sing it with proper cadence as arranged by Julian Felipe, with marching tempo.

I think those incidents prompted the provision of RA 8491 which penalizes altering the anthem when it is sung in public which could warrant the offender a court indictment and payment of fines and penalties.

Speaking of fines and penalties, the Senate president has introduced a bill that seeks to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 13 years old “to adapt to changing times.”

Sotto filed Senate Bill (SB) 2026 for this purpose to amend the current age of 15 years old as cut-off of criminal liability in the Philippines, arguing it is too high even for international standards. Finally, Sotto took the initiative to amend RA 9344, or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 that President Rodrigo Duterte has publicly scored for the law’s loopholes and weakness.

RA 9344 is the pet peeve of President Duterte against its principal author, Liberal Party president Sen. Kiko Pangilinan who happens to be the husband of Sotto’s niece, actress/singer Sharon Cuneta.

Citing a study conducted by the Child Rights International Network, Sotto pointed out that the average minimum age of criminal responsibility in Asia and Africa is 11. In the United States and Europe, it is 13.

In filing this proposed legislation, Sotto expressed in no uncertain terms his full conformity with the stand of President Duterte that criminal syndicates have been taking advantage of RA 9344 by using minors to commit crimes for them. The existing law exempts children 15 years old and below from criminal liability.

A former vice mayor and a staunch anti-drug advocate, Sotto obviously shares the sentiments of President Duterte over illegal drugs victimizing Filipino youngsters who commit heinous crimes under the influence of deadly chemicals like shabu. The President served for many years as a local chief executive and prosecutor going after hardened criminals.

Under Sotto’s bill, a child who is proven to have acted without discernment would be exempt from criminal liability and shall be subject to the appropriate intervention program under the same law.

The Senate chief will likely get more support to amend the words of Juvenile law than to change the lyrics of our country’s national anthem.

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