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LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales - The Freeman

Wait. Policemen arresting moviegoers just because they didn't stand up during the national anthem? What is happening to this country?


Thirty four unsuspecting movie buffs in Batangas probably got a serious shock last week when they got hauled off to jail for violating the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines, or Republic Act 8491. (Did your eyes start to glaze when I started citing the statute?)

Yes, this law requires everyone to stand up and face the Philippine flag when the anthem is playing. They have to place the right palm on their left chest. If there is no flag, then they have to face the band or the conductor. All of this has to happen on the first note (not the second or fifth). Otherwise, serious consequences arise.

As what just happened in that theater, as our exhibit A. Serious enough to get bundled up in police cars and jailed. According to the law, the punishments are fines of P5,000 to P20,000, or imprisonment for not more than a year, or both depending on the discretion of the judge.

No news yet on where the criminal case has landed, or which judge will handle it. But come on, your Honor. Surely, a case like this merits dismissal? I would even urge you, dear honorable judge, to strike down this law for being constitutionally void. I mean, stupidity aside, the law probably cannot bear rational scrutiny. (Well, my scrutiny for sure.)

It's a waste of your precious time, your Honor. You should be dispensing justice and alleviating society from criminal ills. Not sentencing clueless moviegoers whose only fault would probably be laziness and a probable lack of civic mindedness. They probably didn't even know this law existed, as our means of disseminating legal information is ten thousand times slower than the speed of fake news.

Not to mention our stellar police force, whose time and resources should be employed to watch over criminal elements, not ordinary folks watching a movie. What were these cops doing, trying to enforce the Heraldic Code in a cinema? Don't they have better things to do? Like, prevent drug smugglers? Or, catch snatchers and pedophiles? Or even rove public streets under the guise of preventing crime?

There are so many features of this law that smacks of (at the very least) authoritarianism. Really? Force people to stand up when they hear music? Force them to put one limb in one direction while another limb is in another position? Make them open their mouths and sing?

What are we? Unthinking robots? It's a wonder constitutionalists haven't brought this to court (although given the horrible flood of extrajudicial killings, the idiotic Heraldic Code is probably very far from their minds).

If those football players (including man of the moment Colin Kaepernick) who went down on bended knee to protest racism during the national anthem got into trouble there in America, boy they would have been in more trouble here just for watching “The Hows of Us”!

We are not a police state (at least, not yet). We allow people to dissent. We allow them to sing or not to sing. We allow them to stand or to sit. Loyalty to country is demonstrated in many ways, and not only a single state-prescribed way. Love of the nation isn't just manifested by standing. And it certainly is not necessarily what a doddering group of legislators think we should be doing when an anthem is played.

That's what I think anyway. Meanwhile, watch out for undercover cops in your local cinema. Seriously. You could become the next criminal.

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