pop goes the world: flag of our fathers

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today29 November 2012, Thursday

Flag of Our Fathers

“Ang mamatay ng dahil sa ‘yo…”

How many times have we sung the national anthem as students, right hand over our hearts, listening to the stirring martial tune as our flag waved proudly in the breeze?

Few can fail to be touched even to some small degree by the emotions that the sight of the flag evokes within us. National pride and unity, patriotism, and our hopes and dreams for our country are all mixed up in the red, white, and blue and the vibrant yellow of the eight-rayed sun and three five-pointed stars.

So inspiring to its citizens are a nation’s colors that we emblazon clothes and objects with this icon. Search the Internet for “clothing with Philippine flag” and you’ll come up with a lot of images of such clothes and shoes for sale.

One of many Internet companies that offer Philippine-flag themed apparel. Image here.

Perhaps the most famous promoter of the use of Philippine flag on clothing and merchandise is champion boxer and lawmaker Manny Pacquiao. He set a fashion trend and in so doing changed culture norms; Filipinos who were once ashamed or embarrassed or too colonial-minded to proclaim their origin now wear such clothes abroad, as a mark of pride in their national and ethnic identity.

But in so doing, the country’s most accomplished athlete of all time – and those who wear clothes and gear with flag designs – may be breaking the law.

Republic Act No. 8491, approved by the Tenth Congress on 12 February 1998, prescribes “the code of the national flag, anthem, motto, coat-of-arms, and other heraldic items and devices of the Philippines,” otherwise known as the “Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines.”

Chapter I, Section 34 prohibits a wide gamut of activities that may “cast dishonor or ridicule upon the flag or over its surface.” It is expressly forbidden in line (e) to “wear the flag in whole or in part as a costume or uniform.”

This is the reason that the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office had to pull its Manny Pacquiao commercial from television. In the TVC, Pacquiao is seen wearing a jacket with the flag on its front. The PCSO, being a government agency, naturally had to comply with the law once this provision in the Flag Law was pointed out to them.

Champion boxer and lawmaker Manny Pacquiao in the Philippine pride jacket he made famous. Image here. 

Which brings us to the question:  how relevant is the Flag Law to present times?

The same section, line (g), prohibits the printing, painting, or attaching a representation of the flag “on handkerchiefs, napkins, cushions, and other articles of merchandise,” something that we see a lot of in gift shops nowadays.

Line (h) prohibits the “display in public [of] any foreign flag, except in embassies and other diplomatic establishments, and in offices of international organizations,” but they do this sometimes in front of hotels and conventions centers when foreign dignitaries are visiting.

Line (i) does not allow the use or display of the flag as part “of any advertisement or infomercial,” but this has been done, not only for products but by government agencies as well.

Line (j) forbids the display of the flag “in front of buildings or offices occupied by aliens,” but what if the office building houses both a government agency and foreign embassies?

There is also a provision on illuminating the flag at night (Section 6, but this is sometimes disregarded) and for a flag-lowering ceremony by government offices every Friday afternoon (Section 18), but I have never seen this done.

And these are just the provisions pertaining to the flag; there are still more, concerning the motto (yes, we have one, it’s “maka-Diyos, maka-tao, makakalikasan, at makabansa,” but when was the last time you saw or heard this anywhere?), the coat-of-arms, the great seal, and “other heraldic items and devices.”

Going over the entire law, one gets the feeling that it was written in the 1930s or some other conservative point decades in the past, rather than a mere fourteen years ago.

Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III, a vexillology and heraldry enthusiast, wrote an interesting column in 2005 on this topic, calling RA 8491 “an example of a badly, and ignorantly, written law.” He pointed out contradictions and said the enforcement of some its provisions are “absolutely impossible,” especially with respect to its display in public.

The flag law was amended in 2010, but the changes do not address all the inconsistencies. It still forbids the wearing of the “flag, seal, coat-of-arms (in whole or in part) as part of a costume or uniform as a fashion accessory or merely as a design element,” but allows these to “be incorporated as part of the uniform of Filipinos representing the Philippines in international sports, cultural, or scientific competitions or official functions with the approval of the NHI [National Historical Institute].”

This law needs to reflect more accurately the spirit of the age. In these times, with technology allowing the easy reproduction of the flag image upon all sorts of items, it is virtually unenforceable anyway. And why curb the enthusiasm of Filipinos to display their flag on clothing or items, as long as this is not done in a disrespectful manner?

“Let your freak flag fly,” goes a popular saying. All some of us want is to be allowed to carry the image of the flag of our fathers close to us, to remind us always of our Inang Bayan, that we have sworn to die for, if the time should ever come. *** 

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