Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Philippine concert king Martin Nievera may soon be facing criminal charges for a modified rendition of the Philippine national anthem "Lupang Hinirang" during the opening ceremonies of the Pacquiao-Hatton bout in Last Vegas last Saturday. At first, the National Historical Institute (NHI) criticized Nievera for singing the national anthem with a different cadence, and now it is actually contemplating on filing charges against him for violation of the Flag and Heraldic Code of thePhilippines (R.A. 8491) - which provides among others that the national anthem shall be played or sung in accordance with the musical arrangement and composition of Juan Felipe.

While I am in complete agreement with the NHI that the national anthem is not meant to be interpreted in any way other than its official version, filing criminal charges against Nievera may be a bit too much, if not legally questionable. Artists and singers should rightly be criticized for playing with the tune and melody of the national anthem like it is an ordinary musical piece. To me such practice is an attempt to flourish the song and inject the singer's personality, which is not really necessary and appropriate because a national anthem is a collective representation of a country's people and their aspirations. But to actually criminally charge those who do it is going beyond the bounds of constitutionally protected speech and expression.

It is true that RA 8491 imposes fines up to P5,000.00 or imprisonment of up to one year upon anyone who violates it, such as singing the national anthem differently from Juan Felipe's musical arrangement and composition, but I doubt very much if this could pass muster under the Constitution, particularly the free speech clause. Singing the national anthem with a different tune, cadence or even lyrics may be distasteful, if not disprespectful, but I find it difficult to see how this could present a clear and present danger to the safety and security of the state that the government will have a right to stifle such form of expression. There is simply no overriding governmental interest to protect.

Also, the NHI may have to hurdle obstacles of jurisdiction should it proceed with the filing of criminal charges against Nievera. As we all know, Nievera was in Las Vegas when he allgedly violated RA 8491. Rules on criminal jurisdiction forbid charging a person outside of the court's territorial jurisdiction, unless the rules on extra-territorial application of our criminal statutes apply. I don't think singing the national anthem wrongly outside the country is an instance for the application of such rules.

Instead of threatening artists and singers with the threat of prosecution, the NHI should focus its attention more in educating the public about the value of expressing patriotism through our national symbols and understanding our heritage. This should of course include artists and singers.


  1. WOW...unbelievable, don't they have better things to do? And what about changing the PANATANG MAKABAYAN wordings, it may not be protected by the Philippine Constitution but shouldn't it stay the way we knew it? Changing the national bird from Maya to Philippine eagle. I don't know who was responsible for those? But politicians should concentrate on improving the Philippine economy.

    Mae Mutuc

  2. Got that straight to the heart, sis.