Yesterday, your karikna was invited to speak in a seminar-workshop in the University. As the Opening Prayer came before the Philippine National Anthem, yet again, I was reminded of this article written (and sent to me) by Manuel Quezon III, explaining why it should go the other way instead. Quezon III–grandson of the illustrious Philippine Commonwealth president–is a journalist, political pundit, and historian.
Country first always
WHICH should come first in a public ceremony: an invocation, or the national anthem? To any Filipino before the 1990s, the answer would have been as simple as it would have been instinctive: obviously national anthem first, then invocation. This was the way it was always done; this is the way it is done elsewhere. Even the Vatican City State has a national anthem, and the Pope stands at attention at the playing of the anthem of his state with that of any state he happens to visit, and only afterwards proceeds to invoke God and bless the people, after the state rituals have been concluded. This is the way things should be. But somewhere along the line, and I believe it began only within the last decade and a half, things have changed in our country.
Recently I have attended several occasions in which the program listed an invocation ahead of the national anthem. I vigorously protested in every instance. One such occasion was the weekly flag raising ceremony of the Senate of the Philippines. The senate employees informed me that the Senate rules provided for an invocation before the national anthem, so what could they do? Obviously, not much, but as a taxpayer and citizen I still felt it my duty to tell the Senate employee that their bosses were wrong. One senate employee defended the innovation, virtuously preaching “God over country” to me, and I have heard others do the same, saying we are a religious people, and other variations on the same argument.
That the Senate of the Philippines has fallen prey, officially, to this “God over country” mindset is particularly scandalous to my mind. Institutions such as the senate derive their sense of identity and of purpose from what should, ideally, be a long memory for tradition and precedent –in other words, history. You would think that some of the greatest senators the country’s produced hadn’t waged a vigorous battle to ensure the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo would be read by students, against the concerted opposition of the Catholic hierarchy, clergy, and religious orders.
You would think that before that, attempts in the 1930s to permit religious instruction in the public schools hadn’t been vigorously debated and even vetoed, as a violation of the separation of Church and State. You would think that it must mean something that every constitution this country has had since 1899 has provided for such a separation, which grants to every citizen the free practice of their religion, but which prohibits state support for any religion, with the particular objective of preventing one religion enjoying state patronage to the prejudice of other religions –or citizens who profess no religion at all.
To its credit, the House of Representatives follows tradition and places the national anthem first, and includes an invocation or period of silent prayer, in that order, in its order of business. I have had to contest the idea that anything comes ahead of the national anthem not only before Senate employees, but employees of the Department of Science and Technology, various public and private schools, and even with friends and colleagues in private organizations. The question is one of community, and an inclusive one, at that. “God above country” may sound inspiring, but which God? The kind of God contemplated by our Constitution and our previous charters, is more of the kind of broadly-defined “Sovereign Legislator of the Universe” (1899 Constitution), or “Divine Providence” (1935 and 1973 Constitutions) invoked in our charters, than it is the particular God of the Christian Trinity or even of Islam.
And our constitutions, while giving recognition to the free exercise of religion as a basic right, since 1935 have also given equal recognition to the right of the individual not to invoke God: from the President of the Philippines on down, officials have the option of making an affirmation, instead of a solemn oath before God, when assuming office. The principle here is that all Filipino citizens owe allegiance to the state, created by the people in their sovereign capacity; it is the constitution that acts as the guarantor of the right of every individual to belong, or not belong, to a religion. However as citizens you have definite, unavoidable, and indisputable rights and obligations not only to the state, but to each other. That is why the anthem must come first; it is what demonstrates our community and our nationhood, the very things that permit an invocation to even be held afterwards. Were we, for example, a patently anti-religious state, you would not have an invocation, period; were we a theocratic state, you would have no choice as to the kind of invocation you could make, and in recent years we see invocations take many forms. What should be a simple matter, dictated not only by logic and our past, has become a subject open to debate, which it shouldn’t, at least not in a society that genuinely believes in the separation of Church and State and which honors our heroes, beginning with Rizal.
Each citizen, with the exceptions established by jurisprudence for minorities such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, is obligated to respect, honor, and obey the Constitution, and demonstrate the same attitude towards our symbols of nationhood. If someone were to refuse to rise during the playing of the national anthem, we would, I expect, be offended, not least because the law, in general, obligates us to demonstrate respect for country, flag, and anthem. If someone were to refuse to participate in a prayer, we would expect them to be polite and still remain standing during an invocation, but we would not require them to actively participate, and indeed, under the law you cannot compel someone to honor God. This is the difference between being the citizen of a state and the member of a religion allowed to freely practice its faith by the state.
Ambeth Ocampo, chair of the National Historical Institute, shares Quezon’s opinion, and says…
“I think we are over-using the national anthem. We use it to begin any kind of public program, no matter how insignificant or inappropriate. In many places, I have noticed that people have the invocation before the anthem on the grounds of “God before country.” I would agree if the program is held in a church or is religious in nature, but if the program is secular and public, the anthem should be sung or played ahead because it is the state that guarantees the free exercise of any religion. Unfortunately, the law is silent on this matter, but I think the anthem should always precede the invocation.”