Why the National Anthem must precede invocations

Illustration by Ronaldo "Ronmac" Macalma, my student and favorite cartoonist
Illustration by Ronaldo "Ronmac" Macalma, my student and favorite cartoonist

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.”

Author: Herdy La. Yumul

A hesitant academic pimp, writer

70 thoughts on “Why the National Anthem must precede invocations”

  1. Were you that sure that I am going to read this article? Ha..ha..na-obvious na suki mo ako, ah. The national anthem always comes first. Minsan nga, nalilimutan pa ang invocation eh. Lalo na sa government service. Kasi naman, multi-cultural dito.

    1. I just took chances… hehe. Anyway, this is another proof of Philippine backwardness… By many measures, your society there is more mature.

      1. What is important to you or which do you prefer?
        Your body or you soul?
        A country that goes to hell or to heaven?
        Children who go astray or become good citizens?
        The answer lies in these basic questions.
        The BIBLE is the only true source of enlightenment, not governments, not historians, not scientists, not any human being no matter how intelligent.
        THE BIBLE said what are going to happen before things happen.
        Things have actually happened after they were prophesied. These are the proofs that the BIBLE was inspired by God.
        It has NOT YET FAILED in ALL its prophesies.
        Do not approach false preachers because they are blind and will lead you to perdition…!!!
        Study the Bible yourself.
        Be warned though that non-believers will never understand the Bible.
        It is a closed book to many until the end.


  2. Oh yes, society here is more mature, in the true sense of the word. Kaya ang sarap mamuhay. The society is not so condemning as ours back home. They respect what you stand for.

  3. For my opinion, I will suggest that invocation first before the Philippine Anthem because we first thank God or praise Him that we come up on that wonderful morning. After praising God then we will sing the National Anthem, which signifies freedom. As I conclude, God first before anything.

    1. Ambeth, God first. Whatever you say, God first because He said that all creations will pass away but never his words. He makes good of His promise, in fact, everything that is happening around us is written in the Bible, that is if you are reading the \bible, claiming to be a Christian? Then read the Bible, at least, you will be enlightened and God will forgive people who blaspheme his name.

    2. when we pray we are not talking of religion but asking god to give his best for his people, whether for secular , sectarian, religious or public purposes, even for your own welfare, for your own life, safety in living everyday. it is not a matter of religion when we say our invocation during programs before flag ceremony but it is asking god to cloth us with his wisdom and protection so that we may live and work and breath and enjoy life …and this is not religion but giving recognition to a mighty creator who gives us this country….who gives you your work…your bread and butter, etc.

    3. This is very TRUE!!! Always put GOD first in any thing. Seek first His kingdom and the rest will follow… Let’s do this and we will see the BLESSINGS that we are looking for!

  4. ….invocation must be the first one before flag ceremony..you must thank God first because he sent you on that place…God must be the first one b-4 aders..As some verse on the bible says…”when you wake up God must be the prays through prayer…

  5. para sa akin mas una ang national anthem dhil bnibgyan ko ng respeto sa aking kapwa tao.kaya i conclude National Anthem to respect them.

  6. ..,,,ahmmpp!!!! in my observations nowadays it is true that we sing first the National Anthem before the invocation,,…but the sadness part is that sometimes we forgot to thank God for evrything…para saken lang ha, mas maganda sana kung mauuna yung invocation kesa National Anthem dahil eto nalng isipin mo, wala k ngayon dito n nakatayo kung hindi dahil sa kanya…oo tama na ang National Anthem ang simbolo na ating kalayaan pero hindi din natin makakamit ang pinaka-aasam na kalayaan kung hindi dahil sa kanya…..

  7. huh??what about this sir, “In everythn u do, put God first and He will direct u and crown ur effort with Success”
    nwei,we pray naman and at thesame time we salute to the Flag,….is the order really matters sir?
    can it change the sincerity you hev whyl doin this?
    In a Filipino Menu program,almost ung invocation ang nauuna cguro kz (hehehe) …… givin thankz to God muna bec of his blessings nand2 pa teu now figthing for our LaND…..

  8. .,.,.,.hmpmhm for my opinion mas maganda mauna ang invocation kaysa national anthem,..,.because everyday you wake_up in the morning malaking pasasalamat kay god dahil nalagpasan mo nanaman ang mga pagsubok na dumadaan sa life mo.,.,.

  9. Take the Senate for example, bakit nauna ang invocation doon? Bakit laging pinapabayaan ng gobyerno natin na makialam ang catholic church sa mga decisions nila? There is always a border between being a catholic and being a politician. The catholic church is against the reproductive bill of rights so the government is quite hesitant in implementing the bill. Bakit???!!! Kaya tuloy maraming street children eh. Someone in the government has to have the guts to say to the catholic church “enough is enough”. Let God govern your lives but not the country…

    1. while it is true that we give honor to have a country that allows us to worship God, still I believe it should be God first because He created country before man, He created heavens before country. There is God, always, now and forever. He said we should seek His kingdom first before other things and everything shall be added. Ambeth maybe very intelligent as a professor but he owes his intelligence to God who created him.This country is really beautiful for Filipinos so with the constitution but God only created it to be, not country creating God. I think Ambeth knows who is God he worships, by the way, is he a Christian? Anyway, all must read Revelation and blasphemers will wait for their doomsday.

    2. Please read the entire history of the Roman Catholic Church….I have read it myself and I am no longer wondering about the actuations of the church, especially about the scandals happening in Vatican lately and in previous years.

  10. singing the national anthem is so important to us because this is a part of our culture but for me invocation must be the first before the national anthem……para sa akin unahin muna si God bago ang iba to guide us…….

  11. ..for me… having a program it should be first the prayer b4 the Philippine national anthem..kasi dpat ntin ipatiwala ang programa na ating gagawin pra maging mas matagumpay at mas mapayapang programa…ang philippine national anthem kasi is 1 way 2 show our respest to our country..

  12. if national anthem comes first does it mean you love your country more than you love the Lord?

    hmmm.i guess not. .watever comes first
    its not a big deal. .

  13. Herdy, korekness. Alam mo, nairita lang kasi ako sa ibang katoliko na they have to show to the whole world na katoliko sila. Nagiging commercialized na kasi. Alam mo iyon? Overrated. Tapos the politicians believe in God first before country..Ano iyon? Mga hipokrito!! Mga corrupt!! They don’t think about the welfare of the prople, they think about their own.

    1. Relax lang, ate… hinihigh blood ka eh, hehe. Buti ka nga andyan ka, kami we have to endure all these.

  14. who ever write this…
    i bet your that person who is so pathetic..
    pathetic by means of not recognizing God’s blessings on your life.. for you to come up with stupid stuffs on your mind… sometimes come to think of the articles your writing.. sometimes you need to think who are the persons who read and sumhow you shared these thoughts… i think its not fair enof to question and compare the importance of God and your country…

    “Unfortunately, the law is silent on this matter, but I think the anthem should always precede the invocation.” do you hear yourself on this thought..? aint you think bwt the fact that the law never give time for it because of the simple logic that nothing will and as always… nothing will precede invocation…!

    1. Did you really read the article?

      Stupid stuffs on my mind?

      Or is it just your low IQ?

      You may disagree with my thoughts, but do it intelligently.

  15. GoD before Country…

    This has been the main argument raised…
    But this argument is very dangerous (specially for those who cannot in reality stand by it…night end up Hypocrites)

    It is also Jesus that teaches us, “give to Ceasar what is to Ceasar and give GOD what is to GOD..”

    I must say, that yes… If the event is religious in nature then invocation may come first, but if it is secular the national anthem should come first.

    And for those who say that “it should be Invocation first, for GOD over country”…
    What are the other things that you people give to GOD first FOR OUR COUNTRY? I’m sure GOD is not that Selfish GoD wanting to have everything and giving/leaving NOTHING for the country, besides He’s the one who lead us to be in this country.

    1. I am so delighted with your reflections, Eaglepower.

      Yes, God is not as conceited and insecure as other people unwittingly portray him to be. Many linger in split-level spirituality, characterized by shallowness and hypocrisy.

      1. I hope everybody should realize, though God is not insecure , but He is a very jealous God… may the bible be read with discernment that everybody may know whom they are serving….

  16. I think it should not be an issue of which come first in public ceremony. What matters most is that we are loyal to God and our own country. But, I strongly disagree that national anthem first than an ad vocation because I believe that in everything we do, put God first even if in public ceremony or any formal or informal gatherings. We should account everything to him because without GOD, we are nothing. Our country is nothing. However, religious does not guarantee our salvation; it is still lies within our actions and the contentment of our hearts. As a saying, “too many religious but not righteous”. On the other hand, it is not just the national anthem that proves your nationalism. We have thought to stand during national anthem not because it is said so but because we respect our country and show our love by singing whole-heartedly the national anthem. Therefore, it does not lessen our nationality if national anthem is next to invocation. God over country does not mean comprising our nationality

  17. Our original constitution was patterned after the US. While USA is very much a religious country, inscribing even the “In God We Trust” in the silver dollar, as well as their paper monies, they do the national anthem first before invocation and sometimes do not have invocation on affairs of the State. Only on the opening of a new Session after an election or a long recess would there be an invocation.

    1. Thank you, thank you, asiong. Filipinos’ concept of “God first before nation” is so shallow, reflective of split-level spirituality.

    2. I guess it doesn’t matter if USA is doing that or any other powerful countries for that matter. We don’t have to be copycats at all times

      1. Hi Sarah. That’s a very nice individualism attitude. But our Christian religion too is an adopted religion from Spain (who forced labor our menfolk in building the old churches!) and USA. Our aboriginal ancestors (Aetas, Negritoes, etc) were pagans; our forefathers are from Malaysia and Indonesia who brought with them the Islamic Faith in our land, until Datu Sikatuna made the Blood Compact with Spanish conquistador, Legaspi. So, we copycat our religion from Spain. We copycat our government from USA; we copycat our building structures; we copycat today’s fashion (barong is seldom patronized by the youth, only on special occasions); the fastfood treats; the malls; etc. That’s the real score in life: we are evolving, integrating, assimilating, etc. with the world, in terms of culture, fashion trends; governance; etc.

  18. I think it doesn’t necessarily mean that if you put the invocation first, you love God more than your country, and vice versa. If you both love God and the Philippines, probably any arrangement may do.

    But for me, invocation must come first. I think – on a listener’s point of view, a prayer before the National Anthem is much pleasing to the ear. Also, if there’s no God, there will be no land here on earth. We need to thank Him for everything that He gives us everyday.

    But if the program is about our country – whether a history exhibit or Independence Day celebration, I think the National Anthem shall come first. In the first place, in these kinds of programs, we shall get up and be proud of our country.

    1. But guien, believing in God is a personal decision one makes. The state has the duty to protect the citizens’ right to believe but only as much as it should protect their right not to. Being Filipino is given, but believing in God is a choice. All are under the flag, but not all may be willingly under the cross. So, national anthem first. Even the Vatican does not have a problem with this arrangement..

  19. I was raised in grade and secondary public school system where we all stand in the school ground for the flag ceremony followed by pledge of allegiance to the flag. This is done every seven in the morning before classes start. The next sequence is the playing of a marching band music on a loud speaker where we marched to our respective classrooms. I do not recall any invocation as part of my academic during my early years. Also, neither we have this invocation during my engineering years in Mapua Tech. It is true that masses are being held in the school campus every Friday but it is being held in the school chapel which is entirely separate in the classroom, it is also on a voluntary basis only to attend mass.

    I have not yet witness while inside the church singing the national anthem and reciting the pledge thereafter, I do not know why. In a public gathering, doing the national anthem followed by the pledge is more than sufficient. The reason is this is the common denominator to all citizens irrespective of social class, ethnicity and education. This is a way to showcase that every individual is willing to uphold and defend the constitution of the country.

    Invocation should be totally abandoned because of different individuals beliefs and religious affiliations. It serve as a dividing tools to those people in attendance. But again, this is very effective electioneering tool especially at the height of election campaign if you are in the stronghold of a sectarian bailiwick.

    1. Very profound insights you got there, Sir William. Indeed, religion is a divisive issue which should take a backseat in public gatherings. In a multicultural setting, program organizers ought to be more sensitive to the diverse backgrounds people are coming from.

      I taught at Letran and lived within Intramuros, so I am familiar with the Mapua chapel you mentioned. I have a lot of friends from Mapua, and I remember them with fondness.

      Filipinos’ overdoing the invocation is yet another indicator of our split-level spirituality.

  20. I have to admit that religious academic is one of the soft spot in me as a person. It is because I did not have a formal religious education but I belong to the Catholic faith.

    Herdy—when you say split-level spirituality, is this comparable to split-level personality that they need a daily dosage of medication to keep their thought process in-check and in-order? or they just want to advertize in public that their group belongs to the “children of God” and the others are just by-standers….saludsudek lang APO.

    1. William S., split-level spirituality is chracterized by hypocrisy, being two-faced: showing one face at church and another around the home, at work etc. Being a Holy Joe or Jane at church meetings and a devil during the week.

      Filipinos generally do the invocation first on account of religiosity but the Philippines remains a cradle of corruption.

  21. Sir Herdz,
    I used to have a few minutes on-line to see my emails, but now I have more time behind my laptop just to read your blogs and your avid post-writers. I’m really impressed on your work on-line, you must already have developed hard fingers punching on the keyboard!!!
    USA and Pinas are open to choice of religion. But Pinas is getting a political issue on this to grandstand as a leader. GMA made Eid ul-Fitr, a muslim celebration, already as a National holiday. Next, another president may have the Chinese New Year as a fixed National holiday to appease the minority Chinese-Filipinos. (Hey, some professionals call them erroneously as Filipino-Chinese, ethnicity should always precede the present nationality.)
    I don’t know if the Chinese praise Buddha before their National Anthem.

    1. You are right, sir asiong. GMA has been using holidays as a means of political accommodation.

      The Filipino-Chinese are also called Chinoy or Chinong Pinoy.

      Yesterday, I was at the mall, and they played the national anthem when the stores opened. I think playing it too often, and even for trivial reasons, makes meaningless the singing of the national anthem.

  22. Hey, USA acknowledges also their citizens who are atheists, satanists, pagans as much as the Christians, Muslims, etc. So long as they have to pay their honest taxes, though. But here, politicians and the biggies who are “religious” cheat on their taxes and their SALN (Statements of Assets, Liabilities & Networth). Sir Herdz, ordinary workers like us are tax deducted ahead before we receive our pay. The big earners, politicians, businessmen and professionals cheat on their ITRs.

    1. As a civil servant, I also submit my SALN annually. I think my net worth last year was P7,000, and there’s no cheat there.

  23. These are Chinese-Filipinos being of Chinese ethnicity, so they are rightly called Chinoys. Filipinos who acquired American citizenships are FilAms, but Americans who acquire Filipino citizenships are AmFils. African ethnicity Americans are African-Americans; from Asia, Asian-Americans. The white Americans are simply Americans, there’s the rub (‘ika nga ni De Quiros, je,je). Actually, these are the European-Americans.

  24. In my opinion, invocation should come first and in my religion, we do not sing the national anthem because it is a form of idolatry. The Bible makes it clear that nationalism is not Christian, and that acts of devotion to governments — singing national anthems and saluting national flags — is a form of worship. just to make it clear.
    We should acknowledge the almighty God first before the land he created.

  25. I am not that religious as I seem to be and I am not that nationalistic as others may be but what is really important anyway? We always argue to which must come first. Is it really the positioning that determines the importance of something? Does it mean that if you were just second it means you’re of less importance? I think not.

  26. People have different thoughts, different opinions because we differ in the way we think and view things.. For me, it does not matter on what should come first, the national anthem or the invocation.. What’s important is that we never fail to remember God and our country.. It’s not like which is better, the first or the second, but it’s like why choose when any will do, what’s matters is both can take part..

  27. Everyone of us has different beliefs, religious, etc..
    But we all know that we had God. Well, we all know that we should respect and honor our country by singing our National Anthem, but almost all Filipinos do believe that it is better if we praise and ask God to guide and protect as always .
    As everybody said, God first before anything else..

  28. It should be god first before the country. god created heaven before country. we should seek his kingdom before other things and everything. Its not a matter of religion when we say our invocation during programs before flag ceremony but it is asking God to bless us.We are all created by God with his own image and likeness so we should honor him first before thecountry.

  29. I never thought about this before. Yes I remembered during high school programs, prayer came before national anthem but one time in my Elementary, it goes the other way. In choosing which one has to be before the other,It’s just like choosing example during graduation, is it you thank God first because you finally pursue your studies or you thank first your country for giving you opportunity to study?

  30. In most public schools, Catholic invocation is celebrated, making students from other Christians sects and other religions as second-rate citizens. So it is rather unfair. Better that it should be universal or none at all. It was good that during the Oathtaking of P-Noy, there is a concelebration of multiple Faiths.

    1. And during the P-Noy inauguration, the national anthem went first.

      I agree, Sir Asiong, we are so backward in democratizing our schools. If I have my way, I will stop catechism in public schools as well.

      1. sir, there is a need for catechism in all types of school. we always focused on academic and we forget our religious aspect… catechism helps builds character of a person,.. i think un angdapat pag tuunan ng pansin

  31. Which comes first between national anthem and invocation??? i think it depends on the type of ceremony… I remember during our time at the academy,, during our graduation ceremony and other field ceremonies the national anthem comes first followed by the invocation represented by three religious leaders of different religions.. It was catholic priest,, pastor,, and an imam… But during indoor ceremonies we observed the invocation first… and we do not exercise that flag raising ceremony at indoors.. So as to which comes first between national anthem and invocation during flag raising ceremony… Let us go back to the issue… the main issue is about flag raising ceremony.. I think it should be the honors to the nation first..

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