Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

[Newspoint] A Freedom Week joke

Vergel O. Santos

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[Newspoint] A Freedom Week joke

David Castuciano

But never mind the tune; it’s the words we should worry about – those phony platitudes our schoolchildren are now being forced to mouth ritualistically, robotically. While they may grate on the knowing ear, to young minds they are poison.

By order of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., all students in public schools and workers at public offices shall sing a new national hymn and recite a new patriotic pledge. The hymn promotes a “New Philippines” and a “New Pilipino,” suggesting that the old ones are no good. The pledge promotes the same thing, if not as expressly; it is the result of some tinkering with the original Patriotic Oath, which goes back to the 1950s.

In any case, the prescribed ritual smacks of an indoctrination, a trick bereft of any imagination or subtlety. It merely copies the one played on us by Ferdinand Sr. during his martial-law presidency (1972-1986). Central to the trick is an anthem. 

With the father it was the “March of the New Society,” a rather fetching piece actually. It was composed, after all, by Felipe Padilla de Leon, and Levi Celerio wrote the words for it. I don’t mean to politicize their part in that martial-law undertaking or criticize their installation in the nation’s musical pantheon – De Leon and Celerio were proclaimed National Artists, the former posthumously, years after the dictatorship, in 1997. 

For 26 years after the defeat of the dictatorship, in a revolt by a million-strong mass street vigil that has come to be known as People Power and been copied by other nations rising from oppression, the tune had not been heard again, until Ferdinand Jr. adopted it for his electoral campaign. For his own presidency, though, he has chosen a different tune.

Where the father’s anthem, still heard now and then, is a choral march in the classical tradition, that of the son’s – “New Philippines Hymn” – sounds poppish. It does begin as a choral march too, but after a few bars it slackens into a swaying, saccharine solo, before picking up the tempo again. It definitely lacks the sure and consistent touch of De Leon and Celerio. 

But never mind the tune; it’s the words we should worry about – those phony platitudes our schoolchildren are now being forced to mouth ritualistically, robotically. While they may grate on the knowing ear, to young minds they are poison. In fact, older minds are not so safe themselves.

On the face of it, those words may seem harmless; they may even sound patriotic. But once taken in the proper historical light, they betray themselves. But who bothers to look at them in that light? Indeed, who bothers with history at all? 

Well, we had better bother, for we’re up against the son of a murdering, plundering tyrant, and he is consumed with faking history to erase the sordid past whence he came. The hymn and pledge he is peddling are precisely about that. 

Sung at flag ceremonies after the National Anthem, the hymn, by that indication, is subordinate to it – but only for now. Doubtless the ultimate aim is to supersede it, if not supplant it, by at least drowning it out, as was the case with the father’s anthem. But just how can we allow such debasement of a piece of music that pulsates with the fervor of the Philippine Revolution? 

Indeed, the National Anthem was written in revolutionary blood. The music was by Julian Felipe, the words adapted from a poem by Jose Palma, who also wrote the Declaration of Independence, from colonialist Spain, in 1898. Both Felipe and Palma were themselves revolutionaries, members of the illustrious native species Ferdinand Jr. would like to erase insidiously from the nation’s memory, the Old Pilipino he would like to replace with his New Pilipino, itself a manufactured alternative being marketed through branding and sloganeering, the same technique deployed for the New Improved Tide or Breeze or Colgate or whatever.

The new pledge is especially concerning. Citizens my age began reciting the old one also in public elementary school, also in a ritual of patriotism. Two generations removed from the Philippine Revolution, we did need the refresher, I guess. Still, as a generation that had newly emerged from the Second World War, we had some grasp of the point of the ritual. We were descended from forebears tested by three wars (the Filipino-American war, 1989-1902, included), so that when our turn came to stand up to a native dictator, we somehow fulfilled our part of the deal. I say somehow because it had taken us all of 14 years before we actually stood up to him, and doing so yet without having to shed blood – we literally just stood up.

All the same, we did manage to get the job done, making ourselves worthy enough, I hope, to claim a connection to the Old Pilipino. If we need to do more to become truly deserving, now is the time. And aren’t we lucky all we need to do, again, is simply stand up?

Having said that, the standing-up is for no minor cause. At stake is the future no less of the next generations, whose minds are beginning to be messed up by force-feeding them with a poisoned patriotic pledge.

Read that pledge closely and compare it with the original, and you will find that the difference is between freedom and subjection. You will find the citizen entrapped in a one-way relationship with the state: the former gives and the latter takes, and does so without having to give anything back, unlike by the old oath.

The old oath – I’d have myself preferred pact – spells out the two sides’ duties to each other, to wit:

…Ako’y kanyang kinukupkop at tinutulungan upang making malakas, maligaya, at kapakipakinabang….

The state protects its citizens and helps them become strong, happy, and useful members of society. Then comes the operative phrase – Bilang ganti. It signals that the state has been apprised of its end of the deal and presumably has accepted it, and that, therefore, the citizens can proceed to seal the deal with a promise to fulfill the selfless and faithful service the state asks in return:

…Bilang ganti…paglilingkuran ko ang aking bayan nang walang pag-iimbot at buong katapan….

But one malign stroke of the pen has changed everything.  By deleting Bilang ganti – in return – Ferdinand Jr.’s editors have produced for him a document that transforms a democratic contract into an IOU. 

And, to add insult to injury, as President and collector for the state, he sends the notice at the start of Freedom Week! – Rappler.com


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  1. ET

    The transformation of the Philippine Democratic Contract from a two-way relational document to a one-way IOU should be taken seriously. This is especially true as many Filipinos, including government officials, workers, teachers, and students, must recite the “Bagong Pilipinas (A New Philippines)” hymn and pledge during weekly flag ceremonies. In addition to this one-way approach, there are underlying historical revisionism and political propaganda issues. President Marcos Jr. got away with it because he has the power, and only the Duterte political dynasty dares to oppose this. The impact of this action on the Filipino people’s minds will become apparent as the Marcos-Romualdez clan can continue to hold power from Bongbong to Speaker Martin and then to Sandro and beyond.

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