anthem angsts

the tempest over the national anthem in the wake of martin nievera’s relatively radical version is no small teacup thing.   this is one question that every pinoy who grew up memorizing and singing lupang hinirang feels qualified to weigh in on.   and i dare say that pinoys who hated it that martin played around with the beat and the endnotes outnumber pinoys who didn’t mind at all, whether they liked martin’s arrangement and/or rendition or not.

martin was warned:

If only Martin Nievera listened to the advice of maestro Ryan Cayabyab, he would not be embroiled in national controversy.

The renowned musician said here that he warned Nievera not to change the melody of the National Anthem at the opening of Sunday’s Pacquiao-Hatton bout in Las Vegas.

“Martin, papatayin ka ng tao. Huwag mong papalitan yung huling part kasi delikado ka. (Martin, you will be crucified for that. Don’t change the last part or you’ll be in trouble),” Cayabyab recalled telling Nievera.

He said Nievera sent him a copy of his nontraditional rendition of the Lupang Hinirang five days before the fight.

Cayabyab, who’s fondly called by his friends and singers as Mr C, said that the country’s concert king first confided to him about his plan to jazz up the national anthem during ASAP, ABS-CBN’s Sunday noontime variety show.

He urged Nievera to sing Lupang Hinirang the regular way because other Filipinos would join him in singing.

Nievera, however, told Cayabyab that he would push through with his plan because he’s “doing it for the country.”

Still, Cayabyab insisted that he should not change the last part.

… Cayabyab said he would be open to join the debate on how the National Anthem be sung.

“As a musician, I will stick to the original because that is how the composer meant it to be,” he said.

the latest news is that martin has sort of apologized in the face of very negative feedback from the national historical institute and the threat of criminal charges being filed against him by a cavite congressman for violation of Republic Act 8491, or the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines.

“I do apologize only to the people afraid of progress and change, of course, the lawmakers and to whomever took offense to my interpretation of probably the most beautiful song I’ve ever come across,” Nievera said in a text message.

fighting words, for an apology.    i suppose because martin has powerful backers from the palace right all the way to the partylist left, who are even hoping to amend the law to allow for freedom of expression and artistic license.   big mistake.

bottom line the question is:  do we hew to the traditional, the original, the classic, or do we bow to the the new, the fresh, the modern, the cool.

now i’m usually all for creativity and change, improvisation, breaking out of patterns, but in the matter of the national anthem i am all for the old-fashioned way.   i am all for hewing to the traditional, the original, specially on big occasions here and abroad.   because pinoys in the audience will be singing along.   whether quietly or out loud we will be singing along, we will want to sing along, and there can be no singing along if singers are allowed to sing it any “creative” way they please.    there can be no getting into the spirit of the anthem when the beat is unfamiliar, the phrasing unusual, the notes unpredictable, the singer self-indulgent.

Our anthem is march music borne out of a revolutionary struggle. It is the spirit of the anthem. Felipe composed the music as a march, commissioned by Emilio Aguinaldo for the proclamation of the Kawit Republic on June 12, 1898. It was originally titled “Marcha Filipina Magdalo,” and was first played by the San Francisco de Malabon Band. It was composed to fire up revolutionary spirit and resistance, to fight against all odds as the Kawit republic struggled for its life.

…Nievera said he was told by many, including Pacquiao, “not to sing it slow.” They wanted him “to sing it like a march, the way it was written.” Ignoring those warnings, Nievera interpreted the song the way he understood it. He said that “from the deepest part of my heart I sang for my country.” He explained that he tried “to inspire a nation-which was all I tried to do.”

Many Filipinos did not like what they heard. Many believed his tampering with or distortion of the arrangement of Felipe robbed the anthem of its martial context. The revolutionary spirit was lost in the alteration. It sounded as if the music was composed in a milieu of peace and tranquility when in reality it was composed amid one of the most turbulent periods of the Filipino people’s struggle for independence and national sovereignty. The period was the end of the Spanish empire and the advent of another colonial rule by the expansionist, imperial America.

Nievera’s explanations do not justify his alterations. Singers without a sense of history, who sing for their pleasure, strip historic musical themes of their meaning.

martin also said, to justify those radical end-notes:

“I have watched many of Manny’s fights, and whenever the national anthem is sung, I could never hear the most important line, ‘Ang mamatay nang dahil sa ‘yo (To die for you)!’ So I elected to end the song big, [the better to] be heard over the usual screams and boos, and … get the final message of the song across.”

hmm.   how was the anthem sung ba in previous pacquiao fights.   di ba’t iniba-iba rin ang interpretation every time?   di ba’t iniangal ng nhi every time dahil hindi ayon sa orihinal?   next time pacquiao should invite a singer who has nothing to prove except the ability to lead filipinos in song.   with pacquiao’s pinoys singing along, i have no doubt that that most important line will resound for all the world, and martin, to hear.


  1. Sounds like a tempest in a teapot.. The “crime” was committed in Vegas, and it is not one of the exceptions to the territoriality principle which says that one cannot be held criminally liable by Philippine authorities for an act committed outside Philippine territory.

  2. yeah i’ve heard the case is not expected to prosper. just the same the tempest over what’s right and what’s wrong is no teapot thing lang. i don’t think anyone really wants to see martin penalized for the “crime” but we do want an end to the debate, settle the question once and for all so we don’t have a repeat when pacman fights again, so we can “move on”, ika nga, even if just on to the flag issue naman ;)

  3. baycas

    Focus on the manner of singing was highlighted in MSM and blogs. How about this one…

    For what purpose was the ‘preview’ at Robinson’s Place Manila (may be viewed at youtube) done last week of April 2009? It took place here and I believe it’s not a special occasion for singing the anthem as it was an album launch…

    R.A. 8491 states…

    “SEC. 38.
    The anthem shall not be played and sung for mere recreation,
    amusement or entertainment purposes except on the following
    (a) International competitions where the Philippines is the
    host or has a representative;
    (b) Local competitions;
    (c) During the ‘signing off’ and ‘signing on’ of radio
    broadcasting and television stations;
    (d) Before the initial and last screening of films and before
    the opening of theater performances; and
    (e) Other occasions as may be allowed by the Institute.”
    (Emphasis mine.)

    Martin’s pre-fight boastful promotion of his performance was even on print media (written by Joaquin Henson) last Saturday.

  4. Angela,
    A constitutional issue arises on the point where freedom of (musical) expression ends, which is where the right of the state to curtail it begins. The Supreme Court has used a “balancing of interests” test. Which is more important? Is it Nievera’s right to sing according to his “artistic” bent? Or is it the due respect owed to such national symbols as anthems and flags? But then, the issue can only be decided when a party questions the constitutionality of the anthem law. On legal presumptions, Nievera has no case.

  5. hey baycas ;) oo nga eh. problematic yang republic act 8491. its heart is in the right place, it protects the anthem and the flag but it’s a little too strict. puwedeng luwagan nang konti. sa akin okay lang kantahin ang lupang hinirang in different versions sa small private gatherings, preferably with a pasintabi, so people know what to expect. pero in public gatherings, esp. televised ones, the original dapat…. btw i’m not saying that this is the best version, i’m only saying that this is the official version. puwedeng palitan pero kailangan pa iyon pag-usapan, mahabang proseso iyon, meanwhile lupang hinirang is it for pinoys of all ages, young and old, rich and poor, so please let’s get the rules straight.

    i look forward to an amended r.a. 8491 that will allow artists to play around with the beat and the phrasing and the end notes for albums and concerts, why not. one of these could turn out to be a version that would catch fire, win in a plebiscite, and inspire us in new ways.

    as for martin’s boastful ways, talaga naman, ano. he should just shut up. he is so wrong about this.

  6. hey orlando ;) “balancing of interests” indeed, but with a bias for the collective i would think. the interests of the collective trumps the interests of martin the individual.

  7. baycas

    If I remember right, Martin somehow invoked his ignorance of the law. Well, ignorance excuses no one, as they say…but we should raise the bar of “non-ignorance” when we speak of lawmakers…

    I sure hope the 50 or so congressmen joined Martin in the singing of the National Anthem (just like the Britons participated while Sir Tom Jones is leading them). Nationalists, “as they are,” those lawmakers should have stood at attention displaying the corresponding salute while singing “Lupang Hinirang” with fervor. Singing the anthem as a group and in unison is better than just one person singing.

    Again, stipulated in R.A. 8491…

    “Section 36. The National Anthem shall always be sung in the national language within or WITHOUT the country…

    Section 38. When the National Anthem is played at a public gathering, whether by a band or by singing or both, or reproduced by any means, the attending public SHALL sing the anthem. The singing MUST be done with fervor.

    …At the first note, all persons SHALL execute a salute by placing their right palms over their left chests.”
    (Emphasis mine.)

    However, come to think of it, how will the public (Filipinos, of course) join in the singing when the one who leads them is singing a different tune???

    (Is that why there was promotion prior to the fight? So the public may know beforehand?)

  8. saxnviolins

    Sanctimonious control freaks – whoever crafted the law.

    The US flag burner is as much a patriot as the police who arrested him. Jimi Hendrix and his flaming guitar loved the US as much as Mike Pidal loves the Philippines (ha ha ha ha).

    Next, they will legislate how you and wife will prevent childbirth – rhythm and blues (abstinence) lang.

    Finally, they will legislate what you will read, and what you will think. Whether Wahhabi Islam or US Bible-belt Christian fundamentalism, any control freak is more dangerous than the “disrespecting” flag burner or out-of-tune singer of the anthem.

    There may be different ways to express love for the country, but you cannot force people to agree with your way by legislating it.

    Sieg Heil.

  9. jojie-riyadh

    saxnviolins :>), the bill of rights entitle you to violate the provisions of the Constitutions while laws were instituted to harmonize, regulate and unify public order for the sake of the common good and never the individual interests.

  10. saxnviolins


    The US flag burning case says you cannot criminalize expression. I agree with the philosophy of that decision.

    The right-wing fascists were also making a big issue about candidate Obama’s not wearing a US flag lapel, and not putting his hand over his heart like Dick Cheney. Right. Draft-evading Dick Cheney loves the US more than the flag-burner.

    I still see no point in this control-freak’s law. I have no intention of convincing you to my point of view; I am merely expressing it. We will just have to agree to disagree.

  11. jojie-riyadh



  12. tiaongero789

    very well said ms. santiago. a national anthem is not and cannot be subject to free interpretation unless they amend the law. hirap lang kasi, just because they do it in america, gaya-gaya tayo o baka naman martin is more american than filipino?!