I came across an article in last week’s issue of the Negros Chronicle entitled, “Lawyer sues as foreigner fails to stand erect”.
The story is about a Swiss national who failed to stand while the national anthem was played prior to the showing of the latest James Bond film, “Skyfall,” at a local mall movie house.
Lawyer Bobby Mercado, who was also at the same movie show, apparently felt slighted at the utter disrespect shown by the foreigner by not standing while the Philippine National Anthem was being played.
Mercado quickly remembered his law and noted this is a violation of Republic Act 8491, a law with a very long and confusing title, but which essentially directs everyone to respect the flag.
Watching “Skyfall,” Mercado had a new-found villain in the Swiss lurking in the movie house, aside from James Bond’s nemesis ex-MI6 operative Raoul Silva.
So the lawyer sued.
First, we should commend lawyer Bobby Mercado for his act of protecting local sensibilities, and acting upon delicate matters that “touch the heart of the existing order,” to borrow the words of noted American Jurist Robert Jackson.
Not very many lawyers do this.
Rather than wasting on such “trivial” matter, they would rather turn a blind eye and let ‘insulting’ acts of foreigners slip by.
And I fully agree that for a foreigner to misbehave in another’s man’s land pretty much leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
It could lead many to question how they are bred in their native country.
But setting sensibilities aside, we need to take a closer look at this incident because I think it also strikes a nerve right at the core of our protected freedoms.
One of the most important freedoms that our constitution guarantees is the freedom to express ourselves.
The constitution says no law shall be passed abridging freedom of speech, expression, and more importantly, of the press.
We may not like seeing a foreigner sitting down while our national anthem is played (many see this as disrespectful), but isn’t this act a form of expression that the constitution protects?
By the way, our bill of rights protects foreigners too, if we look at Harry S. Stonehill, et. al. versus Jose W. Diokno
At least, it’s a good thing this foreigner did not leave the movie house when the national anthem was played. Instead he remained seated, albeit he refused to stand up.
What others may see worse is when justices of the Supreme Court refuse to attend mandated flag ceremonies every Monday, that may be seen rightly or wrongly as a protest over the appointment of the first lady chief justice of the highest tribunal.
The very same law that this Swiss is being charged, Republic Act 8491, also mandates in Section 18 flag ceremonies in all government institutions.
I suppose this directive includes the Supreme Court, although I am not sure a justice is exempted from attending such ceremonies, as it might create a sore example, and thus similarly leave a bad taste in the mouth to lowly government employees who are strictly commanded to attend such ceremonies.
But aren’t the justices of the Supreme Court entitled to exercise the freedom to express their disappointment, too?
Secondly, in advanced democracies like the United States, even flag burning or “verbal disparagement of the flag” is allowed as a matter of protecting the right to free expression.
The US Supreme Court has struck down state and federal laws that ban flag desecration.
Here in the Philippines, a foreigner merely fails to stand up upon playing of the national anthem, and he is already deemed a criminal?
Do we have the same concept of what democracy and freedom constitute?
What I find relevant are the words of Justice Robert Jackson when the U.S. Supreme Court in West Virginia versus Barnette struck down in 1943 a law that required schoolchildren to salute the flag:
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
Was it Voltaire who declared, “I may not agree with what you say, but will defend your right to say it”?
Similarly, we may not agree with what this foreigner did, but his right to do it ought to be defended, so long as it is within the bounds of our protected freedoms.
In the event, this should be a pretty interesting case.