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May 11, 2009

Nievera's 'Lupang Hinirang' - another exaggerated issue, proof of Pinoy shallowness

Conrado De Quiros wrote pretty well about the Martin Nievera issue. The brouhaha about the so-called "desecration" of the national anthem by proud nationalists is proof how insecure Filipinos are regarding their patriotism. They are superficial.

Theres The Rub
Footnote to a false note

By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:22:00 05/11/2009

I beg to disagree with some friends on this. “This” is the way Martin Nievera sang “Lupang Hinirang” in the Pacquiao-Hatton fight, which has brought him into a brawl with preservers of Filipino tradition.

The fight has so far been lopsided, with many authority figures, from congressmen to historians, knocking him down with a chorus of irate voices.

I myself have no problems with it. In fact I have a couple of reasons for liking it.

The first has to do with the barb that Nievera went the route of show biz by aping the American singers (mostly black) who make the “Star-Spangled Banner” sound like Motown each time an American boxer takes to the ring. Which, as the nastier remarks go, is probably because Nievera is an American at heart and on paper. I leave others to argue where Nievera’s loyalties lie, though given all the open and closet “statehooders” here—Filipinos who long for the country to become a state of the United States—not least among the congressmen, I wouldn’t advise pressing this point too loudly.

But even if Nievera went show biz, what of it? Boxing is pretty much show biz, of the loud and glittery type. And though Nievera did not sing “Lupang Hinirang” traditionally, he did not disrespect it either, to use a word much favored by African-Americans.

The reason Americans do not mind their National Anthem sung like gospel (or its modern reincarnations; I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes hip-hop one day) is that they are secure in their patriotism. They are secure in their sense of country. They are secure in their loyalty to flag and country. Enough to withstand Jimi Hendrix’s “sacrilegious” interpretation of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” which he did in Woodstock, his awesome guitar blaring out the din of discord in protest against the Vietnam War. That version has since been elevated to iconic status by baby boomers.

Our prissiness with orthodoxy is in fact a symptom of an affliction as worrisome as swine flu. We like revering tradition because we prefer form over content, because we like showing our love of country in ritual rather than in practice. We like to build busts and monuments to the heroes without liking to follow their ideals and actions, which is really the best tribute to them. The religious equivalent of this is that we like to hear Mass and receive the sacraments without liking to live lives that are not given to lying, cheating, stealing and murdering.

It’s like that line in “Lupang Hinirang:” “Ang mamatay nang dahil say iyo” (“to die for you”). I’ve always said that was a perfect, if ironic, commentary on us. We’ve never had problems dying for country, we’ve always had problems living for it. I’ve always suggested—utter sacrilege!—changing it to, “Ang mabuhay ng dahil sa iyo” (“to live for you”).

My second point is: Why on earth should we regard tradition as intractable or unchangeable?

Even the Rock, or the Church, changes. I still remember the time when the Mass, which used to unfold with Latin incantations, gave way to idiomatic English. Or indeed, horror of horrors, when the Gregorian chant gave way to the “Guitar Mass.” Once things that threatened to make the faithful faithless, plain language and (middle-of-the- road) pop (if not rock) are rock-solid orthodoxy in Masses now.

In the case of historical tradition, I should think changes should not just be acceptable to us, they should be welcome to us. I say this because our lack of sense of history—truly notorious in that we can’t even remember the recent past—owes in great part to our tendency to embalm history. To treat it as something dead and gone and remembered only on the historical equivalents of All Saints’ Day. One natural consequence of this is to turn history into sacred text and the heroes into untouchable objects of worship.

I still remember how we used to look at Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini and the other heroes that way, courtesy of high school and college. Something the new wave of historians led by Renato Constantino corrected, turning them into ordinary folk who did extraordinary things in their time and place. No less, or more, than the activists did in their time and place. The process of demystification, or “humanization,” would culminate in historians like Ambeth Ocampo who would make Rizal et al. as contemporary as, well, Nievera’s rendition of the National Anthem.

Which makes me wonder why Ambeth in particular should disapprove of that rendition. I recall that when he was pilloried by purists for “watering down” history with his “pop” version of it, I wrote a column saying that far from detracting from the worth of history, he added to it. Specifically by making the past present, by making the dead living, by making history not history in the idiomatic sense of “we’re outta here” but history in the sense of current events. The power of history lies precisely in its being living history, or a “continuing past,” as Constantino put it. One would imagine that a continuing past uses the idioms or idiosyncrasies of the flowing present. That’s what makes the past worth remembering. That’s what makes the past worth living.

It’s not just that I don’t think Nievera has done any harm by his version, it is that I think he has done much good with it. Anything that hooks the youth in particular of this amnesiac country to their past, even if it feels like a right hook to those who take that past reverentially, is fine by me. History has been known to rock, history has been known to roll. Sometimes, history has even been known to OPM.

In any case, I have a lot of friends who’ve always thought the National Anthem wasn’t “Lupang Hinirang” but Juan de la Cruz’s “Ang Himig Natin.”


Anonymous said...

wtf is wrong with martin's version? what martin did on that stage was OUTSTANDING! hirap kc sa mga pinoy ngayon, close-minded! hindi bukas sa pagbabago at nabubuhay sa nakaraan kaya walang pag-asenso! angganda kaya ng music. upbeat sya na para talagang pang-battle which is fit for pacman's fight!

OFW said...

They weren't even satisfied with Arnel Pineda's rendition. Guess they'll never be satisfied ...ever .. unless it's their own version ... maybe just waiting to be invited. hehe.

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