Seares: Taking the knee and flag-burning

Atty. Pachico A. Seares

THE Philippine flag law is tougher than that of many other countries, including United States. If the U.S. had a law similar to ours, President Trump could just order the arrest of any football player kneeling on one knee before the American flag while their national anthem is sung or played.

Rules on behavior of persons before the national flag are similar in the two countries: standing at attention, facing the flag, with right hand over chest (PH) or the heart (U.S.) The difference is that violation is criminalized here but not in the U.S.

2 laws differ

Republic Act #8491 (Flag & Heraldic Code of the Philippines) carries the penalty of public censure or a fine of P5,000-P20,000 or a jail term of not more than one year.

Title #36, Section 171 of the U.S. Code, which lays down the rule of conduct, does not provide a penalty. It is merely “declaratory and advisory,” the U.S. Congress was told after a study of the law. Their National Flag Code, adopted in 1923, was covered with a joint resolution of Congress, which also has no penal provision.

Manolo Quezon III, who was then working with Malacañang, in 2016 noted that foreigners usually wouldn’t know how strict our flag law is until they’re caught violating it. Madonna, in Manila for two days in January of that year, draped her body with the Philippine flag and set off an uproar. She didn’t know that using the flag as part of a costume is prohibited.

But even some natives don’t know better. Three University of the East students years ago mopped a classroom floor with a flag while others laughed, which was video recorded. The students were expelled; it wasn’t known if they were charged.

Pressure on owners

Trump must know that football players who protest by kneeling while the anthem was played can’t be prosecuted. So he turned to the next best thing he saw: pressure team owners to fire them. The same owners though, in 2016, encouraged but didn’t require their players to stand during the ceremony.

Trump’s recent attack on athletes, on which he doubled down the following day, failed to curb dissent. Instead, the protest has spread across the country, going beyond football teams to athletes in other sports, including basketball. Steph Curry and Lebron James, as huge cage stars as they can get, blasted Trump on Twitter; James called Trump a “bum.”

Free speech

Besides not being penalized, “misconduct” during flag rites in the U.S. is tied up with its constitutional rule on free speech. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who started it all in August last year, said he couldn’t “show pride in the flag of a country that oppresses black and other colored people.” Trump supporters disagree, saying free speech may still be exercised without being offensive to the flag, the “symbol that embodies national ideals and tradition.”’

Flag burning

If anyone in the Philippines shows any form of disrespect to the Filipino flag, he can get jailed. Someone can burn the American flag in a public protest and will go unpunished.

Taking the knee at a football ceremony infuriates Trump. Watch how he acts up if someone sets the U.S. flag on fire during a march in Washington D.C.