The real story behind the Chinese flags hoisted at the House of Representatives

September 11, 2018 - 2:56 PM
Filipinos decried the display of Chinese flags at the Batasang Pambansa Complex in Quezon City. (Artwork by Uela Altar-Badayos)

Initial reactions to the Chinese flags hoisted at the House of Representatives were unfavorable but a look at the law indicates there were no violations on the side of Congress.

On Monday, September 10, members of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) of the People’s Republic of China visited the Philippines.

According to reports, the Chinese officials came after House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo went to Nanning for the China-ASEAN Mayors’ Forum 2018 to deliver a keynote speech.

Days after her visit, members of the NPC — including Vice Chairperson Ji Bingxuan — met with Arroyo in the Batasang Pambansa Complex.

Their agenda was to strengthen China’s ties with the Philippines in relation to agriculture, trade, infrastructure, education, culture and the arts.

To honor the NPC delegates, the Congress hoisted three Chinese flags which angered Filipinos.

What the law says 

Pictures initially circulated on social media about the Chinese flags hoisted in front of Batasang Pambasa Complex. What people failed to note was the fact that three Philippine flags were also hoisted on the other side of the building.

A Twitter user shared a video of the flags in front — three Chinese flags on the left and three Philippine flags on the right, excluding the main Philippine flag on the center.

RA 8941 or the “Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines,” allows the Philippine flag to be displayed with a foreign flag, under certain conditions. Section 12 of the law states:

“When the Philippine flag is flown with another flag, the flags, if both are national flags, must be flown on separate staffs of the same height and shall be of equal size.”

If the other flag is not a national flag, it is subjected to be hoisted below the Philippine flag and it cannot be of a greater size.

Section 13 furthermore states that “the Philippine flag shall be on the right of the other flag” if it is displayed with another flag.

In addition, foreign flags are not allowed to be displayed in public, excluding if they are hoisted in embassies, dignitary establishments and offices of international organizations.

It is worth noting that the Batasang Pambansa Complex is a government building and its access is strictly limited to the Congress staff and authorized visitors.

It is not included in the definition of “public places” as stated by RA 880 or “The Public Assembly Act of 1985.”

It defines a public place as any “any highway, boulevard, avenue, road, street, bridge or other thoroughfare, park, plaza, square, and/or any open space of public ownership where the people are allowed access.”

Why Filipinos were enraged 

According to Edith Cardenas, director of the House Inter-Parliamentary Relations Service, the Chinese flags were hoisted at the House of Representatives to honor Ji, a high-ranking foreign official.

She stated that it is normal for the Philippine government to honor high-ranking foreign officials as the former are also extended the same courtesy upon their visit to other countries.

Cardenas added that it was not the first time a foreign flag has been hoisted to honor visiting officials from other countries. However, she failed to give specific scenarios.

Ako Bicol Representative Rodel Batocabe disagreed with her, saying that it was the first time such an instance has happened.

“Sa pagkakaalam ko siguro una ‘yan. Siguro sa susunod dapat ‘di lang po Chinese flag. Kung sino bisita natin dito sa Kongreso ay dapat gawin para ‘di magsabi nagbibigay ng special attention sa China. I do hope ‘pag may bisita sa ibang bansa gawin din po nila,” he said.

There is a strong backlash against the gesture of hoisting a Chinese flag on government premises since the country is currently facing a maritime territorial dispute with China.

Latest reports indicate that the Asian giant has built heavily-defended artificial islands in parts of South China Sea.

Last month, local officials have expressed their concern over China’s aggressive radio warnings in the disputed territories. The Philippine Air Force in late January noted that they had received an offending message from China while conducting a patrol.

The Chinese accused them of “endangering the security of the Chinese reef.” The warning added, “Leave immediately and keep off to avoid misunderstanding.” — Artwork by Uela Altar-Badayos