How Tolentino reacted to mixed comments about academic regalia, Flag Heraldic Code

May 29, 2023 - 2:46 PM
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Francis Tolentino_regalia
Sen. Francis Tolentino wearing academic regalia during his graduation rites at the Columbia Law School on May 16, 2023 (francistolngbayan/Facebook)

A senator insisted that he did not break the law when he had elements of the Philippine flag in his academic regalia during his graduation rites at a New York-based law school earlier this month.

Sen. Francis Tolentino on Sunday, May 28 attended the National Flag Day celebration in Imus City, Cavite, the province where the Philippine flag was first unfurled after the Philippine Revolutionary Army won against the Spanish forces.

During the event, he said that the national flag continues to embody both the success and daily struggles of Filipinos in the 21st century.

“Ang kanilang pighati, kabiguan, maliliit na tagumpay… ay bahagi rin ng watawat ng Pilipinas na dapat ipagbunyi ng ating lahi,” the senator said in his speech at the Shrine of the National Flag of the Philippines.

“Ang bandila ng Pilipinas — simbolo ng ating lahi — ay kasama natin sa hirap at ginhawa. Ito ay larawan ng ating pagpupunyagi sa pang araw-araw na pakikibaka sa mga hamon ng buhay,” Tolentino added.

He also reportedly addressed the issue concerning the academic regalia he wore during his graduation rites at the Columbia Law School in New York City on May 16, where he earned his third Master of Laws degree.

The senator previously shared a photo on social media where he wore a Filipino flag-inspired sash over his Columbia regalia.

“Gusto kong ipakitang kaya ng kabataang Pilipino na makamtan din ang mga pangarap nila, and education is a life-long process,” Tolentio said before.

“Now it’s time not just to inspire the Filipino youth, but to serve them best,” he added.

When news outlets shared his photo on social media, some claimed that the senator “violated” Republic Act 8941 or the Flag Heraldic Code of the Philippines.

The law provides the basic rules and guidelines for displaying and hoisting the Philippine flag properly. It also stipulates the code for the national flag, anthem, motto, coat-of-arms and other heraldic items and devices of the Philippines.

A Twitter user cited some provisions of the Flag Heraldic Code in response to Tolentino’s photo.

“Flag & Heraldic Code of the Philippines, RA 8491: I. Prohibited Acts, Sec. 34 E: It shall be prohibited to wear the flag in whole or in part as a costume or uniform,” the user wrote.

The same provision was cited by senior history researcher Kristoffer Pasion, who shared an infographic that he claimed was from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), the government agency that promotes Philippine history and cultural heritage.

“Hindi pinahihitulutan ang paggamit ng watawat bilang bahagi ng kasuotan,” part of the infographic reads.

Tolentino reportedly addressed the issue last Sunday and said that Philippine laws do not apply outside the country.

The senator was in the United States when he wore his flag-inspired academic regalia.

He also cited Filipino athletes and how they would incorporate the Philippine flag in their clothing while representing the country in global competitions.

“Karangalan ko pong dalhin at ibahagi ang karangalan ng watawat sa ibang bansa. Karangalan ko po ‘yun,” Tolentino reportedly said.

“Kahit sa maliit na bagay, kahit sa mga atleta natin na nakalagay sa short, pants ang bandera, kahit sa mga boksingero natin na nakalagay sa ngipin bilang mouthpiece ang bandera, iyon po ay karangalan,” he added.

Some Filipinos have also previously claimed that the provision in the Flag Heraldic Code was only referring to the Philippine flag itself.

“The law is only applicable to the Philippine flag, ‘yung piece of cloth made to be a flag. The motif and design of the flag can be used any way you want. So if what he was wearing was previously part of a useable flag, then yes, he violated the law, but if not, then no,” a Twitter user said before.

The user also said that there is also a provision for the representation of the flag.

“How can we say this? Because there is a separate provision about the design and motif: To print, paint or attach representation of the flag on handkerchiefs, napkins, cushions, and other articles of merchandise. While this is for merchandise, ‘yung made for sale or profit,” the Twitter user said.

Apart from wearing the national flag itself, it is also prohibited “to print, paint or attach representation of the National Flag on handkerchiefs, napkins, cushions, and articles of merchandise.”

Merchandise refers to “the commodities or goods that are bought and sold in business.”

For the Columbia Law School, graduating students should be eligible for its “free rental regalia (gown and hood).”

Meanwhile, the students are “responsible for paying for their own tam (the cap),” which is for theirs to keep.

In 2018, the NHCP released an advisory about commercial products bearing elements of the national flag such as the yellow stars and a coat of arms.

“Babala: Huwag tatangkilikin ang produktong ito dahil nilalabag nito ang Batas Republika Blg. 8491 o ang ‘Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines’ na nagbabawal sa paggamit sa mga elemento ng Pambansang Watawat ng Pilipinas sa mga produktong komersyal,” it said before.

What does the law say? 

Section 39 (e) of the “Prohibited Acts” section of the Flag Heraldic Code says that it shall be prohibited “to wear the National Flag in whole or in part as a costume or uniform.”

What is the “National Flag?”

The law — Republic Act 8941 — defines this as “the National Flag and Ensign of the Philippines, unless stated otherwise, used on land and sea by public, private and the military and shall refer to the flag or any other design that so resembles it as likely to cause any person to believe that it is the flag or design stated, expressed or provided in the Constitution of the Philippines, R.A. No. 8491 and these Rules.”