The Philippine National Anthem: Its History, Meaning, and Controversies

The Philippine national anthem, also known as “Lupang Hinirang” or “Chosen Land”, is a musical expression of the Filipino people’s love for their country, their struggle for freedom, and their aspiration for a better future. It is a product of revolution, a response to the need of the revolutionary times that gave birth to it. It is also a source of pride, identity, and unity for the nation. However, it is also a subject of controversies, debates, and criticisms over its lyrics, music, rendition, and respect.

The history of the Philippine national anthem can be traced back to 1898, when the Philippines declared its independence from Spain after more than three centuries of colonial rule. Emilio Aguinaldo, the leader of the revolution and the first president of the Philippine Republic, commissioned Julian Felipe, a composer from Cavite, to create a national march that would be played during the independence ceremonies. Felipe composed the music in one night and titled it “Marcha Nacional Filipina” or “Philippine National March”. It was first performed by the band of San Francisco de Malabon on June 12, 1898 in Kawit, Cavite, where Aguinaldo unfurled the Philippine flag and proclaimed the sovereignty of the Filipino people.

The music of the anthem was inspired by the Spanish march “La Granadera”, which was popular among Filipino revolutionaries. It had a lively tempo and a triumphant mood that suited the occasion. However, it did not have any lyrics at that time. It was only in 1899 that a poem written by Jose Palma, a poet-soldier and the brother of Rafael Palma, was adopted as the official Spanish lyrics of the anthem. The poem was titled “Filipinas” and it expressed the patriotic sentiments and fighting spirit of the Filipinos. It praised the beauty and bravery of the land and its people, and vowed to defend it from foreign invaders.

The original Spanish lyrics of the anthem were:
Tierra adorada Hija del sol de Oriente, Su fuego ardiente En ti latiendo está. Patria de amores! Del heroísmo cuna, Los invasores No te hallarán jamás. En tu azul cielo, en tus auras, En tus montes y en tu mar Esplende y late el poema De tu amada libertad. Tu pabellón que en las lides La victoria iluminó, No verá nunca apagados Sus estrellas y su sol. Tierra de dichas de sol y amores, En tu regazo dulce es vivir; Es una gloria para tus hijos, Cuando te ofenden por ti morir.

The English translation of these lyrics are:
Beloved land, Daughter of the sun of the Orient, Your ardent fire Is burning in you. Land of loves! Cradle of heroism, The invaders Will never find you. In your blue sky, in your breezes, In your mountains and in your sea Shines and throbs the poem Of your beloved freedom. Your flag that in battle Victory illuminated, Will never see extinguished Its stars and its sun. Land of blisses of sun and loves, In your bosom sweet is to live; It is a glory for your children, When they offend you to die for you.

The Spanish lyrics were used until 1940, when Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon issued an executive order that mandated the translation of the anthem into English. The task was assigned to Camilo Osias, an educator and senator, and A.L. Lane, an American scholar. They produced an English version that was faithful to the original meaning but not to the rhyme or meter.

The English lyrics were:
Land of the morning Child of the sun returning With fervor burning Thee do our souls adore. Land dear and holy, Cradle of noble heroes, Ne’er shall invaders Trample thy sacred shores. Ever within thy skies and through thy clouds And o’er thy hills and seas; Do we behold thy radiance fly our flag, The symbol of thy soul’s liberty. Thy banner dear to all hearts Its sun and stars alight, Oh never shall its shining fields Be dimmed by tyrant’s might! Beautiful land of love oh land of light, In thine embrace 'tis rapture to lie; But it is glory ever when thou art wronged For us thy sons to suffer and die.

The English lyrics were used until 1956, when President Ramon Magsaysay issued another executive order that mandated the translation of the anthem into Filipino, the national language. The task was given to Julian Cruz Balmaceda, Ildefonso Santos, and Francisco Caballo. They produced a Filipino version that was faithful to the original music but not to the original meaning.

The Filipino lyrics were:
Bayang magiliw Perlas ng Silanganan Alab ng puso Sa dibdib mo’y buhay. Lupang Hinirang Duyan ka ng magiting Sa manlulupig Di ka pasisiil. Sa dagat at bundok Sa simoy at sa langit mong bughaw May dilag ang tula At awit sa paglayang minamahal. Ang kislap ng watawat mo’y Tagumpay na nagniningning Ang bituin at araw niya Kailan pa ma’y di magdidilim. Lupa ng araw ng luwalhati’t pagsinta Buhay ay langit sa piling mo; Aming ligaya na pag may mang-aapi Ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo.

The English translation of these lyrics are:
Beloved country, Pearl of the Orient, The heart’s fervor, In your chest is alive. Chosen Land, You are the cradle of the brave. To the conquerors, You shall never surrender. In the seas and mountains, In the air and your blue sky, There is splendor in the poem And song for beloved freedom. The sparkle of your flag Is shining victory. Its stars and sun Will never dim. Land of the sun, of glory and of love, Life is heaven in your arms; It is our joy, when there are oppressors, To die because of you.

The Filipino lyrics were made official in 1956 and codified into law in 1998. However, they have been criticized for deviating from the original meaning and spirit of the anthem. Some of the criticisms are:
    • The phrase “Perlas ng Silanganan” or “Pearl of the Orient” was not in the original Spanish lyrics. It was borrowed from a poem by Rizal, “Mi Ultimo Adios”, which was written before his execution by the Spaniards. It does not reflect the current status of the Philippines as an independent and sovereign nation.
    • The phrase “Lupang Hinirang” or “Chosen Land” was also not in the original Spanish lyrics. It was taken from a poem by Bonifacio, “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa”, which was written during the revolution against Spain. It implies a divine or predestined selection of the Philippines as a special nation, which may be seen as arrogant or exclusive.
    • The phrase “Duyan ka ng magiting” or “You are the cradle of the brave” was also not in the original Spanish lyrics. It was added to emphasize the heroism of the Filipinos, but it also implies that bravery is innate or inherited, rather than a choice or a virtue.
    • The phrase “Sa manlulupig di ka pasisiil” or “To the conquerors you shall never surrender” was also not in the original Spanish lyrics. It was modified from “Los invasores no te hallaran jamas” or “The invaders will never find you”. It changes the tone from defensive to offensive, and it also ignores the fact that the Philippines has been invaded and occupied by several foreign powers in its history.
    • The phrase “May dilag ang tula at awit sa paglayang minamahal” or “There is splendor in the poem and song for beloved freedom” was also not in the original Spanish lyrics. It was added to highlight the role of literature and music in expressing patriotism, but it also reduces freedom to a mere object of affection, rather than a right or a duty.
    • The phrase “Ang kislap ng watawat mo’y tagumpay na nagniningning” or “The sparkle of your flag is shining victory” was also not in the original Spanish lyrics. It was modified from “Tu pabellon que en las lides la victoria ilumino” or “Your flag that in battle victory illuminated”. It changes the perspective from active to passive, and it also exaggerates the success of the Philippines in its wars and conflicts.
    • The phrase “Ang bituin at araw niya kailan pa ma’y di magdidilim” or “Its stars and sun will never dim” was also not in the original Spanish lyrics. It was modified from “No vera nunca apagados sus estrellas y su sol” or “Will never see extinguished its stars and its sun”. It changes the verb from negative to positive, and it also implies a perpetual brightness that may not be realistic or desirable.
    • The phrase "Lupa ng araw ng luwal hati’t pagsinta" or “Land of the sun, of glory and of love” was also not in the original Spanish lyrics. It was modified from “Tierra de dichas de sol y amores” or “Land of blisses of sun and loves”. It changes the noun from plural to singular, and it also adds a connotation of pride and devotion that may not be shared by all Filipinos.
    • The phrase “Buhay ay langit sa piling mo” or “Life is heaven in your arms” was also not in the original Spanish lyrics. It was modified from “En tu regazo dulce es vivir” or “In your bosom sweet is to live”. It changes the adjective from sweet to heavenly, and it also implies a dependence or attachment that may not be healthy or appropriate.
    • The phrase “Aming ligaya na pag may mang-aapi ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo” or “It is our joy, when there are oppressors, to die because of you” was also not in the original Spanish lyrics. It was modified from “Es una gloria para tus hijos cuando te ofenden por ti morir” or “It is a glory for your children, when they offend you to die for you”. It changes the emotion from glory to joy, and it also suggests a willingness or eagerness to die that may not be rational or noble.

These criticisms show that the Filipino lyrics of the anthem have lost some of the original meaning and spirit of the anthem, and have introduced some elements that may not be suitable or acceptable for the current context and values of the Filipino people. They also raise some questions about the relevance and appropriateness of the anthem as a national symbol and expression of patriotism.

The meaning and controversies of the Philippine national anthem are not limited to its lyrics. The music and rendition of the anthem have also been subject to debates and criticisms over the years. Some of the issues are:
    • The music of the anthem has been criticized for being too Westernized and influenced by Spanish and American styles. Some have proposed to revise or replace the music with something more indigenous or original, such as using native instruments or melodies.
    • The rendition of the anthem has been criticized for being too slow or too fast, too loud or too soft, too high or too low, too plain or too embellished, depending on the preference or taste of the listener. Some have proposed to standardize or regulate the rendition of the anthem with specific guidelines or rules.
    • The respect for the anthem has been criticized for being too lax or too strict, too casual or too formal, too lenient or too harsh, depending on the perspective or attitude of the observer. Some have proposed to enforce or relax the respect for the anthem with specific laws or penalties.
These issues show that the Philippine national anthem has been subject to various interpretations and opinions over its music and rendition, and have caused some conflicts and controversies among different sectors and groups of society. They also raise some questions about the role and importance of the anthem as a national ritual and expression of loyalty.

The Philippine national anthem is a rich and complex symbol that reflects the history and culture of the Filipino people. It is a source of inspiration and pride for many Filipinos who cherish their country and their freedom. However, it is also a source of contention and debate for some Filipinos who question its validity and suitability for their country and their identity. It is a living and evolving symbol that adapts to the changing times and needs of its people. It is a challenge and an opportunity for Filipinos to revisit their past, understand their present, and envision their future.