Not a lot of Filipinos remember that Bayan Ko was originally written in Spanish. Long before it became an anthem to the EDSA Revolution and covered by folk singer Freddie Aguilar, it is a song that has spanned generations, imperial colonists, and even internal revolutions.
The History of Nuestra Patria that blossomed into Bayan Ko
Nuestra Patria was a poem penned by Jose Alejandrino in 1898. It was included as part of a zarzuela play entitled Walang Sugat (No Wound) depicting opposition against the American occupation and as resentment against the Spanish colonialism who ruled the Philippine Islands for 300 years. The play was written by Severino Reyes, who would eventually become known by his nom de plume Lola Basyang. Severino Reyes is also the founder of the Philippine Tagalog publication, Liwayway. Reyes, acknowledged through Philippine history as the Father of the Tagalog zarzuela, was imprisoned by the Americans due to the subversive nature of Walang Sugat.
Jose Alejandrino was a writer for La Solidaridad – the publication founded by exiled liberal Filipinos in Spain who aligned themselves with the Propaganda Movement. Their objective was to promote awareness to the plight of colonial Philippines, to seek equality for Filipinos within the Spanish administration of the country, and ultimately pave the way towards gaining independence. Alejandrino was also a dear friend of Jose Rizal who helped edit and distribute manuscripts of his novel El Filibusterismo in Berlin. He is likewise a close friend of Gen. Antonio Luna. Both men were planning to build a defensive line stretching from Novaliches to Caloocan to detain the Americans wanting to capture the railway system. However, the project was completely abandoned due to the assassination of Luna. Jose Alejandrino also became an appointed Philippine Senator in 1925.
Only in 1928 was Nuestra Patria translated into the national language. It was reworded in Tagalog by Jose Corazon de Jesus (also known as Huseng Batute) while the poetry was set to music by Constancio De Guzman.
Ruben Tagalog, founding member of the Mabuhay Singers, and a premier Kundiman performer was the first to record Bayan Ko in the late 1940’s under the Villar Recording Company. The record made use of Lucio De San Pedro‘s original arrangement. The same arrangement was performed by Ruben Tagalog at the funeral of Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay in 1957.
Listen to Ruben Tagalog in the first recording of Bayan Ko in the late 1940’s. The track was eventually included in the album Kalayaan: Kayamanan ng Bayan released in 1998 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Philippine Independence.
Play Ruben Tagalog – Bayan Ko: 1940’s
The Martial Law Years (1972 – 1981) and Beyond
In 1972, an executive order entitled: Letter of Instruction No. 1 was executed by the Marcos administration right after the imposition of Martial Law (Proclamation 1801). It mandated the full military control of all mass media in the Philippines, including shutting down of publications, radio stations and broadcast companies. The Department of Public Information, to further support efforts of Martial Law, subsequently banned and prohibited materials that promoted sedition, lawlessness, violence or anything that may “undermine the stability of government and the State.”
It is in the midst of this environment that Bayan Ko re-emerged. Freddie Aguilar‘s version, released in 1978, included an instrumental coda of another Filipino national song Pilipinas Kong Mahal. During this time, public performances of the song were widely banned. Despite Martial Law being lifted in 1981, Ferdinand Marcos continued to rule the Philippines until 1986. Aguilar publicly performed the song in 1983 during the funeral procession of the slain Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino.
Asin, a folk-rock band in the Philippines, also released a cover of Bayan Ko in 1984 and was included in their album Ang Mga Awitin Ng Bayan Kong Pilipinas. Their arrangement was interspersed with a solo from band member Lolita Carbon: Maynila, oh Maynila. Damhin mo ang pag-asa. Maynila, oh Maynila. At itanghal itong bansa. (My translation: Manila, oh Manila. Perceive your hope. Manila, Oh Manila. Extol your country.) Asin is known for using indigenous musical instruments when performing their songs.
The song has been an unofficial second national anthem for Filipinos the world over. It has become a national source of pride but it also relished a kind of melancholic sadness about the Philippines’ struggle for self-identity, determination and freedom.
In celebration of 119 years of independence, songs such as Bayan Ko – along with revolutionary songs such as Joselinang Baliwag, Ako ay Pilipino and Francisco Santiago’s Pilipinas Kong Mahal should be remembered not for its political sides – but for its nationalistic promise. The promise of true freedom and progress.
What is Independence, Pilipinas?
But what have we truly done to celebrate and sustain the independence that our forebears have fought for? Is it diligently speaking the national language (Tagalog) or our regional vernaculars? Is it saluting the flag? Is it blind obedience to past, present and future administrations? Is it strict allegiance to the rule of law despite its lack of humanity and lack of implementation context? Is it staying in the Philippines and not emigrating to foreign lands? Is it blog posts such as this one?
All these things are not enough, and seemingly superficial, to commemorate the price of our freedom for which our country has painfully bought with lives, blood, tears, and hardship. Remember Rizal wrote Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo in Spanish while he was in Germany. Nick Joaquin, a National Artist wrote predominantly in colonial English. Jovito Salonga resisted Marcos. He even went against Cory Aquino – rejecting the prolonged presence of Americans by voting against the Philippine-US Bases Treaty. Wenceslao Vinzons paved the way for the Philippine independence from American rule through the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1935 . He was then executed in 1942 after he refused to pledge allegiance to Japanese imperialists. Jose “Pepe” Diokno defied Marcos and again defied Cory Aquino for the 1987 Mendiola Massacre where 15 farmers were gunned down by the military after staging a peaceful rally. Diokno resigned from his government posts and died with a heavy heart. He was, first and last, a human rights advocate.
Despite the gains of our independence, it seems that many of us forget that it is our duty to ensure that this country continues to progress towards world-class standards. Why is it that we have yet to see a Filipino CEO dominate the world stage? Look at India compared to the Philippines. We are still encumbered by our own internal affairs but have not expanded towards a global discussion where we can truly showcase our collective brilliance. Are we satisfied to be just known as a country of caregivers? We are not even called expats yet we are OFWs – a term that has narrowly boxed us within the confines of household help or manual labor. We have bested India in the BPO Voice space but do not have a global Filipino outsourcing company – led by us, owned by us, managed by us – with a worldwide presence.
We strive for ethical government and clamor for the demise of corruption within all facets of our society. But everyday you see Filipinos cutting corners, celebrating killings as a justified way to deter crime without due process. We still maltreat women, the elderly, the disabled, even pets. We have a country where rape is still a constant occurrence but it doesn’t carry the same mettle of justice we afford drug users and drug lords. We are still wallowing in a Third World mentality where “okay lang yan” has become a polite but dangerous surrender to mediocrity. Maybe the late Miriam Defensor-Santiago said it best:
If we are so honest and for honest government, why is the Philippines often, if not all the time, ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world?
119 years. One hundred nineteen. We gained independence from the Spanish, the Americans, the Japanese, from dictators – but we have not gained independence from the bad habits we have formed ourselves. Have we forgotten what independence really means? My fervent hope is that we renew the call to self-awareness.
Remembering the battle for freedom is not something relegated to commemorating the past. It is, more importantly, a call to action – one that lays the increasing foundation for our future. Do your part everyday to show that love of country is not nationalism gone berserk, or patriotism that has gone fanatical. True independence is consistently making the Philippines a progressive and sustainable country by exercising strength of resolve, kindness, compassion, intellectual rigor, and generosity. A nation working towards having a dynamic and vibrant economy founded on benevolence, perseverance and cooperation. Itanghal mo ang Pilipinas!