By Daniel Llanto i FilAm Star Correspondent

The arrest of 34 movie-goers in Batangas for allegedly disrespecting the Philippine National Anthem has renewed interest and sparked debate in social media as to whether the police carried the law too far or misinterpreted Republic Act 8491 or the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines.

Chief Inspector Alfie Salang of Batangas announced in a radio interview that the arrests were made as part of their “Oplan Bandila” conducted to teach Filipinos in the South Tagalog region to respect the national flag and the anthem while inside“Bilang Pilipino, we should salute, we should respect our flag and our national anthem ‘pag ito po ay pinapatugtog,” Salang said.

He added that there were law enforcers in civilian clothing with surveillance cameras inside the movie house while those in uniform were stationed outside.

The “Oplan Bandila” operations are said to be conducted in all movie theaters in Region IV-A which is composed of the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon.

The basis for the arrest is Section 38 of the heraldic code, wherein every person in a “public gathering” is required to sing the Philippine National Anthem or the “Lupang Hinirang” every time it is played.

If convicted, violators of the law can either be fined from PHP 5,000 to PHP 20,000 or imprisonment for one year but only under the “discretion of the court.”

Cagayan de Oro city Rep. Maximo Rodriguez, Jr. authored a bill seeking to criminalize those who “do not accord the respect due the Philippine flag and the national anthem.” So far, however, the bill is still pending in the House of Representatives as House Bill No. 5224.

Part of section 38 of RA 8491 also seemed to have been misunderstood or left out when Batangas police arrested the 34 movie-goers in Batangas. The mall, along with the concessions inside it, is a private establishment. People have to pay, no matter how small, when you dine, watch a movie, and use the restroom at the establishment.

Malls or shopping centers are also not included in the definition of a public space in the law.

So, local authorities in Batangas were praised while those arrested were criticized.

However, others questioned if the officers did were over reaching.

According to RA 8491 or the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines, when the anthem is played at a public place, everyone should stand at attention. A person is also required to actually sing the anthem, with the singing to be done with “fervor.” No one is allowed to just mumble the lyrics.

For some strange reason, the police were actually inside the cinema and even managed to take a video of the movie-goers sitting down.

According to ABS-CBN, the 34 movie-goers never got the chance to watch the movie, as they were arrested immediately after the national anthem ended.

One of those arrested said that they weren’t aware the cops were inside the cinema and claimed that he thought the anthem was a commercial.

The arrested movie-goers will be charged with violating the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines.

If found guilty of violating the law, they could be fined not less than PHP 5,000 and not more than PHP 20,000, be imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.

The Philippine National Anthem should only be played and sang during the first and last screening of films, as stated in RA 8491.

But the arrests in Batangas occurred at 2 p.m. during the second screening of “The How’s of Us” in a mall in Lemery, Batangas.