The conduct or protocol that must be observed with respect to our flag has been laid down in the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines or RA 8491. There have been much misunderstanding with respect to how our flag, which is one of the most important symbols of our nation, should be displayed. As early as our elementary years we have been told to stand at attention, remove our hats, place our right hand over our chest, and join in the singing of our National Anthem whenever the flag is being hoisted. Our flag must be treated with respect and reverence since it symbolises our nation. A landmark case even went all the way to the Supreme Court on the question of saluting the flag. Members of a religious organisation refuse to salute the flag on the ground that they could not give honor and salute any object except God. The Court granted them the exception of being required to salute the flag on religious ground since to require them to do so would violate their right to exercise their religion or faith. There is another question though, which many of us usually ignore. Whether the flag may be draped over the coffin of a deceased government official or employee. RA 8491 provides the rules with regard to this subject.
Section 24 of the Flag and Heraldic Code provides: The flag may be used to cover the caskets of the honored dead of the military, veterans of previous wars, national artists, and of civilians who have rendered distinguished service to the nation, as maybe determined by the local government unit concerned. In such cases, the flag shall be placed such that the white triangle shall be at the head and the blue portion shall cover the right side of the caskets. The flag shall not be lowered to the grave or allowed to touch the ground, but shall be folded solemnly and handed over to the heirs of the deceased.
As may be gleaned from the law, if the deceased is a civilian, the flag may be draped over his or her coffin if he or she rendered “distinguished service to the nation”. This “distinguished service” will have to be determined by the local governments concerned. The local government must pass an ordinance to allow the draping of the flag over the coffin of any civilian. The next question or problem however is the definition of the phrase: “distinguished service to the nation”. Will election to a government office come under this definition? Or employment in government for many years also come under this definition? Indeed, there is no clear definition of this phrase and until someone comes up with one, it is best if Section 24 is adhered to in order to preserve the sacredness and reverence due our national flag. The unregulated draping of the flag on the coffin of deceased civilians must be given serious consideration in order to preserve the spirit of the law and the symbols it aims to protect.