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When I was in grade school we used to be graded into two distinct categories during the grading periods. The grades on ones report card were divided into two parts, one part was for all the academic subjects and the other part was for Good Moral and Right Conduct otherwise known as GMRC. Studying in a public elementary school back in Pasay might be different back then than it is today (I can only assume that the standard of teaching has gone from bad to worse nowadays) but one of the few things that I clearly remember was the Flag Raising Ceremony every morning for the morning classes and the Flag Retreat Ceremony every afternoon for the afternoon classes. It was required for us to attend one of these ceremonies while we sang the National Anthem and recited the “Panatang Makabayan,” sometimes we also sang other very patriotic songs like “Ang Bayan Ko” especially in the afternoon before we all went home and call it a day. Non-attendance to these events were sometimes recorded by someone and if you were caught roaming around the school campus instead of attending these ceremonies, it would more or less affect your grade under the subject called “Love of Country” in the GMRC part of your report card. Back then, I didn’t have the slightest idea what “love of country” means, I just thought it was just one of the things that the teachers are grading you for, just like other school subjects such as Math or English for that matter. Standing while they’re playing the “Lupang Hinirang” and putting your right hand on the left part of your chest while you sing along was enough to call “love of country.” It was already enough to get you a good grade in that subject area. Looking back, I never really asked the true meaning of “love of country” because as a child, ones view of the world is somewhat limited. I never dared ask why is it so important and why is it even included in my report card from school. I never wondered why “love of country” falls under the category of GMRC. Is a person considered to have good morals and exercising right conduct if he respects the Philippine flag and the Philippine National Anthem?
Now that I’m much older, I can’t help but wonder if the “love of country” propaganda of my school during my elementary days has ever affected my sense of patriotism. Am I more respectful of the Philippines including its history and traditions? Am I more sensitive about Filipino culture including its flaws and imperfections? Come to think of it, standing up and putting my right hand on the left part of my chest whenever they play the “Lupang Hinirang” has become a routine thanks to years of practice during elementary school. Other than that, I can’t name anything that I’ve learned from the subject except some stuff that are no longer relevant like how to fold the Philippine Flag after a Flag Retreat Ceremony and how should it hang when it’s on the flag pole.
I never knew until later on that the term “love of country” is such a strong ideal. Our national heroes like Bonifacio and Rizal died because of their love of country. They were considered heroes because they’ve sacrificed their lives so we can have independence and be free from foreign powers. It’s probably right to include “love of country” in the GMRC aspect of elementary education. But it should be more than just requiring people to attend flag ceremonies and oblige them to stand up whenever they play the National Anthem. I know now that a better understanding of our history can help ignite our love for the Philippines. It was a good thing to initiate ‘love of country’ as part of the curriculum of the public elementary schools but it somehow lacked essence. Patriotism should transcend through symbols and traditions. While it should revolve around respecting the flag and being faithful to the constitution, a citizen should involve oneself in the development of the nation, the welfare of ones fellow citizens and to aspire for progress. In the midst of the call for change and the clamor for national unity, love of country means proactively doing ones share in nation building to make sure that the future generations of Filipinos, just like what Rizal and Bonifacio envisioned during their time, will have a better future.