Karlon N. Rama

Stage Five

MOST people by now know that a law has been passed declaring “Arnis” as the country’s national martial art and sport.

Republic Act (RA) 9850 was signed into law by the President last Dec. 11, 2009, after having hurdled Congress two months and close to two weeks before.

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It officially took effect early this month, laws being executory 15 days after publication in the Official Gazette or in two newspapers of general circulation.

But what does it all mean?

Well, for starters, school kids will state or write “Arnis” instead of “sepak taraw” in response to the test-question “What is the national sport?” beginning next school year; right after curriculum books get re-written.

This is in compliance with Sections 4 and 5 of the new law.

The Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) is also now compelled to change its official seal—one where a person is seen raising both hands before the national colors – to one that shows elements of “Arnis”, which will then be the first event played in the Palarong Pambansa.

This, too, is in compliance with RA 9850, section 3 in particular.

PROVISIONS. I obtained a copy of the two-page law that, in turn, is a consolidation of Senate Bill 3288 as authored by Sens. Lito Lapid, Migz Zubiri and Mar Roxas, and House Bill 6516 of Reps. Arthur Pingoy, Henry Teves, Narciso Santiago III, Nanette Castelo Daza, Cesar Jalosjos, Henry Dueñas and George Arnaiz.

And it being a synthesis of the work of no less than three senators and seven congressmen, I expected more, to be very honest.

But other than the contents in its six provisions—(1) declaration of policy, (2) definition of terms (3) Arnis as the national martial art and sport, (4) getting the Department of Education and the PSC to draft implementing rules, (5) repealing clause and (6) effectivity—the law states nothing more.

No funds were set aside for the implementation of this new law and, as even the most cursory glance of RA 9850 can reveal, no extra care was taken in drafting it.

This is evident in the way the authors defined Arnis as synonymous with “Eskrima,” “Kali,” “Garrote” and other names in various regional languages, such as “Pananandata” in Tagalog; “Pagkalikali,” Ibanag; “Kabaraon” and “Kalirongan,” Pangasinan; “Kaliradman,” Bisaya; and “Didja,” Ilokano.”

There is also no mention as to how Arnis or Eskrima developed into what it is now, or its context in the history of the nation.

CLARITY. The art is definitely is known as “Arnis” in most parts of Luzon and “Eskrima” in Cebu and most parts of the Visayas, but the term “Kali” remains controversial, questioned and, therefore, a not a fully accepted term to refer to Filipino stick-fighting.

Those who back the existence of “Kali” depict it as the martial art of Lapu-Lapu and cite the existence of words like “pagkalikali” in Ibanag, “kalirongan” in Pangasinense and “kaliradman” in Bisaya as proof that Kali does exist.

I don’t know what the words actually mean in their respective dialects but kaliradman is definitely not Bisaya, pananandata merely means weaponry in Tagalog and garrote, as it is used in Bisaya, means the stick, not the art.

Also, I have yet to come across a research-based document linking “Kali,” “Eskrima” or “Arnis” to Lapu-Lapu.

At the very least, the law could have commissioned a scholastic study to clarify what “Kali” really is and how “Eskrima” really came to be. There are lots of speculations on the matter and researchers will hardly run out of things to pursue.

At any rate, we have to ask ourselves, what good is a national martial art and sport if we know so little about it, so much so that we fall victim to the illusion of our own grandeur?