EVERY time Manny Pacquiao gets in the ring for a boxing bout, many side stories come about. The topic could be Pacquiao’s entourage, his family, or the liaisons that he maintains.

But the one that usually gets comments other than the fight is the rendition of the Philippine National Anthem.

In his March 13 bout against Joshua Clottey, Pacquiao invited Arnel Pineda, lead singer of Journey, to sing “Lupang Hinirang” in front of more than 50,000 spectators in Jerry Jones’s new stadium in Texas. Millions more caught the high-pitched rock star on television, and the verdict on his performance was generally positive, except for the usual sour-grape that is the National Historical Institute (NHI).

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The vanguard of Republic Act 8491 has yet to give a vote of approval to any of the string of celebrity performers who have given their best treatment of Julian Felipe’s masterpiece.

In an interview with ABS-CBN, Pineda said: "I apologize for my dissatisfactory performance dun sa fight ni Pacquiao and Clottey sa Dallas, Texas, according to their standards. What can I do? I'm just doing my job...but then again, hindi ako sorry kasi artistic freedom ko yon. It doesn't make me less of a Filipino dahil sa nabago ang pagkakanta."

The NHI thumbed down not just the soaring singing of Pineda but also Martin Nievera’s power ballad spectacle and the pop approach of Ciara Sotto, Charice and Sarah Geronimo. The Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines specifies that the national anthem “shall be sung in accordance with the musical arrangement and composition of Julian Felipe.”

A commentary in Wikipedia says, “However, when (the law is) literally followed, this means that the national anthem should only be performed by a pianist or by a brass band, as these were the only versions that were produced by Julian Felipe.

Moreover, because the original version was composed in duple time (i.e. in a time signature of 2/4) as compared to the present quadruple time (4/4), it is uncertain if this will either slow down or even double the music's speed, making it difficult for singers to keep up with the music.”

RA 8491 intends to rein in artists who put their mark in their singing of “Lupang Hinirang” in public. There was a version recorded by various artists ala “We are the World,” but as far as I am concerned, one of the most original was the guitar interpretation by guitarist Benjie Rigor and which was used by Y101 in its sign-on/sign-off announcements in the 1990s.

Let us get real. If the national anthem is sung in accordance with Julian Felipe’s arrangement, I doubt if any our finest singers would want to perform it in a world stage. Just imagine Lea Salonga sing it in a marching beat that provides no space for emotions or her signature vocal style.

In the Pacquiao-Clottey bout, the first singer sang the Ghana national song and it was uninspiring and somewhat pitchy.

The “Star-Spangled Banner” had three skimpy-dressed Cowboys cheerleaders singing the song in harmony. Arnel, dressed in modern Barong Tagalog, did us proud with his emotionally charged interpretation.

Had Pineda performed the song like the Ghanian, he would have lost the fans who expected him to be the rocker-singer that he is of Journey. And had three Filipinas dressed like those Cowboys cheerleaders while singing the national anthem, they would have caused national outrage.

RA 8491 needs revision. While “Lupang Hinirang” should not be bastardized, the law must allow artistic freedom to singers, so long as they sing the national anthem in good taste, with honor and respect.

Truly, “Lupang Hinirang” is one of the most beautiful national anthems in the world, and our singers are among the best.