National Museum chief 'reluctant' to replace Sampaguita as PH national flower

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 22 2020 06:08 PM | Updated as of Jul 23 2020 10:55 AM

Photo from official website of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts

MANILA (UPDATE) - A National Museum official on Wednesday expressed "reluctance" to suggestions that the Philippines should replace the Sampaguita as the country's national flower, saying that it is already a "cultural icon."

The Sampaguita was selected as the national flower "because of its ubiquity and its cultural value," National Museum Director Jeremy Barns told lawmakers as a Senate panel discussed if the Waling-waling - an orchid endemic in the Philippines - should be named as the country's symbolic flora.

"We are reluctant... to replace a cultural icon," Barns told the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.

"The basis for the proclamation [of the Sampaguita as the national flower] was its popularity, ornamental value, fragrance, and the role it plays in the legends and traditions of the Filipino people," he said.

The small white blossom was declared as the Philippines' national flower in 1934 as it symbolizes Filipinos' "purity, simplicity, humility and strength," according to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts' (NCCA) website.

The Sampaguita - usually sold in garlands - is often hung on Filipino drivers' rear-view mirrors as a natural car freshener, or around images of Catholic saints either in churches or in altars at home.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said that the Sampaguita may have to be unseated as the Philippines' national flower as it has "ties" to the Philippines' "colonial past" since it was declared as a national symbol during the American regime.

"It seems to me that Waling-waling is a heavier candidate because it is endemic and represents a lot of qualities of our people," said Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.

Congress earlier passed a bill naming Waling-waling as the country's second national flower, but it was vetoed by then President Benigno Aquino III, saying it may be confusing to have 2 official flowers.

Under the current Congress, a new bill seeking to name Waling-waling as the Philippines "National Orchid" was filed to prevent the measure from being vetoed again. 

The measure, authored by Davao City Rep. Vincent Garcia, was passed in the House of Representatives and transmitted to the Senate in December 2019. 

"There is no real obligation to just have one [national flower]," Barns said.

"The more the merrier," he said.

While Gatchalian is open to replacing the Sampaguita as the country's symbolic flora, a counterpart bill has yet to be filed in the Senate.

"More research" must be done to justify why the Waling-waling needs to be recognized as a national symbol, Gatchalian said.

"We don't want to pass a law just to circumvent another law. We pass a law because it truly represents us as a people," he said.

This is not the first time the Philippines changed its national symbols.

The country earlier changed its national sport from Sepak Takraw to Arnis, and its national bird from the Maya to the Philippine Eagle.