At the 4th Baybayin Festival Rizal held at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City last November 22, Senator Loren Legarda announced that she filed Senate Bill No. 1899 which calls for the use of Baybayin in all official logos of government agencies, departments, and offices.
While her bill will impact only official government logos, the fact remains that the good senator is still campaigning for its eventual general usage. This became evident when, on the same event, she said:
Marahil ñgayón ay hindí na maunauaan ng caramihan ang cahalagahán ng Baybayin dahil sanáy na tayo sa sistema ng pagsusulát na ating nacagisnán. Ñgunit capág binalicáan nátin ang ating casaysayan, ang baybayin ang símbolo ng civilización ng mga sinaúnang Filipino, bago pa man táyo mapasailálim sa pamumuno ng mg̃a dayuhan. (Perhaps today, many no longer understand the importance of Baybayin because we are already accustomed to the current system of writing which we have been using. But when we look back at our history, Baybayin is the symbol of civilization of the first Filipinos, right before we were subjugated by foreign rule.)
This statement only implies her full support for Baybayin.
More than one Baybayin
Baybayin, as many of us all know, is an ancient pre-Filipino script that was used by major ethnolinguistic groups in the country such as the Tagálogs, Cebuanos, Ilocanos, etc. It has always been taught to us that the Baybayin (mistakenly referred to as Alíbata years ago) was the original Filipino system of writing. This is, of course, a false notion. For one: before the Spaniards arrived, our country was not yet created. Hence, there were still no Filipinos during that time (the first Filipinos were actually criollos or insulares; the term “Filipino” itself was coined by one). Second, and more importantly, there are several variations of Baybayin.
As can be seen from the chart above, there are more than one version of Baybayin. The Baybayin of the Visayans is not the one used by the Bicolanos, the Baybayin of the Ilocanos could neither be read by the Pampangueños, and so on and so forth. Even Tagálog has five versions! So how can Senator Loren Legarda incorporate the usage of this ancient script when it varies according to linguistic region? Will she do an eeny, meeny, miny, moe? Or will she arbitrarily use Tagalog since it is the basis of the national language? But again, WHICH Tagalog Baybayin? And if she chooses a different script other than Tagalog, that will make the other ethnolinguistic groups feel left out as well.
At this early stage, we can already feel the ineffectiveness of Baybayin. It will only espouse more division than unity other than confusion to an already uneducated Filipino studentry.
From Baybayin to Abecedario
We do, however, understand the nationalist stance of Senator Legarda. It is the same sentiment shared by many other nationalists, particularly those from UP Dilimán. But it is a kind of nationalism that is twisted and not rooted to historical reason and analysis. Had the good senator and those supporting her bill looked beyond their textbook knowledge as basis for this ancient script’s usage, they would have realized its inefficacy (eventually realizing their misplaced nationalism). Baybayin was actually scrapped not because the Spanish friars thought of it as the “workings of demons”, as we are wont to hear from hispanophobic historians, but for the simple fact that it was not an effective medium in disseminating novel thoughts and ideas to a people who were about to be taught the rudiments of contemporary literacy — book culture.
We can point out to Tomás Pinpín, our country’s first typographer and printer, as the culprit behind the disuse of the Baybayin. But he did it for practical reasons. When Pinpín was commissioned by the Dominicas to print the first Christian booklets for each native language, different typographical sets of Baybayin had to be manufactured. It was a very tedious process considering the fact that during his time (late 16th to early 17th century), wooden letter chips which were used to form each word that had to be printed were then handmade. It dawned upon Pinpín that it would take a lot of time, possibly years, to complete so many sets of Baybayin even before he could begin printing a book.
But being of Chinese origin, Pinpín was aware that mainland China also had many languages. The difference, however, is that the Chinese always had one common system of writing, something which our country didn’t have at that time. And so this gave our first typographer and printer a marvelous idea: why not standardize the system of writing of all indigenous groups in Filipinas? Instead of using the various kinds of Baybayin, Pinpín (with the blessings of the Dominicans) decided to adopt for all the native languages the writing system that the Spaniards have been using — the Roman alphabet.
Not only did this move save Pinpín tons of time and labor in printing the first set of books meant for religious missions. It also gave the several groups in the archipelago, from Aparrí all the way to Joló, a sense of unity, of oneness, and of identity. And that is also the reason why up to now, we are still using the same system of writing.
Hardened nationalists who despise the present use of the Roman alphabet and yearn for the return of the Baybayin should take note that Pinpín’s decision to discard the latter not only gave him and future printers the ease of work. Inadvertently, it also paved the way for the introduction of two new vowel sounds: the “E” and the “O” (before the Spaniards arrived, the natives only had three vowel sounds: “A”, “I”, and “U”). It also assisted the natives into learning not only the Spanish language but also other European languages using the same alphabet. In the long run, the Filipinos developed their own alphabet, different but somewhat similar. It was called the Abecedario Filipino.
Bring back the Abecedario Filipino
If Senator Legarda’s intention of bringing back the Baybayin from obscurity is to instill nationalist pride among Filipinos, then she’s barking up the wrong tree. If one were to analyze it, Baybayin will only foster regionalism rather than nationalism. This alarming observation is already evident in local Pampangueño historian Michael Raymon Pañgilinan‘s patronization of the Culitan, the Capampañgan term for their version of Baybayin. Pañgilinan and his followers’ preoccupation for the Culitan did not instill in them love of country but love of region. As a result, Pañgilinan himself disdains of being called a Filipino and is obsessed with talks of a fairy tale “Kingdom of Luzón“.
What Senator Legarda and other leaders in government tasked to handle cultural and heritage issues is to bring back instead not the Baybayin but the 32-letter Abecedario Filipino, the true Filipino orthography which developed from Pinpín’s ingenious move to use the Roman alphabet instead of the awkward Baybayin.
Having 32 letters (five letters more than its Spanish counterpart), the Abecedario Filipino is clearly one of the longest alphabets in the world. Most of its consonants are read with the Batangueño inflection “eh”:
A (ah), B (be), C (se), CH (che), D (de), E (eh), F (efe), G (he), H (ache), I (ih), J (hota), K (ka), L (ele), LL (elye), M (eme), N (ene), NG (nang), Ñ (enye), ÑG (ñga), O (oh), P (pe), Q (ku), R (ere), RR (erre), S (ese), T (te), U (uh), V (ube), W (doble u), X (ekis), Y (ih griega), Z (seta)
As mentioned earlier, the introduction of the Roman alphabet by Pinpín which paved the way for the development of the Abecedario Filipino augmented the phonemes of the local languages with the addition of new vowel (“A”, “I”, and “U”) and consonant (“F”, “Ñ”) sounds. The Abecedario Filipino is also the same alphabet utilized by Francisco Balagtás when he wrote his now classic Florante at Laura. It was the same alphabet used by our forefathers, and that included Rizal and his contemporaries, in writing literature and in corresponding among themselves. Whether a Filipino back then spoke a different native language, his usage of the Abecedario Filipino is one proof that he has assimilated himself into the Filipino cosmos,
The Abecedario Filipino is thus the orthography that must be put back to full usage because of its unifying characteristics. Other than that, the Abecedario Filipino will prove once and for all that Tagalog, Cebuano, Capampañgan, Bicolano, etc. are not inferior to English.
This obsession for a mythical glorious past should stop because it is retrogressive and very un-Filipino. But if Senator Legarda still insists of having her worthless bill passed into law, then she might as well push for all Filipinos to go back to writing on banana leaves and tree barks.
The Baybayin NEVER united our archipelago. It never did. And it never will. On the other hand, the Abecedario Filipino has already proven its effectiveness in strengthening our collective identity as Filipinos.