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Clarifying a misconception on the definition of “Filipino”

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How timely it surely is that, as we celebrate History Month, two individuals who are very passionate in the study of Filipino History introduced a new argument that the long-accepted historical definition of the term Filipino, i.e., Peninsular full-blooded Spaniards who were born in Filipinas, is dead wrong. In a Tagálog article written by Mr. Jon Royeca on his blog last August 14, he argues that the claim made by previous historians, particularly Renato Constantino, that the Insulares were the first Filipinos was wrong. He went on and cited Fr. Pedro Chirino’s monumental work Relación de las Islas Filipinas (1604) as his source:

Heto ang katotohanan… tinawag ng may-akda niyon na si Padre Pedro Chirino ang mga Tagalog, Bisaya, Ita, at iba pang katutubo ng Pilipinas na Filipino.

(Here’s the truth… the author, Father Pedro Chirino, called Tagálogs, Visayans, Aetas, and other natives of the Philippines as Filipino.)

Royeca then shared his blogpost on Philippine History, Culture, & Tradition, a popular Facebook group lined up with many well-known historians, anthropologists, and other like-minded social scientists dedicated to the discussion and exchange of ideas and new discoveries regarding that page’s theme.

A few days later, and on the same Facebook group, Royeca was seconded by Mr. Nonoy Regalado who shared the screenshot below:

Explaining the screenshot, Regalado wrote:

The 1822 Diccionario de la Lengua Castellana (by La Academia Española, Madrid) defined Filipino as follows: “El natural de las Islas Filipinas o lo perteneciente a ellas” (The native of Las Islas Filipinas or what pertains to them).

Regalado ended his opinion piece by declaring that all the other seasoned historians such as León Mª Guerrero and Ambeth Ocampo (including National Artist Nick Joaquín, of all people) were wrong in spreading the idea that the term “Filipino” traditionally referred only to Peninsulares.

Going back to Royeca, it is really bothersome when he concluded his blog in this manner:

…malinaw pa sa síkat ng araw na ang mga unang tao na tinawag na Filipino—o ang mga orihinal na Pilipino—ay ang mga katutubo mismo ng Pilipinas.

(…it is clear as the sun that the the first people who were called Filipinos —or the original Filipinos— were the indigenous themselves of Filipinas.)

To my observation, Royeca and Regalado did not tell us the complete definition of the term Filipino. Although they did share primary sources showing how the word Filipino was defined during the early years of our country’s vassalage under the Spanish monarchy, I wonder if they even bothered to ask themselves WHY the early Filipinos were called as such. I ask WHY because the name Filipino is NOT EVEN INDIGENOUS, meaning to say, the term does not come from any native language like that of the Tagálogs, the Visayans, the Aetas, etc.

To further emphasize this: the term Filipino is not a Tagálog word. The term Filipino is not a Visayan word. The term Filipino is certainly not an Aeta word. And so on and so forth. The name Filipino is Spanish, thus the impossibility of the notion that the demonym used for the indios (as the indigenous were generally referred to at that time) had some natural or indigenous etymological imprint whatsoever. Due to this, Royeca and Regalado must now categorically point out WHY Fr. Chirino called the natives as Filipinos. Certainly, there must be a reason why the good friar called them as such.

Another thing that bothers me is that both Royeca and Regalado averred that those seasoned historians they mentioned were mistaken in referring to the insulares or native-born Spaniards as Filipinos. I’m afraid that the one wrong in this particular aspect —and I mean them no disrespect— are Royeca and Regalado themselves… unless they can point to us an indigenous individual who wrote calling himself a Filipino, or even an indigenous group for that matter who referred to themselves as such, and has been doing so even before the Spaniards came and founded the Filipino state on 24 June 1571 together with the founding of Manila as its capital city.

In addition, Both Royeca and Regalado are also proven wrong when they implied, wittingly or unwittingly, that the insulares or Spaniards born in the islands were not called Filipinos at any time in our history. It should be remembered that Charles Derbyshire, a US writer and translator of José Rizal’s novels and poems, did write about it in 1912, years before Renato Constantino was even born. In the glossary to his 1912 English translation of the El Filibusterismo, Derbyshire clearly differentiated the indio and the Filipino:

Indian: The Spanish designation for the Christianized Malay of the Philippines was indio (Indian), a term used rather contemptuously, the name Filipino being generally applied in a restricted sense to the children of Spaniards born in the Islands. (emphasis mine)

And in two footnotes found in the same book, Derbyshire made it clear that:

The Spanish designation for the Christianized Malay of the Philippines was indio (Indian), a term used rather contemptuously, the name filipino being generally applied in a restricted sense to the children of Spaniards born in the Islands. (p. 14).

Natives of Spain; to distinguish them from the Filipinos, i.e., descendants of Spaniards born in the Philippines. See Glossary: “Indian.” (p. 23)

Yes, Derbyshire did not cite any source on why he defined the Filipino that way. Nevertheless, Royeca and Regalado still has to explain to us why this US translator of Rizal, who lived closer and thus was more familiar to the moods and traditions of Spanish-era Filipinas, gave such definition. And, to reiterate, while both of them successfully pointed out that Fr. Chirino called Tagálogs, Visayans, Aetas, etc. as Filipinos, can they also point out any indigenous individual who called himself a Filipino during the Spanish times? We can tell them confidently that nobody did so. There was, however, one insular or Spanish creole who referred to himself as such, and that was nationalist poet Luis Rodríguez Varela of Tondo, Manila. It is on record that he did call himself a Filipino —a first in Filipino History— and even declared it in the official gazette of Manila.

Let me then share to you the first two stanzas of one of Rodríguez Varela’s poem that was written in 1812:


Los primeros Filipinos, vasallos son de Felipe.
Pues filipinos lo somos los nacidos en Oriente
De padres peninsulares, conquistadores valientes
Que vinieron a estas islas desconocidas y vírgenes.

Y son también filipinos los de peninsular padre
Y madre oriental o india que en buen castellano parlen;
Educados en colegios de sacerdotes y madres
En el candor del Padre Nuestro y en los oficios y artes.

In the first stanza, Rodríguez Varela pointed out that the first Filipinos were vassals of King Felipe II, and that included full-blooded Spaniards who moved to Filipinas, many of whom died here (eg., Miguel López de Legazpi, Martín de Goití, Simón de Anda, Fr. Francisco Manuel Blanco, etc.). By vassals, we mean those who had accepted the king of Spain as their rightful sovereign (eg., Rajah Humabon and all the rest of the indios who were Christianized and accepted Spanish rule). In that aspect enters the definition of Fr. Chirino. But in the second stanza, the poet made it clear that even Spanish mestizos were Filipinos.

In view of the foregoing, the reason why Fr. Chirino called the natives as Filipinos is because they were members of the Filipino State organized together with Manila as its capital on 24 June 1571 to which all the pre-Filipino or indigenous or ethnic states incorporated themselves into. The moment those natives accepted Spanish authority, and the moment they accepted Christianity, i.e., Catholicism, as their new faith, they automatically became Filipinos.

And since etymology was mentioned earlier, let us also point out that the Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Portland House, 1989) has already correctly defined what a Filipino is:

Fil·i·pi·no (fil’əˈpē’nō), n., pl. -nos, adj. —n. 1. a native of the Philippines, esp. a member of a Christianized native tribe. —adj. 2. Philippine. [< Sp. derived from (las Islas) Filipinas Philippine (islands)]

Take note that those who created the said dictionary are no ordinary lexicographers. When one speaks of Webster, we speak of language authorities, expert etymologists who diligently study the origin of words in order to define things and concepts. No wonder Fr. Chirino defined the Filipino as such in his book.

The name Filipino, in summary, referred at first to the Spanish peninsulars serving King Felipe II in Filipinas. Their children, full-blooded Spaniards born in these islands, naturally inherited the classification. And by the 19th century, Spanish educational and political reforms such as the democratic constitution of Cádiz included the indigenous as well as the chinos cristianos as Filipinos, together with the insulares or criollos.

There is no question that Fr. Chirino referred to all natives as Filipinos. We have to laud Mr. Jon Royeca and Mr. Nonoy Regalado for their diligence in making us notice what seems to have been often overlooked. However, Fr. Chirino’s context in his definition of the term Filipino has to be understood clearly in order to avoid misconceptions. The friar merely “covered with a Filipino blanket” those indigenous who assimilated themselves into the Filipino cosmos. During those years of imperial glory, a resident of the islands of Filipinas should naturally be called a Filipino, but it is completely different from a Filipino who had joined or had allowed himself to be absorbed into the Filipino Identity.

August is History Month

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Proclamation No. 339, s. 2012






WHEREAS, History Week is observed from 15 to 21 September of every year by virtue of Proclamation No. 1304 (s. 1974);

WHEREAS, there is a need to transfer the observance of History Week from 15 to 21 September to the whole month of August and rename the occasion as “History Month” to emphasize the most significant turning points in Philippine history;

WHEREAS, major events in the nation’s history occurred in the month of August which concludes with National Heroes Day on 30 August; and

WHEREAS, a week of observance is not enough to undertake various activities given the richness and diversity of our nation’s history.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BENIGNO S. AQUINO, III, President of the Philippines, by virtue of the powers vested in me by law, do hereby declare the month of August of every year as “History Month.”

Proclamation No. 1304 (s. 1974) is hereby repealed.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the Republic of the Philippines to be affixed.

DONE, in the City of Manila, this 16th day of February, in the year of Our Lord, Two Thousand and Twelve.


By the President


Executive Secretary


Executive Secretary

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