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Which constitution killed the Spanish language in the Philippines? A clarification

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Many Hispanists blame the late president Cory Aquino for removing the Spanish language as an official Filipino language. But many individuals interested in this subject might start to wonder: why blame Tita Cory for the removal of the Spanish language when it seemed to be no longer official as far back as 1973 under Ferdinand Marcos?

This blogpost attempts to clarify the whole issue once and for all. It also provides some background of the Spanish language vis-à-vis the evolution of the Philippine Constitution.

The Spanish language during the days of empire

Since 24 June 1571 (the founding date of the Philippines), Spanish has been the official language of government and court offices. There was no written constitution back then since the Philippines was an overseas territory under the Spanish crown. But the Leyes de Indias (Laws of the Indies) oversaw the social, political, and economic life of Filipinos. Also, many educational institutions such as the Ateneo Municipal de Manila and the Universidad de Santo Tomás taught its students using Spanish as a medium of instruction. And all church documents were written in that same language. All this for obvious reasons.

It may be true that the Spanish language was not the mother tongue of the majority of natives who lived during the Spanish times. But that does not mean that it was not spoken on a national level.

When Tagalog rebels revolted against Spain and proclaimed the independence of the country on 12 June 1898, it should be noted that they still chose Spanish as the official language of the First Philippine Republic (1899-1901) under President Emilio Aguinaldo. And this was made official when the Constitución Política de Malolos (Malolos Constitution) was promulgated on 22 January 1899.

Filipino Army officers outside Iglesia de Barasoaín, Malolos, Bulacán (01/23/1899).

Article 93 of the said constitution states:

El empleo de las lenguas usadas en Filipinas es potestativo. No puede regularse sino por la ley, y solamente para los actos de la autoridad pública y los asuntos judiciales. Para estos actos se usará por ahora la lengua castellana.

(Translation: The use of languages spoken in the Philippines shall be optional. Their use cannot be regulated except by virtue of law, and solely for acts of public authority and in the courts. For these acts the Spanish language may be used in the meantime.

When the US took over, the republic was naturally dissolved, and there was no mention again of the ill-fated Malolos Constitution. As such, the Philippines went under the jurisdiction of the Federal government of the United States. Subsequently, the English language was enforced in the country.

But the Philippine Independence Act (more commonly known as the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934) prepared the Philippines for self-government after a period of ten years. And it authorized the drafting of a new constitution for the Philippines as an independent country. This constitution came to be known as the 1935 Commonwealth Constitution.

Commonwealth

It was not a smooth road for the framers of the 1935 Constitution, particularly on deciding which official language should prevail. Heated debates ensued among the 1934 Philippine Constitutional Convention delegates who were involved in the language issue. Some were for Spanish. Some were for the native languages. Yet some were even for English!

Among the native Filipino languages, Tagalog was the most controversially discussed and debated idiom. But that’s another story.

In the end, the following compromise amendment presented by 24-year-old delegate Wenceslao Vinzons was approved:

National Assembly shall take steps toward the development and adoption of a common national language based on all existing native dialects.

Until otherwise provided by law, English and Spanish shall be the official languages.

However, the abovementioned amendment was written in a slightly different way in the constitution’s final draft. That version appeared in the book The Framing of the Constitution of the Philippines (1934-1935) authored by delegate Miguel Cuaderno (published in 1937 by the Philippine Education Company, Inc., Manila). It says:

The National Assembly shall take steps toward the development and adoption of a common national language based on one of the existing native languages. Until otherwise provided by law, English and Spanish shall continue as official languages.

If we may swerve for a moment. Note that the contention was still focused on which native language should be prioritized (although English and Spanish still dominated the constitution). Notice also that the Vinzons amendment contained the phrase “based on all existing native dialects”. But in the draft which appears in Cuaderno’s book, it was replaced by “based on one of the existing native languages”. This goes to show that a language problem was already beginning to surface (but again, it’s for another story).

Sadly, the more preferrable Cuaderno version was further revised by the constitutional convention’s committee on style. And that revision was approved and consequently included in the constitution (ratified on 14 May 1935) as Section 3 of Article XIV (General Provisions):

The Congress shall take steps toward the development and adoption of a common national language based on one of the existing native languages. Until otherwise provided by law, English and Spanish shall continue as official languages.

Section 10 of the same article further states that:

This Constitution shall be officially promulgated in English and Spanish, but in case of conflict the English text shall prevail.

Two years later, on 31 December 1937, Tagalog was chosen as the country’s national language. This, however, did not affect the Spanish language’s status as one of the country’s official languages. But the number of Spanish-speakers (many of whom were murdered during the Philippine-American War) began to decline. The statistics grew worse during World War II, particularly during the Liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese.

Japan preferred Tagalog

It is interesting to note that during the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines (1942-1945), the Spanish as well as the English languages both lost their status as co-official languages when the Japanese invaders established on 14 October 1943 what is now known as the Second Philippine Republic. It, of course, had an accompanying constitution. Article IX (General Provisions), Section 2 of the 1943 Constitution states:

The government shall take steps toward the development and propagation of Tagalog as the national language.

Oddly, the Japanese opted for Tagalog instead of their own language to be included in the constitution. But this twist of linguistic fate was short-lived: the US reclaimed the Philippines two years after that Japanese-sponsored constitution was ratified.

This bloody reclamation was almost like a death-blow to the number of Spanish-speaking Filipinos. It also totally wiped out the Chavacano-speaking community of Ermita, Manila (Ermiteños).

The years that followed the war were years of poverty and misery. The number of Spanish-speaking Filipinos dwindled miserably as well. The few who survived migrated either to Spain, the US, or Australia and beyond. Those who opted to stay behind stayed because they could not just abandon nor sell their properties and businesses (this also explains why almost a majority of Spanish-speaking Filipinos remaining today are from the landed gentry and the elite).

Martial Law

Fast forward to 1970. The 1935 Constitution continued all the way to the Marcos years. On Marcos’ fifth year in the presidency, a constitutional convention was called to change the then existing law of the land. Special elections for the constitutional convention delegates were held on 10 November 1970.

The actual convention lasted around two years. Renowned linguist and scholar Señor Guillermo Gómez was chosen as the Language Committee Secretary of the 1971 Philippine Constitutional Convention. Under his helm, the same heated debates on language that happened in 1934 happened again. Once more, the Tagalog-language issue was raised. This resulted in Article XV (General Provisions), Section 3, sub-sections 1:

(1)This Constitution shall be officially promulgated in English and in Pilipino, and translated into each dialect spoken by over fifty thousand people, and into Spanish and Arabic. In case of conflict, the English text shall prevail.

In the foregoing section, the term language was erroneously called dialect. Tagalog was masked under the name Pilipino. And worse, the Spanish language was removed.

To further complicate the status of Spanish, sub-sections (2) and (3) of the same section further states:

(2) The National Assembly shall take steps towards the development and formal adoption of a common national language to be known as Filipino.

(3) Until otherwise provided by law, English and Pilipino shall be the official languages.

Knowing fully well that the number of native Filipino Spanish-speakers have dwindled throughout the decades, Señor Gómez, an ardent hispanista, thought it wisely to fight for Tagalog to become the country’s national/official language. As a polyglot and linguist, he knew fully well that the key to bring the Spanish language back to the mainstream was by propagating Tagalog, particularly the alphabet (including correct orthography) that represents it: the 32-letter Abecedario, the same alphabet used by Tagalogs and other Christianized natives during the Spanish and early American periods. According to him, all Filipino languages (i.e., the languages of Christianized lowlanders) are Chavacanos, but in varying degrees. Excluding the Chavacano languages of Ciudad de Cavite, Ternate, and Zamboanga, Tagalog is closest to Spanish, even closer to Hiligaynón, one of his native languages. And that is one major reason why Tagalog today is “Pilipinized” (again, another long story).

The 1973 Philippine Constitution was ratified on 17th of January, four months after the declaration of Martial Law.

Señor Gómez, however, had no power over the “renaming” of Tagalog as Pilipino, nor was he able to reinstate Spanish as a co-official language in the said constitution.

1973 Constitution absolved

Fast forward once more, this time to 25 February 1986, when Marcos was ousted due to popular outcry. His nemesis’ widow, Tita Cory, took over. During the transition period, a military-assisted constitution called the Freedom Constitution temporarily replaced the 1973 Constitution. The Freedom Constitution had no provisions at all about an official language due to its transitory nature. However, its successor, the 1987 Constitution —the one which we still use today—, states the following in Sections 7 and 8 of Article XIV (Language):

Section 7. For purposes of communication and instruction, the official languages of the Philippines are Filipino and, until otherwise provided by law, English.

The regional languages are the auxiliary official languages in the regions and shall serve as auxiliary media of instruction therein.

Spanish and Arabic shall be promoted on a voluntary and optional basis.

Section 8. This Constitution shall be promulgated in Filipino and English and shall be translated into major regional languages, Arabic, and Spanish.

The Spanish language made a comeback in the 1987 Constitution (proclaimed on 11 February 1987), but not as an official language. The clauses specified above gave credence to the fact that the drafters of the 1987 Constitution no longer gave Spanish the same importance that it had before. Héctor S. de León, in his widely used Textbook on the Philippine Constitution (Rex Book Store), summed it up this way:

The use of the Spanish language as an official language is no longer justified in view of the lessening influence of the language in the Philippines. It is not used by most Filipinos, English and Pilipino being preferred by them…

…Spanish and Arabic are languages of world importance spoken by many Filipinos. However, since they are not official languages, the government is not bound to promote their use They shall be promoted on a voluntary and optional basis.

Now, let us go back to the original question: why point an accusing finger at Tita Cory for the removal of the Spanish language when it is now apparent that its officiality became null and void since the 1973 Marcos Constitution?

Not exactly.

Many Filipinos do not know that on 15 March 1973, two months after the 1973 Constitution was ratified, Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 155 recognizing Spanish (alongside the English language) as one of the Philippines’ official languages! Below is the full text:

PRESIDENTIAL DECREE No. 155 March 15, 1973

RECOGNIZING THE SPANISH LANGUAGE AS AN OFFICIAL LANGUAGE IN THE PHILIPPINES FOR CERTAIN PURPOSES

WHEREAS, Section 3 of Article XIV of the 1935 Constitution of the Philippines provided that “until otherwise provided by law, English and Spanish shall continue as official languages;”

WHEREAS, Section 3(3) of Article XV of the new Constitution provides that “until otherwise provided by law, English and Pilipino shall be the official languages;

WHEREAS, a sizeable part of documents in government files are written in the Spanish language and have not been officially translated into either English or Pilipino language;

WHEREAS, it is advisable to maintain the legal admissibility of important documents in government files which are written in the Spanish language pending their translation into either English or Pilipino language; and

WHEREAS, Spanish language is a part of our priceless national heritage, which we share with the great Hispanic community of nations.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, FERDINAND E. MARCOS, President of the Philippines, by virtue of the powers in me vested by the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief of all the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and pursuant to Proclamation No. 1081 dated September 21, 1972, and General Order No. 1 dated September 22, 1972, do hereby order and decree that the Spanish language shall continue to be recognized as an official language in the Philippines while important documents in government files are in the Spanish language and not translated into either English or Pilipino language.

This Decree shall form part of the law of the land and shall take effect immediately.

Done in the City of Manila, this 15th day of March, in the year of Our Lord, nineteen hundred and seventy-three.

The presidential decree can speak for itself. No more explanation is needed as to why the 1973 Constitution should be absolved from “deleting” the Spanish language from our patrimony.

Please be advised that this blogpost is not meant to accuse nor to lay blame on anyone regarding the disappearance of the Spanish language from our country’s written statutes. This is simply meant to avoid any misunderstanding that might occur in future researches regarding the said topic. Marcos’ presidential decree is not widely known today, and it is high time that this should be explained online on the light of an apparent resurgence of interest in reviving the Spanish language. Several Business Process Outsourcing companies, regarded today as a “sunshine industry”, are in dire need of Spanish-speakers. President Noynoy Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal de Arroyo worked with former Secretary of Education Jesli Lapus, the Spanish Embassy in Manila, and the Instituto Cervantes de Manila to bring back the teaching of Spanish in Philippine schools.

And thanks to the internet, the clamor for the return of the Spanish language has found a new medium. Various online forums are now discussing the importance of Spanish in our history, culture, and identity as a nation. Several websites and blogs promoting the Spanish language in the Philippines are starting to appear. Even Facebook does not want to be left behind.

Indeed, now is the time to treat our past in a more positive light and a keener eye, and to grasp the real score —the unbreakable link— between the Spanish language and the Filipino national identity.

Will current President Noynoy Aquino, whose grandparents on either side of the family spoke Spanish, do the correct thing and reciprocate Marcos’ intelligent move in saving our hispanic heritage?

*******

This now-forgotten Marcos decree (presidential decree no. 155) was taken from Chan Robles Virtual Law Library.

A Gibberish Language Month

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MULA BALER HANGGANG BUONG PILIPINAS

MULA BALER HANGGANG BUONG PILIPINAS

August is the Philippines’ Buwan ng Wika (Language Month, formerly known as the week-long Linggo ng Wika), but which among the more than 170 languages should we really consider as our mother tongue? What is really our wikang pambansâ?

These questions have been wading like a lost fish within the convoluted sea of thoughts of concerned linguists and scholars for almost a century now. But regardless of legal pronouncements and declarations, the matter over our national language hasn’t been officially resolved yet. And with the series of unfortunate events that have been pounding us like ferocious typhoons all these years, it might even be impossible for our generation to witness our country to finally obtain an undisputed national language.

The controversial 1987 Constitution unclearly states that “the national language of the Philippines is Filipino.” However, in a historical sense, the term Filipino pertains not to a language but to a group of Spaniards who were born in the Philippines at the height of Spanish rule (they were introduced to us in our elementary school days as insulares). In a nationalistic sense, and as politically defined, the term Filipino means the native inhabitants of the Republic of the Philippines. Thus, this vague statement that Filipino is the national language is just that — simply vague. And the authors of this confusing constitutional passage chose Tagalog as the basis of our national language. Anyway, from Aparri to Joló, it’s unthinkable nowadays to encounter someone who doesn’t know how to speak or understand it. Mass media, which utilizes Tagalog exclusively, is the main disseminator of the language. Thus, is it safe to assume that the constitution is right after all, that we should all concede to Tagalog as the nation’s lingua franca?

But that’s beside the point of all this.

A la tagale

The Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) recently declared that this month’s theme is Mula Baler Hanggang Buong Pilipinas, implying that Tagalog is indeed the national language, with Baler being the birthplace of the Father of the National Language, Manuel L. Quezon (who ironically thought, wrote, and spoke more in Spanish).

But just a few years ago, the KWF celebrated this theme — Ang Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa ay Buwan ng mga Wika sa Pilipinas — the language month is the month of all Philippine languages. With this theme, it seems that the Komisyon is putting more confusion into the minds of Filipinos, especially the studentry. Are they now telling us that all Philippine languages are considered and accepted as the national language in lieu of Tagalog? If they were just speaking metaphorically, then the simple, impoverished, and half-starved Pinoy pitifully missed their point. Fortunately, the Filipino studentry do not seem to care about the Komisyon’s confusing theme; they’re more concerned over Lady Gaga, The Pussycat Dolls, Korean soaps, personalized shirts, fruit-flavored condoms, and the like.

But at the rate this language crisis is going, I think I’d rather have the Filipino youth’s eyes be ensconced in Scarlett Johansson’s cleavage and Hugh Jackman’s six-pack.

Pinoy tower of babel

The Philippines is an archipelagic Babylon, a maelström of tongues. This issue over our country’s national language has been an ageless controversy that has not been given much limelight in national issues and public fora. Anyway, the Philippines has so much laundry to do, so why should it bother with a “harmless” little critter in the form of a pesky language turmoil?

For one: language is a national and social phenomenon. It’s more important than one’s daily Kapamilya or Kapuso schedule.

A long time ago, a mighty language from the West (ever since the advent of our neocolonized patrimony, Spanish has been maligned and taught to us by a neocolonial education as nothing but a foreign atrocity) united the more than a hundred tongues (and united the more than a thousand islands, as well as hundreds of tribal kingdoms) in the Philippines which resulted in the country’s short-lived independence in 1898 (sorrowfully, since the American invasion, we were never able to look back to that glorious and legendary self-governance with impartiality and kindness). But this 1898 event served as the impetus for a very few well-intentioned politicians of the Commonwealth of the Philippines to continuously disturb the US colonizers for our country’s complete freedom (which up to now seems to be futile).

During the Commonwealth wherein Manuel L. Quezon was then president, the creation of a national language was naturally inevitable. On 31 December 1937, Tagalog was chosen as the country’s national language (this became the basis as to why the current constitution still uses Tagalog for our national language), eventually earning Quezon the title Ama ng Wikang Pambansa (Father of the National Language).

This is when the controversy actually began. And it worsened when, in 1959, Tagalog was renamed Pilipino. But it reverted back to Tagalog under the 1973 Constitution.

It’s not only the terminology that’s in question here but the orthography of the language as well. It is well known that Tagalog, including all the rest of the native languages, used an ancient alphabet (from a vague Arab influence) called alíbata (some say that it should be called baybayin). Propagandistas and literate indios used this alphabet, as well.

During the US occupation, the Americans were able to murder, bit by bit, almost all traces of our Spanish heritage. One of the victims was the abecedario, already part and parcel of the Filipino soul for more than three decades. The change of alphabet took ominous form when, in 1937, the Commonwealth created the National Language Institute which made a study and survey on which national language should be used. Tagalog won amidst the chagrin of other natives who spoke other languages. But US desecration of our country’s language never stopped there.

The Santos Debacle

On 18 June 1938, the Commonwealth’s National Assembly created the Institute of National Language (not to be confused with the National Language Institute). This new language body was tasked to prepare a dictionary and grammar. Thus was born the erroneous, faulty, and clumsy Balarila ng Wikang Pambansa authored by none other than the great Filipino lexicon and writer, Lope K. Santos. He was the J.R.R. Tolkien of his time in terms of inventing words. But Santos’ work was of no great help in the development of a national language. It only made things worse. It virtually murdered the Filipino alphabet, killing many Filipino words in the process.

And I suspect that he knew that.

Santos was a journalist who was entangled in the celebrated libel case of the newspaper he was working with during the early 1900s. On 30 October 1908, his newspaper El Renacimiento (The Rebirth) published an editorial entitled Aves de Rapiña (Birds of Prey). It was a “blind item” meant for then Secretary of the Interior Dean C. Worcester, but the American diplomat immediately felt that he was the one being alluded to by the attacks mentioned in the editorial, e.g., that he was economically exploiting certain parts of the Philippines (particularly Benguet and Mindanáo). He filed a lawsuit against the newspaper’s owner and men, which included Santos. The trial lasted for several years. Worcester won the case.

During the course of the trial, it wasn’t impossible that Santos may have been under duress from a Worcester payback…

The composition of the Balarila must have began during those years. Most probably, during the younger years of the 1900s, the US government in the Philippines, under the auspices of Worcester, have been plotting all along on how to destroy the foundation of our language: the abecedario. It should be noted that even during the final years of Spanish rule, Worcester was already in the Philippines. So I won’t be surprised if, in a future historical discovery, he was acting as a spy for the US. Therefore, plotting out the destruction of our language must have begun several years before the Commonwealth.

Now, many scholars say that the decision to choose Tagalog over other languages in the country is that the said language is the language of the nation’s capital, Manila. Furthermore, alongside Spanish, it was the language of the 1896 Revolution and the violent Katipunan. And again, the center of action during the Revolution was in Tagalog Manila. Another reason is that Tagalog has a vast treasure trove of literary works. Tagalog has published more books compared to other native languages. But for all we know, another factor could be president Quezon’s Tagalog origin.

But if we are to look closely into this matter, then one would find out that something fishy is going on.

It’s not easy to convince the Filipinos to accept Tagalog as the national language since we have several languages to consider. So the plotters have found a very reliable weapon in the persona of National Hero José Rizal.

A Dubious Poem

Pepe Rizal was already a legend, an icon even before the Commonwealth. And what better way to convince the Filipinos to accept Tagalog as the mother tongue by using a poem that was allegedly authored by him: the dubious Sa Aking Mga Kabata (To My Fellow Youth).

Take into account this passage from the said poem (with an English translation).

Ang hindi magmahal sa kanyang salita
Mahigit sa hayop at malansang isda,
Kaya ang marapat pagyamaning kusa
Na tulad sa inang tunay na nagpala.

One who doesn’t love his native tongue,
Is worse than putrid fish and beast;
And like a truly precious thing
It therefore deserves to be cherished.

Nobody at that time would had ever wanted to go against the ghost of Rizal. Unlike now (what with iconoclast historians such as Ambeth Ocampo and Pío Andrade, Jr. challenging already established historical knowledge), he was almost considered a god. Everything he said in his writings can transform doubtful things into golden truth. So, why not follow his advice? Since he “postulated” that you’re but a stinkin’ blowfish if you don’t love your language, which is the language he “used” in writing Sa Aking Mga Kabata, why not believe in “his wisdom”?

But this is all hogwash. Our “educators” are very proud to say that Pepe Rizal wrote this poem at a very young age of eight.

I say, they’re high on crack.

JOSÉ RIZAL NEVER WROTE SA AKING MGA KABATA! It’s a brazen lie! Even popular historian Ambeth Ocampo himself doesn’t believe that this was written by Rizal.

To prove my point, let us again take a closer look, this time by examining two curious lines from this doubtful verse:

THE Tagalog language’s akin to Latin,
To English, Spanish, angelical tongue

The Tagalog original goes this way:

Ang wikang Tagalog tulad din sa Latin
Sa Ingles, Kastila at salitang anghel

No Meralco, no problemo.

No Meralco, no problemo.

Boys and girls, if you still remember your school days, this poem was allegedly written by Rizal when he was only eight years old. However, at that age, he wasn’t studying Latin yet (his Latin lessons began in 1872 at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila; he was then 11) Although it is known that his Spanish is superb compared to his Tagalog, he wasn’t that confident with the Castilian language during his younger years (remember the “un poco, señor” incident he had with maestro Justiniano Cruz during his early studies in Biñán, Laguna?) since he was just a freakin’ kid. And most of all, English was almost unknown in the country (or at least in Calambâ where he grew up) at that time. When he was eight years old, Rizal never knew the difference between the English language from the Spanish word puta. He never engaged in Tagalog literature. He did attempt to write a novel in Tagalog during his later years (Makamisa), but he wasn’t even able to finish it due to his poor mastery of the language. When Rizal wrote personal letters to his family members and friends, he wrote mostly in Spanish, not Tagalog. His diary was written in the language of Miguel de Cervantes. And most of all, AN EIGHT YEAR OLD DOESN’T HAVE THE INTELLECTUAL CAPACITY YET TO MAKE A CRITICAL ANALYSIS ON COMPARING VARIOUS LANGUAGES.

In addition, the Rizal home was a Spanish-speaking home. The Rizal kids are today’s equivalent of English-speaking Filipino children. During young Pepe Rizal’s naughty fits, he was scolded not in Tagalog but in Spanish.

Yes, he may have been a prodigy. But please, let us not treat Rizal as though he’s some omniscient heavenly deity that was sent back to earth as punishment for whatever shit he did up there.

So there you have it, a brief overview of the lies tucked in neatly by those who handle the language situation in the Philippines. They have masterfully erected Tagalog as the national language. Afterwards, the butchering began. We no longer have the correct and polite and respectable Tagalog. We now have an abomination of the language, a freak of linguistics called Taglish (or Engalog). And according to some friends of mine who speak other native Filipino languages, theirs too are slowly being eaten up by this unholy mixture of English, which is an unphonetic language, to that of their native languages. All Filipino languages are phonetic. Mix these two up (phonetic+unphonetic), then what do you get?

I won’t bother answer that. Let some cheap starlet dish out her language on national TV then you’ll get the picture. In the meantime, the US is basking in economic security since they have captured a permanent market in the Philippines due to the fact that almost all Pinoys have embraced English, whether or not they could understand it wholly.

So from Baler to other Philippine dominions, the wikang pambansâ is Taglish.

Filipinas, when will you ever wake up?

*****

NOTE: I originally published the foregoing blogpost here (that was three years ago today!). I just did some minor editing to help this blogpost keep up with the times. And today’s Manuel L. Quezon’s natal day, as well.

Happy language month!… is such a greeting even necessary?

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