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Learn Spanish from a master!

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“…La batalla por el hispanismo en Filipinas se presenta desde el mismo hogar donde se tiene que hablar en castellano a los hijos; se presenta en las aulas donde se lucha por enseñar el español a los alumnos filipinos; se presenta en las emisiones de radio donde se inserta un programa, un número de canto o de declamación en español; se presenta en la televisión donde se inserta algún baile español, o unas canciones o toda una película; y se presenta, al fin, en la misma calle donde se le tiene que advertir al ordinario Juan de la Cruz de la hispanidad en su ser como indivíduo, como  sociedad y como nación integrada…” Guillermo Gómez Rivera

Time and again, yours truly have asserted that to be a complete Filipino, one must inculcate in himself at least a basic knowledge of the Spanish language since it had a major role in the creation of the Filipino National Identity. Acquiring this linguistic knowledge opens up secrets about our country’s past due to the fact that much of our unadulterated history is recorded in that language (take note that our national hero himself, José Rizal, clearly and deftly expressed his thoughts solely in Spanish). Once these secrets have been unlocked, a stark realization will dawn upon him that Spanish is indeed part and parcel of the Filipino spirit, that Spanish is truly indispensable, especially if we are to assert our “Filipinoness”.

However, we are not blind to the (sad) fact that not all Filipinos are interested in nationalistic talk. Many Filipino language students consider Spanish as just another language to learn. Many study it for the economic opportunities it offers. In my opinion, that is OK because the language will still lead the Filipino student, wittingly or unwittingly, towards that stark realization of nationalistic self. With the thousands of Spanish words and rootwords  that we use in everyday speech (regardless if you are Tagalog, Bicolano, Cebuano, etc.), there is virtually no escaping the Spanish language because it is truly “blood of our blood and flesh of our flesh“. It is in us already. All we need to do is to tap it to its full potential.

Going back to economics, it’s been observed that there has been a surge of interest in the Spanish language in recent years especially during the previous decade. This is because many BPOs and back office companies (such as APAC Customer Services, Genpact, Accenture, Mærsk Global Service Centres, and Convergys to name a few) are always on the hunt for Spanish-fluent workers to fill hundreds, if not thousands, of vacancies in their offices all over the country. The best part of this is that they usually pay Spanish speakers a much higher salary. In fact, ₱30,000 for rookies is already considered very low. Furthermore, there seems to be no stopping this huge demand for Spanish-speaking employees. More and more investors from Latin America and other Spanish-speaking countries have set their eyes towards Filipinaw. And as an added bonus, the Spanish language also prepares the student to easily learn other Romance languages (of which Spanish is a part). Companies such as Hubwoo in Alabang and Sunpower in Biñán are always on the lookout for people who are fluent in either French or Italian. And the pay is even higher. Since Spanish, being a Filipino language, is easier to learn, it can be used as a stepping stone to learn these Romance languages. That’s why it should come as no surprise why Rizal learned Italian in just a few days, and that he and his contemporaries were able to master French with relative ease. Also, one’s proficiency in English will be enhanced since Spanish is its linguistic cousin (both are cognates). That explains why a Spanish-speaking Manuel Quezon learned English in about two weeks, and a Spanish-speaking Claro M. Recto mastered it in only three months.

And let’s not forget Spanish-speaking Nick Joaquín, the greatest Filipino writer in the English language.

Where to learn

In Metro Manila, there are two well-known institutions that offer comprehensive Spanish language lessons. The most popular among students, of course, is Instituto Cervantes located in Ermita, Manila. Locally known as Instituto Cervantes de Manila (ICM), it is not just a school but a cultural center as well. Every month, ICM has several activities in store for both students and the general public such as film viewings, literary and art exhibits, and scholarly symposia to name a few. These activities, aside from supplementing the grammar classes, intend to familiarize Filipinos with myriad versions of Hispanic culture which exist all over the globe, from Europe to the Americas. As such, those who are enrolled are wonderfully exposed to the cultura hispánica.

The other school offering Spanish is Berlitz which has two branches in Macati and one in San Juan. Berlitz is famous for utilizing a unique kind of teaching methodology which it calls the Berlitz Method®. This technique teaches students Spanish in the same manner one learned his own native tongue — through conversation. Both the ICM and Berlitz, however, teach Spanish to Filipinos only as a foreign language. This should not be the case because Spanish is not…

Were Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, Graciano López Jaena, Recto, etc.  foreigners?

Learn Spanish as a native language!

There is one teacher, however, who is now opening the doors to his home to Spanish language students who wish to learn the language the Filipino way, and in a manner which is homely, more personal, and guaranteed to be more effective. Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, renowned scholar, linguist, maestro flamenco, historian, and 1975 Premio Zóbel awardee offers Spanish language classes to interested individuals. His classes, located near Chino Roces corner Vito Cruz extension in Macati City, are divided into four levels (1, 2, 3, and 4), with each level consisting of 30 hours. Tuition is only ₱7,000 nett per person (₱9,000 if one on one). The maximum number of students per class is up to four, thus ensuring intensive care towards the learning of each student. Classes run every Tuesday and Thursday evenings, from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM, but other schedules may be arranged.

To those who have not yet heard of Señor Gómez, please take note that he is not just one of those many language instructors who teach for merely profit. The spread of the Spanish language in Filipinas has been his lifelong passion and advocacy. Other than that, Señor Gómez is the leading authority of the Spanish language in Filipinas. A veteran teacher of language of Cervantes, he was once the head of Adamson University’s now defunct Spanish Department for many years as well as a simultaneous interpreter (he was Thalía’s interpreter when the Mexican sensation visited our country many years ago) and translator of legal documents. He has also published various books and magazines on Filipino History and was the editor-in-chief of Nueva Era, the last Spanish-language newspaper in Filipinas. More importantly, Señor Gómez is the most senior academic director of the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española (a local branch of Spain’s Real Academia Española), the country’s only Spanish-language regulating body.

True enough, there is probably no other authority on the Spanish language in Filipinas but Señor Gómez. It’s a guarantee that you will be able to speak Spanish on the first day of class! Enroll now and in a few weeks time, you’ll be able to understand part of Señor Gómez’s Premio Zóbel acceptance speech posted at the beginning of this blogpost. For inquiries, please call 895-4102 or (0930)665-9156 and look for Mr. Hermie Manongsong.

¡Vamos a hablar español pronto!


¡Platica na Bahra! Charming Chavacano PT. 2 (Ternate, Cavite)

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Si no sabe mira donde a vine
No di yega donde quiere inda.
—Ternateño Chabacano Proverb—

Pretty Praetorian Guards: Yeyette and Krystal on either side of the welcome arch. The sign means " We welcome all of you wholeheartedly".

When you say that the whole province of Cavite is purely a Tagalog-speaking region, think again.

To the northeast of the province, there’s Ciudad de Cavite with its senior citizens speaking Cavitén. And at the southwesternmost tip of Cavite province lies this quaint fishing town called Ternate. But this is no ordinary town; like Ciudad de Cavite up north, this town is frequented by linguists, polyglots, and Hispanists because of the townsfolk language: Chabacano.

But the Chabacano spoken in Ternate is different from its Cavitén counterpart. According to Dr. Evangelino Nigoza, the town’s historian and foremost defender of the language, Ternateños call their native tongue as “Bahra”. The linguistic structure of Bahra is “another world” of its own. And in my opinion, it is rather more difficult for a Spanish-speaker to understand because Bahra is somehow influenced by the Portuguese language aside from the fact that Ternateños tend to speak it so fast.

But why Portuguese?

It is because Ternateños are actually the descendants of Malays from Ternate Island in the Moluccas archipelago. These islands were formally possessions of Portugal. The first Ternateños were brought to the Philippines by the Spaniards in 1663. These Malay recruits were called Mardicas (“men of the sea”).

There were two reasons why the Mardicas chose to leave Ternate Island: the island was highly volcanic, and; to help defend Manila from Chinese pirate Koxinga. Fortunately for Governor-General Sabiniano Manrique de Lara (who ruled the Philippines during those panic-stricken times), Koxinga fell ill and died. But the Mardicas never returned to their native land due to the place’s severe volcanic activity. Instead, they were given a spot in Bagumbayan (now Rizal Park) in Ermita, Manila.

It is perhaps during their brief stay in Bagumbayan that their language was further developed, for the people surrounding their little barrio, the Ermiteños, spoke Chavacano Ermiteño, Spanish, and Tagalog. However, frequent squabbles with the Ermiteños forced the Spanish authorities to move the Mardicas people to another place. Bahra de Maragondón (now Maragondón) in Cavite was chosen for them since the place was frequently attacked by Moro pirates. Anyway, it was agreed earlier that they were to help fight Koxinga in Manila. But since that never materialized, it was decided that their military services should still be used, but somewhere else.

In Bahra de Maragondón, the Mardicas settled at the mouth of the Maragondón River. But it was a swampy area filled with mangrove trees. These were cleared through the years, prompting them to till the soil. So aside from fishing, the early Mardicas were also farmers. They also intermarried with the natives of neighboring villages. They also built a watchtower which they called Mira — maybe that’s how they call a watchtower because in Spanish, the word mira is the present indicative (third person) or present imperative (second person) of the verb mirar meaning “to watch”.

In due time, the spot which they cleared away mangove trees became the foundation of present-day Ternate. Also, they renamed their new home: from Bahra de Maragondón to Ternate, in memory of their former home in the faraway archipelago of Moluccas.

During the Spanish times, Ternate was just a barrio (equivalent to today’s barangáy) of Maragondón. But years went by, it became a separate town altogether. In 1904, however, during the American occupation, Ternate was attached to the town of Náic. It became a separate town again in 1914.

It is said that Ternate survived various turmoils in the history of Cavite: the Tagalog rebellion of the Katipuneros as well as the invasion of both Yankee and Jap. But it barely survived the American retaking of the Philippines, and that was during the closing days of World War II. Only seven homes survived. That is why when me, my wife, and our daughter Krystal visited Ternate last 21 August, we hardly saw ancestral homes. I think we saw only one. 😦

Oh, those evil US WASPs…


Below are the original seven Mardicas families who transferred from Ternate Island, Moluccas, Indonesia to the Philippines:

1.) De la Cruz
2.) De León
3.) Estéibar
4.) Nigoza
5.) Niñofranco
6.) Pereira
7.) Ramos

Their descendants still live today. And surprisingly, they all know the history of their ancestors!

Charming greenery!

Iglesia de Santo Niño.

The Iglesia de Santo Niño is just perpendicular to the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.

The image of the Santo Niño.

My dear Yeyette right below!

We just love climbing bell towers. =)

It's him again.

At the close of World War II, the whole town of Ternate was almost wiped out. Only a few ancestral houses were left.

Ternate Municipal Hall.

Banco de Ternate has lovely green fields for a backdrop.

There are many Chavacano speakers at the Población, particularly at the public market.

At the San José Bridge. Isla de Balót (yonder) divides the mouth of the river into two before it meets Manila Bay.

Meeting new friends at Barrio San José. It is said that this barrio (now called barangáy) speaks 100% Chavacano. I believe it's true: everywhere we looked, the people spoke Chavacano! They amazed my wife and daughter so much!

My daughter posing with Chavacano-speaking kids!

Those mountain ranges beyond divide Ternate, Cavite and Nasugbu, Batangas.

The other side of Manila Bay. The islands of Corregidor and Caballo are already visible from here.

With Ternateño fisherfolk. I conversed with them in Spanish; they used Chavacano. But we understood each other rather well!

Manila Bay's famous sunset... from another point of view, that is.

My wife gazing towards Punta Gordo (that faint bluish land mass beyond).

At Ranrich Beach Resort. No more time to swim, though.

Merienda time! All these people you see with my wife and daughter are Chavacano speakers!

Flashback: on 1 February 2008, I attended the book launching of Dr. Evangelino Nigoza’s bilingual book BAHRA: Manga Historia, Alamat, Custumbre y Tradiciong Di Bahra (The History, Legends, Customs and Traditions of Ternate, Cavite) at the Instituto Cervantes de Manila. Dr. Nigoza is a member of the Cavite Historical Society and is the president of Cavite West Point College (also in Ternate).

During the program, there was a conversation in Chabacano featuring the three major variations of this Philippine Creole tongue: Dr. Nigoza represented Bahra; Dr. Enrique Escalante represented Cavitén, and; Mr. Ben Saavedra represented Chavacano Zamboangueño. The conversation was not only educational — it was also filled with humor due to some miscommunication among the three. And it was more hilarious for the Spanish-speakers who were in attendance, listening to the conversation and eager to grab a copy of Dr. Nigoza’s book.

After the program, I got myself a copy of his book, and got a chance to talk to him briefly. Unfortunately, he could not sign autographs because he could no longer write — his writing hand was paralyzed by a stroke.

But I got to see him again years later. This time with Yeyette and Krystal in tow. And there at his home (very near the town church) we discussed in length his book, the state of Bahra in Cavite, as well as future plans for the conservation of this Philippine Creole Language.

Dr. Nigoza revealed to me that he is preparing a second part for his book BAHRA. That would be his second book on the subject. Also, he is working closely with the local government and schools on how to propagate Bahra. When asked about the state of Bahra in Ternate, he told me that it’s in the “50/50” level. I could hardly believe it because me and my family were on the road the whole afternoon. We found so many Ternateños speaking Bahra. They were everywhere, especially in the Población and Barrio San José. We heard kids playing using Bahra. Street vendors and fishermen were talking to each other in Bahra. Compared to Ciudad de Cavite, Ternate has a higher chance of preserving its language.

But at the back of my mind, maybe I have to believe Dr. Nigoza. He’s been living in Ternate all his life; I just stayed there for a couple of hours. Dr. Nigoza’s efforts should be lauded, applauded, and supported. Like the late Nyora Puring Ballesteros of Cavitén, Dr. Nigoza stands as the lone Don Quijote of Ternate.

I pray that all Ternateños, especially the descendants of the seven original Mardicas families from the Moluccas, will all become Dr. Nigoza’s Sancho Panza when it comes to preserving and promoting Bahra.

¡Platica na Bahra!

At the house of historian Dr. Evangelino "Enjoe" Nigoza.

Click here for more of our Ternate photos (and videos)!

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.


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


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 local yet global style

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The following article was written by a contertulio of mine (in Círculo Hispano-Filipino), the erudite scholar Fernando Ziálcita y Nákpil.

He is a professor of Cultural Anthropology at the Ateneo de Manila University and is also the director of the Cultural Heritage Program of the said school. Professor Ziálcita has written several articles and books, namely Notions Of Justice: A Study Of An Ilocos And A Bulacán Barangay, Nick Joaquín: a portrait of the existentialist as Filipino, and Philippine ancestral houses (1810-1930). He specializes in the encounter between indigenous culture and Spanish influence.

This article, A Local Yet Global Style, was first published in the book Endangered: Fil-Hispanic Architecture which is actually a compilation of selected papers which were presented at the 1st International Congress on Fil-Hispanic Architecture that was held in Manila (27-29 November 2002). The book was published by the Instituto Cervantes de Manila five years ago.

Remember that “architecture is another form of language” (Guillermo Gómez Rivera).

The author, Fernando Ziálcita y Nákpil (third from right), with members of the Círculo Hispano-Filipino (from left to right): José Ramón Perdigón, Alberto Hernández Miño, Guillermo Gómez, Ziálcita, Atty. Cirilo Lubatón, and me.

Fernando Ziálcita

During the 16th-19th centuries, new architectural styles using timber and stones emerged in Luzón, Visayas, and Northern Mindanáo. My interest centers on what I call the “Wood-and-Stone style” of urban dwellings. I have tried to show that it should be called “Filipino” rather than either “Spanish” or Antillean (Ziálcita 1980; 1997; 1997B). There is more public interest in these structures at present than there was previously. Still, a number of architects continue to deny that there is any Filipino architecture other than the bahay kubo (the farmer’s house-on-stilts). One who has built many mansions for the rich has commented that these houses and churches, shown in a traveling exhibit organized in 2000 by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts to draw attention to Filipino architectural heritage, were “colonial impositions”.

In this article, I would like to point out the following:

• It is important to distinguish between types of nationalist discourses.
• To appreciate the complexity of the Filipino’s architectural heritage, we need a dialectical rather than a reductionist discourse.
• When viewed properly, the Wood-and-Stone style is both a unique local product and a product with multiple international connections.

Assimilation versus Exclusion

Nationalism is a discourse that crystallized during the 1789 French Revolution. It proposes that members of a large extended group “imagine” themselves as a sovereign, political “community” that transcends ethnic, religious, and class divisions because of a shared history, heritage, and mission (Anderson 1983). Nationalism thus excludes outsiders even as it defines criteria for membership. But who are the members? And what is the heritage that unites them? I distinguish between two types of nationalism. The first I call “reductionist”; the second, “dialectical” nationalism.

Reductionist nationalism uses “race” as the criterion for membership and “indigenous culture” as the substance of the shared heritage. It assumes that race, an inherited set of biological characteristics, determines how you think and feel. If you do not look like the majority, or if you are not of the same “race” as them, then you cannot share their feelings. This nationalism also yearns for a mythical past that was supposedly more authentic because it was truly “indigenous” — that is, it had no foreign admixture. Its static perspective has no room for mutually transformative encounters between cultures. It thus ignores what 20th century anthropologists say, namely: 1) that no empirical data can support the notion that race shapes ability, 2) that racism fosters the persecution of minorities, and 3) that culture, being a set of symbols, values, and practices that is socially learned, is therefore permeable and changeable.

In contrast, dialectical nationalism believes that feelings transcend race. By joining a community and imbibing its ideals, you become loyal to it. Sympathy has nothing to do with looking like the majority. Dialectical nationalism can thus regard as local what was once imported: 1) if it has been assimilated to local symbols, values, and practices, or 2) if it has a positive contribution to the local. A dialectical view sees the world as consisting of forces that may oppose each other at particular points in time and space, but may also modify each other and fuse into one.

German nationalism of the late 19th century down to 1945 was reductionist. Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) extolled the Volksgeist and the need to build institutions that emanated from it. Every people (Volk) have their own ethos (Geist) which is manifest in its language, literature, and law. A people should think and act according to its Geist, for it is unnatural to ape foreign fashions (Ergang 1966: 100-1). Herder inspired nationalists all over the world, like our own Rizal and Isabelo de los Reyes, to study popular songs, dances, architecture as manifestations of the folk’s lore. His “Volksgeist” anticipated the notion of “culture” that British anthropologists would popularize in its present form, starting in the last decade of the 19th century. However, according to Wolfgang Welsch (1995: 195), Herder’s notion has serious deficiencies. It ignores the fact that modern societies are multicultural. Moreover, its insistence on purity leads to political conflicts and wars. Carriers of a Volksgeist are supposed to experience “insensibility, coldness, blindness” and even “contempt and disgust” towards outsiders.

Meanwhile, during the late 19th century, another development took place. Since the Germans lived in many small states that were independent of each other, German nationalists argued for blood as the determinant of nationality. Anyone of German ancestry, regardless of residence, was German. This included even those who had migrated to other Eastern European countries centuries ago. In the 1930s, the Nazis equated Germanness with belonging to the “Aryan race”. Nazi policies were junked after their defeat; contemporary Germany is an open and tolerant society. But even today, migrants, who are born in and educated in Germany, face hurdles in applying for citizenship if their parents are non-Germans (Brubaker 1992: 75 ff.).

In contrast, French nationalism has generally been dialectical and assimilationist. Being French has more to do with sensibility than with genes or skin color. To be French is to embrace the ideals of the 1789 Revolution (Brubaker 1992: 35 ff.). Thus the French call their patrie a “Terre d’asile” — a land that shelters all migrants who believe in liberty, equality, and fraternity. To be French is also to appreciate the achievements of French civilization. French citizenship is thus open to Africans, Indians, Caribbeans, Indochinese, or anyone who participates in French culture.

Moreover, anything created on French soil that either contributes to France’s glory or carries the imprint of the French sensibility is French, even if the creator is a foreigner by birth. The 20th century Ecole de Paris, which invented modern painting and sculpture, was the creation of Frenchmen (Matisse, Braque, Leger), Spaniards (Gris, Picasso, Miró), Russians (Chagall), Germans (Hartung), Italians (Modigliani), Romanians (Brancusi), and others living and working in Paris. These non-Frenchmen are often classified as “French” by French authors. A work of art can be French yet cosmopolitan. French identity is thus not something determined once and for all by race and ethnicity. Writing on the diversity and conflicts between French regions, Braudel (1986: 94) says that “France” had to be “invented”. We can infer that, for it to remain flexible and open, it must be reinvented today.

Mexicanness is likewise a sensibility that is the product of tradition rather than biology. During the 20th century, following the 1910 revolution, which was both economic and spiritual, Mexicans came to appreciate the diversity of their traditions. While they affirmed their once-despised Amerindian tradition (Olmec, Zapotec, Aztec, and Maya), they also claimed that the Spanish tradition constituted an integral part of their culture. Likewise the Afro-American. The magic word was “mestizaje” or the fusion of cultures (Fuentes 1992). Thus “baroque” in Mexico is Mexican rather than Spanish.

How should we characterize the discourse of Filipino nationalism? Is it reductionist or dialectical? I believe it is in-between. On the one hand, textbooks and the press say that Filipino culture is diverse. It has “Malay, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Arabic, and American influences”. Our folk dance troupes showcase the diversity of the archipelago’s dance traditions in each performance. Nick Joaquín, in his novels and essays, has shown how to approach history as a process that assimilates the diverse influences, especially the Hispanic, upon the Filipino (1989). On the other hand, however, the educated casually talk of either a “Filipino race” or a “Malay race”. For instance, in preparation for the second millennium AD, the Philippine Daily Inquirer ran a daily series of short articles on its front-page on the achievements of the “Filipino race”. From anthropology’s perspective, the better term would have been “Filipino culture”, for values and world-views are acquired by anybody who commits himself to a group. But physical characteristics, such as skin and hair color, are inherited genetically. Moreover, “Filipino race” would exclude Negritos, Chinese, and Euroamericans who consider themselves Filipinos. Unfortunately, anthropology’s clarifications about “race” are ignored by the current discourse.

The permanent exhibit on the Filipino people at the National Museum has a wonderful English title, “History of the Filipino People”. But the Tagalog translation is an unacceptable “Kasaysayan ng Lahì” (History of the Race). Ignored likewise by many nationalists is anthropology’s concept of “culture” as a permeable, changeable set of symbols, values, and practices. I have heard many educated Filipinos characterize Filipino achievements in cookery, dances, and sculpture as “bastardized/mongrel/derivative/imitative”. They imagine that a culture has to be “pure” and free of outside influences in order for it to be respectable.

Renato Constantino exerted much influence on the nationalism of the 1970s to the present. While he does not idealize pre-Hispanic culture, he has nothing positive to say either about Hispanized Filipino culture. He characterizes both the masses and the elite during the Spanish period as suffering from a “relative ignorance” brought about by the colonizer’s values (Constantino 1978:52-54). Those reading him must therefore conclude that Spanish influence in any form is cause for embarrassment.

A preoccupation with race stumbles when confronted with figures like Fr. José Burgos. Born of a Spanish lieutenant and of a mestiza from Vigan, Burgos spearheaded the Filipino clergy’s demands for equal treatment with Peninsular priests (Villaroel 1971). His execution in 1871, together with Frs. Gómez and Zamora, shocked the public into discovering that they were being oppressed by peninsular interests. But the highly influential historian Teodoro Agoncillo wondered if Burgos, because of his ancestry, can be called “Filipino” (Nolasco n.d.:2). On the other hand, Marilou Díaz-Abaya, in her film on Rizal, depicted Burgos as a brown-skinned Indio. In effect, nationalism became skin-color.

I sympathize with the concerns of Filipino nationalists. The Philippines is indeed a society that continues to be colonized by outside forces. Moreover, it is highly stratified with widespread poverty. But, as I have shown (Ziálcita 2000), exploitation and stratification antedate the Spanish conquest. Our national honor is not diminished by admitting that the Spaniards did positive things like eliminating slave raiding for sacrifice. Also, there are two things to consider: 1) The Philippines is a multi-ethnic society. Many Filipinos, especially in the major cities, are descendants of foreign migrants, some of whom sacrificed much on behalf of the Philippines (Nolasco 1970-71:178 ff.). Surely, they are no less Filipino than the purely indigenous; 2) Our country has to assert its presence in the world forum, and attract more interest in its culture and its products. To respond to both, we need a nationalism that can deal with complexity and multiple connections.

Filipino Modern

The Philippine has diversified its exports by selling high-quality furniture and home accessories. Designers like Ched Berenguer-Topacio, Budji Láyug, Jeanne Goulborn, Kenneth Cobonpue, and others have projected contemporary Filipino design internationally. But what is “Filipino modern”? Why has it attracted rave reviews and orders? If we examine their best sellers carefully, we shall see that some combine the indigenous with imported traditions.

For instance, a fashionable chair pioneered in by Filipino designers combines an exposed metal frame with rattan weaves that form a seat and a backrest. Sometimes the metal frame evokes a boxy armchair; at other times a curvaceous lounging chair. Always, however, the textured rattan weaves give these chairs a relaxed tropical feel. Two traditions meet in these chairs: the indigenous, which skillfully manipulates rattan for basketry, and the Spanish, which makes wrought iron furniture and lamps. The Spanish baroque tradition also shows in the generous S-curves of some of these chairs. Or, consider another example: wall hangings and shades. Filipino wall hangings made of silk have a translucent quality that evokes the Japanese, which currently is the vogue. At the same time, they have playfully inserted pieces of bamboo and rattan, for added texture. Filipino modern reinterprets international styles using skills and preferences inherited from once-foreign but localized cultural traditions.

Together with Alice Reyes and Paulo Alcazaren, I worked on a book on the best of the contemporary Filipino house designs (Reyes 2000). The staff of the Singapore-based publishing firm that produced the book was enthused by the varied forms exhibited in contemporary Filipino architecture. While some villas had strong affinities with Italian-Spanish-Mexican houses, others had rooms that, because of their shell-paned panels, recalled Japanese interiors. Other villas, though modern, had a more indigenous feel because of their imaginative local materials. As a whole, regardless of their stylistic orientation, the various houses had a common denominator: interior spaces dialogued with the surrounding gardens.

A reductionist approach accepts only the “indigenous” as Filipino. This cripples the Filipino’s options in a competitive global market. In contrast, a dialectical approach appreciates the variety of both our contemporary designs and our 18th-early 20th-century urban houses, because it looks at history as a process.

Distinct yet many-sided

I have discussed the history of the Wood-and-Stone House (Bahay na bató at cahoy) in previous writings. Rather than repeat this, I would like to highlight particular points in order to show how the style is both local and global.

1. The indigenous style of architecture prevailing in the 16th century Luzón and Visayas was suited to a rural but not to an urban environment. The indigenous dwelling was essentially a frame construction where the heavy roofwork was supported not by the walls, which were either of timber planks or of bamboo sidings, but by many wooden pillars dug deeply into the ground. This type of structure thus merely swayed during an earthquake. The floor was elevated above the ground as protection against floods and insects. The steeply pitched roof made of thatch shook off the heavy downpour and allowed hot tropical air to circulate upwards.

But this style had a disadvantage when used in an urban environment where buildings press against each other. Its materials were flammable. The first Spanish Manila, whose cathedrals and dwellings were built of bamboo and thatch, was consumed by an accidental fire in 1583. This prompted a shift to construction in stone, using the deposits of volcanic tuff (locally called “adobe”) that were newly discovered in Macati along the Pásig River.

Similar shifts had occurred earlier among other Southeast Asian peoples. Bas-reliefs I have seen on the temples of Prambanan (9th century), in Central Java, depict houses-on-stilts. However, during the heyday of the Majapahit Empire in the 13th-14th centuries, the Central Javanese shifted to all-brick dwellings resting directly on brick platforms (Schoppert 1997: 32-34). This continues to be the norm today in that region which is Indonesia’s cultural heartland.

The famous bronze drums of Dong-son from Vietnam (5th century AD) likewise reveal longhouses-on-stilts with steeply pitched roofs, which are still common today among the upland peoples of Vietnam. But the Chinese, who incorporated what is now Northern Vietnam into their empire from the first century BC to the 10th century AD, brought in houses whose plastered brick walls stood on stone platforms a few meters above the ground (Bezacier 1955; Taylor 1983). These one-story, tile roofed dwellings of brick continue to be the norm both in rural villages and in the town centers of Vietnam.

I mention these shifts because many Filipinos reduce Filipino architecture to the house-on-stilts; they do not accept subsequent developments as relevant. Also, they reject Spanish-influenced architecture as an obstacle to an Asian identity. They believe the house-on-stilts to be more Southeast Asian, being more indigenous. The truth is that some of our neighbors long ago shifted to more durable houses, partly in response to urban environments with limited land.

2. Spanish architectural styles, which are many and varied, may have been suited to an urban environment, but not necessarily to a tropical, earthquake-racked environment. Spanish urban styles are the product of a long process reaching back to at least 1000 BC, to Celtiberian towns and urban settlements established by Phoenician and Greek colonists on Spain’s Mediterranean seaboard. With their thick walls of cut stone or brick, and their roof of tile, these dwellings protected against fire. Their rigidity posed no threat in a land where earthquakes were uncommon. Their relatively small windows gave better insulation against cold.

However, these advantages failed them in the Philippines. In 1630, the Augustinian Juan de Medina ([1630] 1903-1909: 242) remarked that Manila was cooler and healthier when the buildings were made of wood, rather than stone, for this allowed the wind to blow through.

3. In 1645, 1658, and 1677, severe earthquakes collapsed Manila’s tall stone dwellings. Following these earthquakes, two contrasting traditions —the Spanish and the indigenous— fused into a major synthesis. A wooden framework to carry the trusses and rafters of the roofwork extended all the way to the ground. Thick stone walls tended to be confined to the first floor, though brick walls were used in the second story for some partitions. Wooden curtain walls enveloped the second story. But these were opened up by an ensemble of three windows. On the exterior transom was an immovable opening (espejo) covered with shell panes. Between the windowsill and the floor sill was another window: the ventanilla, which was protected by a screen or either wooden balusters or a metal grille and by sliding wooden panels.

This Wood-and-Stone style was called arquitectura mestiza by the end of the 17th century, not because it was for mestizos, but because of its mixture of wood and stone (Alcina [1668] 1980). Mestizo, like the English word “mixed”, comes from the Latin word “mixtus”. The new style was one major response to Philippine conditions. However, it is not the only possible response.

Ilocos, particularly Vigan, developed a house, starting probably in the 1970s, that used brick on both stories (Ziálcita 1997A) but had no wooden framework (Manalo 2003). Most likely this was in response to the fire that struck the city in the late 18th century (King 2000). Despite the absence of a wooden framework, the Ilocano All-Brick-House-with-Pilasters has survived the earthquakes that have struck the coast over the past two centuries. During the 20th century, new technologies, such as the embedding metal frameworks in concrete, entered the Philippines. These have opened new possibilities for urban constructions.

When I speak of the Wood-and-Stone house as “Filipino”, I claim that it was a reasonable response at a point in time, given the knowledge and skills then available, to a particular set of environmental challenges that remain with us. Surely it is not the only possible Filipino style. I like the French and the Mexicans as well. I prefer to dwell on their positive contribution to our culture, rather on how indigenous their makers were.

4. Components of the Wood-and-Stone house connect it to other traditions in particular countries. This opens intercultural bridges that should help us when projecting our country.

The house on stilts was widespread among Austronesians (the peoples of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines; some upland peoples in Vietnam like the Jarai), Austroasiatics (Cambodians and most Vietnamese), and the Thais before the entry of Chinese, Indian, Arabic, and Western influences. The irony is that the Wood-and-Stone house of Hispanized Luzón and Visayas exhibits greater continuity with this millennial Southeast Asian tradition than do the one story stone dwellings of Lowland Vietnam, post-Chinese conquest, or of Central Java, post-Majapahit.

The Wood-and-Stone style likewise connects with the several versions of the longhouse that continue to be built in Borneo as houses-on-stilts. A Sundanese graduate of mine from West Java, Budi Gunawan, made a highly significant remark before a print of a 19th century Tagalog Wood-and-Stone house. “It looks like a Bornean longhouse,” he said. The house had a tile roof, it was horizontal in orientation with sliding shell windows, and had a cantilevered wooden second story over a stone first story. I thought he might have been referring to the pronounced horizontal orientation of the Wood-and-Stone house and its use of the second story as opposed to the preference by both Sundanese and Central Javanese for one-story stucco brick dwellings.

But a visit to the Dayak country in the Four Lakes District of Eastern Borneo clarified what he meant. During that visit, another Indonesian student, Martinus Nanang, and myself went to a longhouse that was still in use. The main entrance was on the long side: a log with notches led to a verandah with a series of wooden arches and fretwork. Here was the main door. The two-story house was on stilts with wooden boards for both stories. The roof was of wooden shingles. The house’s ambience was not Javanese. Save for the notched log, the house exterior evoked 19th-century Visayan plantation mansions.

A common feature of houses in the Arabian peninsula, Iraq, and Western India is the screened wooden balcony. The Arabs call it mashrabiyya, also rowshan this three-meter-high balcony is supported by wooden consoles embedded into stone walls protruding 60 cm from the building. It has its own roof; its roof line is decorated with entablature. This balcony protects the occupants’ privacy while permitting the air to circulate through the adjoining room through grilles (Earls 1997A, Earls 1997B, Earls 1997C). The Arabs brought it to Spain where it acquired the ajimez, two windows that share a common column in-between.

The screened wooden balcony acquired a different configuration in the various localities that adopted it in the Hispanic World. According to the Spanish art historian Dorta (1973:403), the screened balcony’s evolution attained its final stage in the galería volada (jutting gallery) of the Filipino house of the Spanish period. It was neither open as in the Caribbean, not closed with lattices as in Lima. Instead, it was enclosed with shell-paned window panels.

The galería volada connects the Philippines not only with Spain and with Spanish America, but likewise with the Near East and India. This hanging gallery became commonplace in Manila by the last decade of the 17th century (Ziálcita and Tinio 1980: 8, 244 ff.). A topic for research should be the routes by which this gallery reached the Philippines. Was it only via Mexico? Or also via Indian merchants who came here during the Galleon Trade?

A particular house type that developed in Java during the Dutch period was the Rumah Gedong. This literally means the “office house”, perhaps because it was originally associated with offices. Unlike the conventional Javanese house, it has two stories: stone below, wood above. It recalls our Wood-and-Stone house except that the windows are different. As is the case throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, the wooden shutters that protect the windows hang from the façade like wings. They open outwards. The window itself is a vertical opening that extends from lintel to the floor and has a protective wooden railing and balusters. It looks like a modified French window.

The Rumah Gedong is widespread in South Sumatran villages near Palembang. Is there any connection between them and our own Wood-and-Stone houses? I do not think the Rumah Gedong influenced the development of the Wood-and-Stone house in 17th-century Manila. Based on existing documents available, the phases in the emergence of the latter do not suggest influences coming from Java. Could it be that the Rumah Gedong may have been influenced by our Wood-and-Stone house? This deserves investigation.

I mention these similarities between our 17th-19th century house and the Rumah Gedong to underline once more that what may seem so “Spanish” and so alien to Southeast Asian converges in fact with parallel developments in the region. Outside Palembang, I did see bamboo-and-thatch houses-on-stilts scattered among the fields. But in towns and even the tiny village where I stayed, the preference was for solid materials which, in the South Sumatran case, meant using stone below and wood above, with a roof of flat tiles.

Finally, there is Chinese-Japanese influence. There were only a few Chinese in Tondo when the Spaniards came in 1570. Their numbers soared to 8,000 by 1600 because the Galleon Trade exchanged Chinese silks and porcelains for highly coveted Mexican silver coins (Scott 1977: 207). Among the Chinese who settled in Manila were artisans. The Galleon Trade also attracted the Japanese who came in, though in smaller numbers.

While Chinese migration has been continuous to the present time, Japanese migration ended in 1624 after the shogun limited foreign contacts (Hedinger 1977). However, after the opening of Japan to world trade in the 19th century, the Japanese began coming again as migrants. Among them were carpenters.

In some Wood-and-Stone houses, the roof’s corner eaves curl upwards. An example is the Constantino house in Balagtás (Bigaá), Bulacán. But the more substantive Chinese-Japanese contribution may be in the framework and the openings. Both Chinese and Japanese use a wooden framework to carry the roof. The Chinese combine this with non-load bearing brick walls (Knapp 1990: 37). The Japanese raise all-wood walls (Yoshida 1954). Moreover, both of them like to expose their beams and pillars, including twisted ones.

While this was also the case in indigenous Filipino tradition, this practice’s persistence in the Wood-and-Stone style may have been encouraged by Chinese-Japanese builders. The use of translucent material as windowpanes may have come in from these northerners that paste rice paper on window frames. In the Philippines, the flat shell of the cápiz, abundant in shallow waters, substituted for paper. Filipino wooden frames use a plain checkerboard pattern. A similar window pattern is universal in Japan, and in some areas in Southeastern China.

The Japanese signature is evident too in that Filipino window panels slide in a sill whereas in China, they push out. Because of these translucent panes, Filipino interiors have a parchment-like glow, which Japanese visitors say recall their own. During the late 19th century, the transforms in the interior partitions were opened with tracery, which permitted more light and air to circulate while providing decoration. These cutwork panels are found in Chinese and Japanese dwellings. Japanese called these ramma. They can feature either fine wooden latticework or a wooden panel with a variety of patterns (Yoshida 1954: 156).

In some Filipino houses, Chinese motifs, like the peony, are present. In others, like the Festejo house in Santa Lucía, Ilocos Sur, the interlocking diamond-shaped frames reveal a Japanese hand. In general, however, the motifs in these cutwork panels are inspired by the Filipino’s preferences, for instance lyres and flowers — poetry and romance. These cutwork panels, though with different motifs, are also found in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Perhaps originally Chinese and Japanese, they create another bridge between us and our neighbors.

The Galleon Trade (1565-1815) was the first trade network to encompass three continents: Asia, the Americas, and Europe. Aside from Chinese goods, products from all over Asia were purchased in Manila with coined Mexican siliver. Traders from other Asian countries came here, bringing ideas as well. For the French economic historian, Pierre Chanau (1960: 18), the Philippines was where cultural currents originating in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and flowing in opposite directions met each other again, for the first time in world history. They also met currents from China and Southeast Asia. The Philippines is thus “the only true end-point of the world” (le seul vrai bout du monde).

The music scholar John Summers (1998: 208, 213) says that Manila’s musical life was truly cosmopolitan. In 1611, entries to a citywide poetry contest were in “Latin, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Basque, Castilian, Mexican, Tagalog, and Visayan”. Non-Spanish dances and Tagalog-speaking residents formed part of the festivities. If I am correct, the story of the hanging gallery further illustrates how globalization became a reality in Manila. The gallery may have come in from two directions, from Mexico and from India and Arabia. Here it met the Austronesian preference for constructing dwellings on piles and the Chinese-Japanese tradition of woodworking, and merged with them.

Local Yet Global

Filipinos find themselves in an international environment where, on the one hand, they are expected to affirm an artistic style that is uniquely theirs. On the other hand, they are expected to show commonalities with their Asian neighbors. We should be careful of discourses on identity that imprison. A more dialectical, rather than a reductionist, approach can better show how the initially foreign can become localized. Imported Spanish traditions in stone construction had to be modified to suit the unstable Philippine floor. A dialectical approach can also disclose paradoxes. Though influenced by a non-Southeast Asian tradition, Filipino houses retain continuities with the Southeast Asian house-on-stilts that traditional Vietnamese and Central Javanese houses do not.

Finally, a dialectical approach is more open to surprises in the empirical data. The cantilevered wooden second story of the Filipino house connects in fact with traditions of both East and West. Because of the Galleon Trade, 17th-century Manila became a meeting place for different cultural currents. The Philippines developed a distinct local, urban style, from the 17th-early 20th centuries, that resonates globally. It continues to do so, as shown by its current success in furniture and furnishings.

Which organizations should convene to create a political party for the Spanish language?

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I hope that the humble blogpost I wrote yesterday will not be belittled nor ignored by those who are supposed to back it up. I am not forcing them to support my idea — I am actually begging them to do so.

Please do your country a favor by bringing back the Spanish language as a co-official language of this country, vis-à-vis Tagalog and English.

I have no personal political ambitions. And even if I have the political machinery and mindset to become a statesman, I will still not opt to do so. It’s simply not in my system. I’m content of just sitting on the sidelines to observe and comment. To echo what former PNP Director-General (and now Senator) Ping Lacson said many years ago during a TV interview, “I hate politics. And to put it more bluntly, I hate politicians”.

So why am I doing this? Why do I zealously put forward the idea of having a political party to achieve this nationalistic dream of restoring the Spanish language to where it rightfully belongs? Because like what I said yesterday, the political arena is currently our only chance of achieving this dream. I may not have been able to register for the upcoming 2010 Philippine National Elections, but that doesn’t mean that I have totally lost my faith in our country’s political system. That’s why I’d like to give our democratic functions one more chance. Not by exercising my right to suffrage but by creating a “minor” or small political party (or party list) with the noble aim of recognizing the Spanish language’s true worth and deserving status in this country.

I strongly believe that putting forward the idea of making Spanish a co-official language together with Tagalog and English has a very big chance. In the first place, Spanish has long been an official language of this country until it was callously stripped of its status in the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Most legal documents and statutes that we now have in the three branches of our government (namely the the executive, the legislative, and the judicial departments) were originally written in Spanish before it was decided to translate them into English (and sometimes in other native languages). I don’t even have to mention the Spanish language’s impact towards our multifarious cultures and languages (not excluding behavior and even spiritually) since it has already been discussed and debated before.

The Spanish language SIMPLY needs to be brought back to the Filipino cosmos. Not for the language’s sake, but for OUR SAKE. It shouldn’t have been taken away in the first place.

I would like to call on all major institutions in the Philippines (and perhaps those in Spain as well), which has a strong connection to the Spanish language and culture, to sit down and convene about the language’s future in our country. Will the Spanish language just remain a thing of the past, something that should just be treated as an interesting scholarly topic for future dissertations? Should it be considered merely as a stepping stone by BPO professionals to augment their salaries? Should the language be treated only as a school subject? What should be the treatment Filipinos of today should give to the language of their forefathers and heroes who had helped shaped this nation? Shall we content ourselves of merely treating the Spanish language as nothing but a cultural gem that is kept in a see-through vault for everybody to see and admire?

To the best of my knowledge, the organizations which have the answers to the foregoing questions are the following:

Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española
Commission on Higher Education
Cruzada Internacional por la Reivindicación del Español en Filipinas
Department of Education of the Philippines
Heritage Conservation Society
Instituto Cervantes de Manila
National Historical Institute
Spanish Embassy in Metro Manila
Spanish Program for Cultural Cooperation
The Government of the Philippines
The Government of Spain (and concerned representatives of other Spanish-speaking nations)

And of course, the list should include the foremost online group in the country today which advocates the return, dissemination, and conservation of the Spanish language in the Philippines: the Círculo Hispanofilipino, of which I am a member since 2001. It was founded by –of all nationalities– a German!

It will also help if the powerful Zóbel de Ayala family revives the country’s oldest literary award-giving body, the prestigious and legendary Premio Zóbel which has been on a sabbatical since the year I joined the Círculo Hispanofilipino. Bringing back the Zóbel Award will not only spark the fiery zeal and interest to promote Spanish in the country’s sociopolitical landscape — it will also inspire writers who do not write in Spanish to explore a whole new linguistic world. It might even inspire the few remaining hispanoparlantes filipinos to bring out the literary genius in them (whatever happened to Marra Lánot?).

I may have missed some groups. But I believe that the abovementioned list should lead the advancement of the Spanish language in the country. A dialogue or convention should be brought forth. May this meeting be made a national event.

With the symbiosis of the groups mentioned above, this political party which will struggle for the advancement of the Spanish language in the 2013 Philippine General Election will not just be an ordinary party-list group.


Today is the feast day of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

“Paru-Parong Bukid” is actually a poor translation of “Mariposa Bella”

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Few people know that the popular Tagalog folk song Paru-Parong Bukid is actually a poor translation/rendition of the Spanish original which is entitled Mariposa Bella.

The original Spanish song was composed during the tumultuous decade of the 1890s. When the genocide of Spanish-speaking Filipinos commenced during the American invasion, the song itself was included in the casualty — little by little, many people started to forget it especially when the Thomasites began the English-language campaign in the country. The final nail in the coffin happened in 1938 when the Paru-Parong Bukid that we are all familiar with was released by Sampaguita Pictures as a soundtrack for the movie of the same name (it starred legendary actors Rudy Concepción and Rosario Moreno).

Of course, I haven’t seen the movie; but I can diss its accompanying theme song con mucho gusto.

In 1960, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera (who was then doing radio production work on a DZFM program called “La Voz Hispanofilipina” made a research on Filipino songs which were sung in Spanish. His research resulted in a bestselling 1962 LP entitled Nostalgia Filipina.

Fifty years later, some friends of Señor Gómez demanded that he re-release Nostalgia Filipina in CD format for the sake of today’s generation. And with the help of the Instituto Cervantes de Manila, the Spanish Program for Cultural Cooperation, and the Ministerio de Cultura of the Spanish Embassy in Manila, Nostalgia Filipina was relaunched in CD format on 14 August 2007.

My contertulio in Círculo Hispanofilipino, fonsucu, uploaded Mariposa Bella in the YouTube video below:

Here are the lyrics.

Mariposa bella
de mi tierra inmortal
es la filipina
en su traje natal,
que ostenta unas mangas
con gracejo y sal
y saya de cola
de una pieza de percal.

Con peineta de carey ¡uy!
y un pañuelo coquetón,
y enaguas de ojetes
que la roza el talón,
con el tápiz real
sobre el talle sutil
y es la mariposa
del malayo pensil.

Con peineta de carey ¡uy!
y un pañuelo coquetón,
y enaguas de ojetes
que le roza el talón,
con el tápiz real
sobre el talle sutil
y es la mariposa
del malayo pensil.

Mariposa bella
de mi tierra inmortal
es la filipina
en su traje natal,
que ostenta unas mangas
con gracejo y sal
y saya de cola
de una pieza de percal.

Con peineta de carey ¡uy!
y un pañuelo coquetón,
y enaguas de ojetes
que le roza el talón,
con el tápiz real
sobre el talle sutil
y es la mariposa
del malayo pensil.


With Jesli Lapus’ efforts in bringing back the Spanish language into our educational system, hopefully all Filipino folk songs that were sung in their original Spanish lyrics will be brought back to our airwaves. Right where they belong.

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