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The Thomasites, before and after

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THE THOMASITES, BEFORE AND AFTER
Guillermo Gómez Rivera

They were called thus not due to St. Thomas of Aquinas but because they came in a cattle cargo vessel called the “S/S Thomas”.

And they came to teach English as part of the “policy of attraction” after the 1898 República de Filipinas was blown up to smithereens by a superior invading military force.

It was obvious that the main content of the so-called policy of attraction was to compulsorily impose English as the only medium of instruction. Benevolent assimilation was to be advanced by “education in English”. If no working knowledge of English was acquired by the native Filipinos, education was unilaterally deemed not to have taken place among them. Without English, a Filipino is deemed illiterate even if he can correctly write and speak in Tagalog or any of his major native languages.

Indeed, before the benevolent Thomasites did come, native children had for their English teachers the McKinley soldiers that claimed to educate “them Injuns with the crank and the kragg”. This claim dovetailed the Mckinleyan motto “to Christianize, to educate, and to uplift” the Filipino.

But were the Filipinos of the 1900s who were already drinking real potable water; who knew what cheap electricity and silk was; who called friends by note, postcard, phone and telegram, and who grandly celebrated Christmas and Lent, really asking the Thomasites to “educate” them in the English language?

An American linguist of the time, Mary I. Bresnahan, answered that question in the following manner:

“In any case, it continues to be speculative if the Filipino’s purported desire to learn English was genuine or not. Documents tell us about Filipinos trembling with fear inside their huts built on stilts as they expected the intrusion of the cruel Americans reputed to be blood thirsty giants bent on killing even the most trusting among them. Unsure about the real motives of the invaders, the Filipinos did what they thought would please the Americans the most. And that was to learn their language, — English.” (see “The Americanization of the Philippines, The Imposition of English during the 1898-1901 Period” by Alfonso L García Martínez, Law College of Puerto Rico, Vol. 43, pages 237 to 270, May 1982).

To change this general perception, the so-called Thomasites came and were accepted.

Even a secondary Spanish school like Colegio de San Juan de Letrán wrote a textbook to teach the English language as early as 1902. This was a help to the beleaguered Thomasites. The book was entitled Mañga Onang Turô sa Uicang Inglés written by Tagalog Professor P. Ulpiano Herrero and Spanish Dominican P. Francisco García. (Imprenta UST, Manila, 1902). In this book of 482 pages English language lessons were effectively explained in both the Tagalog and Spanish languages.

But the pro-English language efforts of the Thomasites appeared nil. Too much was expected of them by the American authorities themselves.

By 1916, their hard work was criticized in a report prepared by Henry Ford to President Woodrow Wilson. Wrote Mr. Ford:

“There is, however, another aspect in this case which should be considered. This aspect became evident to me as I traveled through the islands, using ordinary transportation and mixing with all classes of people under all conditions. Although, as based on the school statistics, it is said that more Filipinos speak English than any other language, no one can be in agreement with this declaration if they base their assessment on what they hear on the testimony of their hearing… Spanish is everywhere the language of business and social intercourse… in order for anyone to obtain prompt service from anyone, Spanish turns out to be more useful than English… and outside of Manila it is almost indispensable. The Americans who travel around all the islands customarily use it.” (The Ford Report of 1916. Chapter 3. The Use of English, pp. 365-366.)

What had appeared to be a big deception was the earlier report of Director of Instruction David P. Barrows which said:

“It is to be noted that with the increased study and use of English, there has been an increased study of Spanish. I think it is a fact that many more people in these islands have a knowledge of Spanish now than they did when the American Occupation occurred” (The 1908 School Report, p. 96).”

“Spanish continues to be the most prominent and important language spoken in political, journalistic and commercial circles. English has, therefore, active rivals as the language of trade and instruction. It is equally probable that the adult population has lost interest in learning English. I believe it is a fact that many more people now know the Spanish language than when the Americans sailed for these islands and their occupation took place… The customary prerequisite for dispatchers is for them to know English and Spanish. Through the great upsurge in numbers and circulation of newspapers and publications, there is much more reading matter in Spanish than before… (Op. Sit. p.9)

But the Thomasites plodded onward. Upon their shoulders was thrown what was thought of as the great task to make Filipinos speak English. This thought was, however, not shared by Filipino educators born out of the Katipunan and the Primera República’s Universidad Literaria like Dr. Leon María Guerrero and Don Enrique Mendiola, co-founders of the Liceo de Manila, Librada Avelino, founder of the Centro Escolar de Señoritas, Mariano Jocson, founder of the Colegio de Manila, Las Maestras Avanceña and Don Manuel Locsín, founders of the Instituto de Molo, Iloilo, Doña Florentina Tan Villanueva, foundress of the Escuela de Cebú, and Gran Maestra Rosa Sevilla de Alvero founder of the Instituto de Mujeres.

These native educators were for the use of Spanish and Tagalog, with Visayan and Ilocano, as media of national education. They viewed English as “a language of economic conquest”. (See: The Life of Librada Avelino, Bilingual edition in Spanish and English, by Francisco Varona and Pedro de la Llana, Vera & Sons, Publishing Co., 1935, Manila, p.241).

The Thomasites were not only hampered in their task by native resistance, albeit passive. They were also made to know, outright, that English would never become the language of the Filipino masses because it is not written as it is spoken in the same manner that the native languages are done. The century-old Tagalog phrase “mahirap ispiliñgin” (difficult to spell) attests to this reality. Mr. Henry Ford himself refers to this fact when he wrote in his mentioned report the following:

“The use of Spanish as an official language has been extended to January 1, 1920. Its general use seems to be spreading. Natives acquiring it learn it as a living speech. Everywhere they hear it spoken by leading people of the community and their ears are trained to its pronunciation. On the other hand, they (the natives) are practically without phonic standards in acquiring English and the result is that they learn it as a book language rather than as a living speech. “(P.368, Historical Bulletin. Ford Report on the Philippine Situation).

The italicized part is true up to the present time. More so when many children, out of economic hardship brought about by a balooning foreign debt and the increased price of gasoline, electricity and potable water, can not attend primary and secondary schooling. That must be why English is fast becoming a minority language in these islands today. The government and the private schools do not have enough money to pay teachers a truly living wage. And the English speaking elite, as well as the politicians, find themselves forced to campaign in Tagalog, or Filipino, for votes. In other words, the Filipino language ecology has started to self-destruct with the de-emphasis of Spanish, the link between English and Tagalog, Bisayà and Ilocano.

But the Thomasites could not then go on with their task to teach English. The Philippines was not a Tabula Rasa with regard to language. There already was an existing Philippine language ecology with Spanish as its nucleus. The aim to therefore replace Spanish with English as the first step to also replace Tagalog (the actual basis of Filipino or Pilipino) along with Ilocano, Cebuano, and Hiligaynón, could not take off with success. And this was the case because the imposition of English was actually going against an existing language ecology that would later get back at even the English language, as it is now starting to happen.

But the early legislative Commissions that ruled the Islands were there to really impose English no matter the cost. And to do so, some draconian measures were inevitably, albeit tyrannically, implemented to help the Thomasites go about their linguistic task. The same Ford Report gives us a glimpse of these measures that came in the form of hard laws.

“Act No. 190 of the Commission (then the legislature) provided that English must become the official language of all courts and their records after January 1, 1906… Act No. 1427 extended the time to January 1, 1911… Act No. 1946 again extended the time to January 1, 1913.” (Op. cit. p. 368).

In short, it was the American WASP regime that started the idea about a language, whether English, Spanish or Tagalog, that must be taught by force of law in order to sink it in upon the psyche of the Filipino. This precedent glaringly belies the much later argument that “the compulsory teaching of Spanish by legislation would not succeed because of its obligatory nature”.

But before January 1, 1913 came, Executive Order No. 44, issued on August 8, 1912, had to allow Spanish to continue as an official language out of sheer necessity. In view of this situation Henry Ford, sounding almost exasperated, concluded that:

“The practical impossibility of substituting Spanish for English in court proceedings and in municipal government was such that even if English was imposed as the Official Language on January 1, 1913, Spanish would still continue in use.” (Op. Cit. p. 369)

Another law was enacted by the Filipino dominated National Assembly on February 11, 1913 further extending the use of Spanish up to 1920. Of this law, Henry Ford reported:

“There is no present prospect that Spanish can be superseded any more readily in 1920 than heretofore. And from all appearances, its place as an official language is securely established.” (Op. Cit. pp. 368-369).

By 1925 a so-called “Monroe Commission” came to the islands to assess the educational system started in English by the Thomasites. With regard the advance of English, this commission concluded:

“Upon leaving school, more than 99% of Filipinos will not speak English in their homes. Possibly, only 10% to 15% of the next generation will be able to use this language in their occupations. In fact, it will only be the government employees, and the professionals, who might make use of English.”

Upon the publication of this result, Modesto Reyes, a Filipino writer in Spanish, publisher and editor of the Rizalist newspaper-magazine ISAGANI, commented that “with the same funding and efforts spent, with the same system and other modern means of instruction now employed in the obligatory instruction of English, if Spanish were instead taught to Filipinos, the proportion of modernly educated Filipinos would have been greater than the number produced with English as the medium of education. Now, because of this failure with English, we have no other just and natural alternative but to adopt Tagalog as the national and the official language.”

And Modesto Reyes bravely added: “In our humble opinion, the Philippines already had a national and official language in Spanish when it formed part of Spain. And we adopted Spanish as our own language because we were in fact Spanish citizens. But came the Americans and without first turning us into American citizens, they just went on forcing us to adopt their language through an educational system paid for by our own tax money.” ISAGANI, P.24, Year 1, No. 5, June 1925.)

The shelling and bombing of Manila in World War Two, as provoked by the landing of the American liberation forces, killed many Filipinos. Among them was a big number of Spanish speakers and writers. And the entry of the liberating American forces suddenly made English a necessary tool of communication for grateful Filipinos who came to adore the G.I. Joe with his chocolates and his pampams.

But right after the grant of the July 4, 1946 independence from the U.S.A. the Soto, Magalona, and Cuenco laws were unanimously approved by a still largely Spanish-speaking legislature. Spanish was made a regular subject of the collegiate curricula. Because the older Spanish-speaking generations of Filipinos were still alive, this language continued, in the words of Henry Ford, “as a living language”.

It is because of this that the old U.S, WASP view of Spanish as a threat to English in the Philippines was resurrected. A black propaganda about Spanish being “a dead and irrelevant language” was launched. Parents and students were brainwashed to believe that having Spanish as a 12 unit course was an economic burden. (It was previously with 24 units because the other 12 were for the study of Filipino writings in this language).

With the 1987 Cory Constitution in place, the supposed Spanish threat to the advance of English was at last eliminated from both the official and the educational spheres. Article XIV, Section 7, Paragraph 7 of the Cory 1987 constitution provides that “Spanish and Arabic shall be taught on an optional and voluntary basis”. But while CHED refuses to organize a 12-unit foreign language course for the college curricula, neither Spanish nor Arabic, nor any other foreign language can become a regular subject in the tertiary curricula of this country. But the President of the Republic can remedy the deliberate violation of this constitutional provision by executively ordering CHED and DECS to organize unit accredited foreign language courses.

But will she?

After one hundred years since the Thomasites landed all that was achieved is the replacement of Spanish as the country’s official language. Aside from this we have the almost secret policy to force into phonetic Tagalog the unphonetic base of English, as pointed out by Henry Ford. This is now being done by ramming the entire English alphabet into Tagalog and into almost all the other major native languages by a DECS circular without any clear objection from the Commission on Filipino.

What could be tragic and funny is that this deliberate alphabetical cross-breeding is resulting into a pidgin called Taglish that may just further deteriorate the common use of English as it definitely and officially damages what used to be standard Tagalog or Filipino.

But the Filipino is said to be profitably entering the global village, albeit as a derided DH and as an entertainer, with English, or Taglish. This slave-like situation of Filipino migrant workers demeans all the previous efforts of the Thomasites. Filipinos today are being “educated” with compulsory English by the tyranny of the Jones law of 1916, the country’s foreign debt and the present Philippine Constitution, just to end up as virtual slaves and prostitutes in other countries that neither have English as their language.

Is this why the teaching of another international languages like Spanish is deliberately being withheld by the U.S. WASP dominated Philippine government of today?.

Is this why a foreign language course, with credits in units in the college curricula, can not be included by the now controversial Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED) so that either Mandarin, Spanish and Arabic may be placed within the reach of today’s Filipino student?

Is language tyranny a part of the legacy of the Thomasites?

(originally published in eManila.com)

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