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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.

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