by Perry Diaz
There is a legislative bill — House Bill 1563 — submitted in the Philippine Congress which seeks to make “Filipino” as the primary medium of instruction in Philippine schools. Sponsors of the bill wanted to replace English as the medium of instruction. They believe that the use of “Filipino” — the national language — in the educational system would “better promote love of Filipino.”
“Filipino” — more appropriately “Pilipino,” or Tagalog as commonly referred to – is the national language of the Philippines. The letter “F” does not exist in the Tagalog alphabet. Beginning in 1974, the medium of instruction — except for a few subjects — was changed to Pilipino. However, in 1991, the medium of instruction — except for a few subjects — was again changed to English. And now, again, some legislators want to revert it back to Pilipino. One might ask, “Why? For love of Filipino?” By the same token, “Is wearing the Barong Tagalog makes us love Filipino more and wearing the ‘Americana’ (western business suit) makes us love Filipino less?” Does speaking in Pilipino makes us more Filipino? Or, does speaking in English makes us less Filipino?”
The Tagalog-based Pilipino has been the Philippines’ national language since December 31, 1937 when the then President Manuel L. Quezon proclaimed Pilipino as the National Language. Pilipino became one of the Philippines’ official languages along with Spanish and English. Did that mean that an Ilocano, for example, had to speak four languages including his native Iloko to be able to communicate during the American Commonwealth era? Not necessarily. In particular, Spanish — which became the official language from June 24, 1571 until the1987 Constitution of President Cory Aquino which suppressed the official status of Spanish and stopped teaching Spanish in Filipino schools — was never the general language spoken by the Filipinos during its 416-year course. However, English was learned by most Filipinos in the short time that it was introduced, thanks to the United States government for initiating a crash program to educate the Filipinos. Within a generation, from the arrival of the “Thomasites,” thousands of Filipino teachers were trained to teach Filipino children with English as the medium of instruction.
What happened to the Spanish language? Why didn’t the Filipinos, in general, learn to speak Spanish? When King Charles V issued a decree on July 17, 1550, “to teach the indios (natives) in all the Spanish dominions the conqueror’s language,” it would have been presumed that the Spanish regime in Manila would have implemented the King’s edict. However, the communication line between Spain and Manila was long and arduous. To reach Manila from Spain, it involved sailing to Veracruz in Mexico, travel by land to Acapulco, and a galleon ride to Manila. Las Islas Filipinas, as the Philippines was called then, was governed by the Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico). His subordinate in Manila, the governor-general, had the authority to implement the King’s orders. However, the Roman Catholic Church — particularly during the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834) — had more power than the Spanish Monarchy.
In the Philippines, the friars ruled. They had absolute power over the people. Several of the frailocratic functions were: supervision of education and religious activities, veto power over the decision of the gobernadorcillo (native administrator), banish people without trial, preside over the guardia civil (police force), and screen recruits for military service.
According to Wikipedia.org, an Internet encyclopedia: “The most popularly held view as to why Spanish did not become the standard spoken language is that the Spanish authorities, in education, religion, and government, discouraged its use among the natives. Another factor is education. Less than 10% of the population reached the equivalent of graduating from college. Lack of education made the language less familiar.” By discouraging, or “forbidding,” the natives from speaking Spanish, “the Spanish authorities intended to keep the natives ignorant of the language to maintain control and prevent a unifying language.” This “Rule and Divide” strategy proved to be an effective way of keeping order in the colony. The Spanish authorities created an aristocratic class based on a feudal system and gave them titles and privileges including land ownership, education, and limited authority. This elite landed class included Spanish Peninsulares (born in Spain), Spanish Insulares (born in the archipelago), mestizos and favored indios.
In 1863, Queen Isabela II decreed the establishment of public school system in all islands. In the 1870 Census, there were 4,500,000 Filipinos. Those who spoke Spanish did not exceed 2.8% of the population.
Spanish which was the official language of Las Islas Filipinas for 299 years, only 126,000 out of 4.5 million Filipinos spoke Spanish. The rest were deprived of the ability to speak the official language which was also the language of commerce. At that time, Spanish was also the dominant language on earth.
The Filipinos today are fortunate to have two official languages — Pilipino and English. Pilipino and English are also the Philippines’ languages of commerce. And English is the universal language. By keeping English as the medium of instruction in Philippine schools, it guarantees Filipinos the capability to go to any place on earth and speak the universal language.
Knowledge of English is key to the Filipino’s ability to land a job anywhere in the world. There are more than seven million Filipinos working in more than 100 countries. Each day, 3,500 Filipinos are leaving their country for better pastures. The seven billion dollars that they remit home each year is a boon to the Philippine economy. And as the Filipinos continue to disperse around the world, the world continues to shrink into one global economy.
By reverting the medium of instruction back to Pilipino, English as a second language among Filipinos would die, within the same span of time it took Filipinos to learn to speak English — one generation. And what is there to be gained? “Promote love of Filipino?” Filipinos already speak Pilipino. Right now, they’ve got the best of two worlds. Let’s keep it that way.