It’s Filipino, not Tagalog or Pilipino | Inquirer Opinion
The Learning curve

It’s Filipino, not Tagalog or Pilipino

Anyone aware of the school calendar knows that the month of August is marked in schools at all levels as Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa—expanded from the Linggo ng Wika declared by Presidential Decree 1041 of then President Fidel V. Ramos on Jan. 15, 1997.

The Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) headed by National Artist and passionate national language advocate Virgilio S. Almario has been overseeing the monthlong activities with the theme “Filipino, Wikang Mapagbago”—the changing or growing language. The theme captures the richness of the language as it grows and as used more and more in public discourse and in literature.


KWF has taken us beyond the usual pat celebrations of programs featuring Philippine dance and song with participants in Filipino attire. Its calendar of events included various forums on the national language in various state colleges and universities.

Even as the month ends, it is time to revisit an issue that continues to perplex: Why is our national language Filipino, and not Tagalog or Pilipino? This is a complex issue that delves into orthography, or the spelling system of a language, and merits a lengthier discussion than a single column would allow.


In a KWF resolution in 2013, there was an attempt to define Filipino as the “native language used all over the Philippines as the language of communication, orally as well as written, by native groups all over the islands.” As a living language, it is dynamic and enriched as it is used in everyday life and in academic settings. This definition draws from the 1987 Constitution and its recognition of Filipino as the national language.

The confusion lingers because Filipino is mistakenly thought to be Tagalog concealed under a new name—a notion that riles regionalists. This dates back to the 1934 Constitutional Convention where delegates could not agree on the national language to use, with Tagalog considered the “seeded candidate.”

What is the evidence showing that Filipino is NOT Tagalog? The new alphabet as of 1984 has 28 letters—certainly no longer the Tagalog on which it was originally based. This replaced the abakada with 20 letters, while the Tagalog baybayin had 17. The addition of the eight letters (C, F, J, Ñ, Q, V, X, Z) had to be justified as they were necessary if the native languages were to be incorporated into Filipino. The letters F, J, V, and Z, for instance, represent sounds in many native languages not found in Tagalog or Sebwano, Ilonggo, or Ilokano. C, Q, Ñ, X can be used in “modernization” or borrowed scientific and technical terms from international languages.

Section 6, Article XIV of the 1987 Constitution that specifies Filipino as the national language also states: “As it evolves, it shall be further developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages.” This emphasizes that enrichment through existing Philippine languages (not dialects, mind you) takes precedence over foreign languages.

Making the national language truly “national” rather than “modernized” is the emphasis of today’s KWF, which points out that before Filipino can be on the same tier as international languages, it must first become a national language in every sense of the word. It is a reality that even with Filipino as the Philippines’ language, it is still regarded as a second language, with the language of birth used in homes as the first language. What is important is that a common orthography is used, as this is recognition and formal proof that one’s language is part of the national language and will ease one’s learning of Filipino.

With so many setbacks and divisiveness in the past, much remains to be done in the enrichment of Filipino and the growing use of the language through research and academic endeavors—beyond the month of August.

This language discussion is based on a most helpful resource, “Language Planning and Filipino” (by Virgilio S. Almario, translated by Marne Kilates). Call KWF for a free copy at 736-2525, 736-2524, or 736-2519.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected] is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa, Filipino, Inquirer Opinion, The Learning Curve
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