Español beyond codes, cuisine, and curse words | Inquirer Opinion

Español beyond codes, cuisine, and curse words

Some say it would be easy for Filipinos, especially Hiligaynon and Chabacano speakers, to learn the Spanish language, because many of our words are derived from it. Practically everyone can understand “el caballo capón no puede casta.”

Levity aside, we also use Spanish words such as muchacha/muchaho (girl/boy), doña/don (mrs./mister), querida/querido (darling), siempre (always), engaño (cheat), torpe (clumsy), basta (enough), seguro (certain), la mierda (manure), invierno (winter), hechicera (sorcerer), and aburrido (boring), the meanings of which have changed upon indigenization. And we have “hispanized” phrases such as Supreme Court into “Korte Suprema,” when the proper term is Tribunal Supremo or T.S. as found in lawbooks.


In fact, it is not unusual for Spanish words to still be part of our legal discourse. Apart from the academic study of the Spanish language and of Spanish literature, it is in law books, law schools, and in courtrooms where we can find, read, and hear Spanish words. For example, the crime of estafa and some of the penalties, from reclusion perpetua to arresto menor, in our Revised Penal Code of 1930. As well as reserva troncal and the various acción (pauliana, interdictal, publiciana, and reivindicatoria) in our Civil Code of 1950. In fact, lawyers of a certain vintage would recall that they had to have earned at least 12 credit units of Spanish in college before they were considered for admission to law school.

Now why are there Spanish words in our abovementioned laws, both of which are written in English? The answer is simple: The first one is a copy of the old Código Penal of Spain, which the latter revised more than 20 years ago; the second is based on the old Philippine Civil Code, which was an English translation of the Código Civil de España.


But like the Spanish words that have become indigenized, Philippine law and jurisprudence have, for the most part, treated Spanish words as technical terms which may have connotations that differ from their actual meanings. I submit that we should go beyond this, and strive to relearn the Spanish language for academic, practical, and sentimental reasons. After all, even the Philippine Constitution states that Spanish (as well as Arabic) shall be promoted, albeit on a voluntary and optional basis.

Recovering our proficiency in Spanish will provide us with invaluable insights into and appreciation of the literal language, and the nuances and contexts, of major Philippine laws, as well as the legal principles upon which our civil law system is based. This is the goal of the Capacity Building for Legal and Social Advancement in the Philippines (CALESA) Project ( co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union. The multi-year project, composed of four European institutions (Universidad de Málaga, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Universidad de Deusto, and University College Dublin) and five Philippine institutions (University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, the University of San Agustin, Ateneo de Zamboanga University, and the Philippine Judicial Academy), shall address five interdependent problem areas in Philippine legal education: academic research, multilingualism, legal modernization, human rights and the rule of law, and regional integration.

Spanish is more than just penalties, paella, and puñeta. Relearning the fourth most widely spoken language in the world will reconnect us with significant sources of our culture and heritage, broaden our horizons, and deepen our understanding of the world around us. It is an indispensable tool for urbanidad.

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Jose Mari BFU Tirol is dean of the University of San Agustin College of Law.

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TAGS: Commentary, Jose Mari BFU Tirol, Spanish
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