PH literacy during Spain’s rule
In his response to Ramon Tulfo’s column, Spanish Ambassador to the Philippines Jorge Domecq noted what he called “clichés and misunderstandings” pertaining to relations between the Philippines and Spain (Inquirer, 7/7/12), which, he said, though “very uncommon and rarely heard, do surface from time to time.”
However, the “clichés and the misunderstandings” that resulted from more than three centuries of colonization are expected, and they will flourish for as long as the former colonizer and the colonized have not made serious attempts to unravel the past, make an accounting of events and their players, and expose and resolve the problems to enable the present and the future generations of Filipinos to know and understand and, therefore, accept with objectivity what happened in this country between 1521 and 1898.
A case in point: After decades of reading daily newspapers, this is the first time I read of the Spanish ambassador himself making comments on “education during the long colonization period.” We read of announcements about Spanish events in Manila commemorating an important date, but hardly was there any write-up, research or even attempts at historical enlightenment on the sensitive issue of Spanish time in the Philippines.
I must admit that I am one of those who developed a rather sketchy view of Spanish colonization in college, until years of professional and personal interest got me clarified about many issues of that period. An example would be the status of education in the colony. While public instruction was not made officially available to Filipinos until 1863, according to Ambassador Domecq, it is correct to surmise that there was higher literacy in the Philippines than in Spain because, as data would show, the religious orders in the country then embarked in countrywide preaching and teaching of the natives.
After the Augustinians, the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor arrived in the Philippines in 1578 and decided, as a policy, to open a school in every parish they would establish. For centuries, among many of their mission works, the Franciscans erected schools from Manila, Rizal (Morong), Laguna, Tayabas, Bicol, down to the Visayas. The rest of the islands were “educated” by other religious orders—Augustinians, Dominicans, Jesuits, etc.
The ambassador therefore need not make any apologia for those years. Maybe, he can find consolation and validation from American History teacher and writer Prescott F. Jernegan who wrote in his “A Short History of the Philippines” (1912): “For three hundred years the schools of the Philippines had been in charge of the friars… the friars decided what should be taught” (p. 239). Then finally, Jernegan, who taught History in the Ilocos during his Philippine assignment, concludes, “Spain did more for the education of the Filipinos than many nations have done for their colonies. Small as the results seem, they were of great value and one of the greatest benefits that the Filipinos received from the Spanish government” (p. 241).
—ALOMA MONTE DE LOS REYES.
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