Behind Filipino (2) | Inquirer Opinion
Pinoy Kasi

Behind Filipino (2)

/ 12:07 AM August 29, 2014

Last Wednesday I began to write about how we came to have Filipino, a national language, drawing on a booklet written by Virgilio Almario, chair of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, with additional research.

We saw how the moves to have a local language as the national language started in the 1930s, spurred by strong nationalist and pro-independence politicians. Contrary to popular myths, the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa that chose Tagalog as a national language was not dominated by Tagalogs.


After World War II and our regaining of our independence on July 4, 1946, the promotion of a national language continued. A few months before independence, President Sergio Osmeña proclaimed a National Language Week from March 27 to April 2, which President Ramon Magsaysay later modified slightly so that April 2, the birthday of Tagalog writer Francisco Balagtas, would fall in the middle of the National Language Week.

Magsaysay later issued another proclamation moving this celebration to August, noting that the original National Language Week was taking place outside of the academic school year. This new National Language Week included Aug. 19, the birthday of Quezon.


It was President Fidel Ramos who later dedicated the entire month of August to the national language, a commemoration which is now translated, in many schools, into a “Filipiniana” month for cultural presentations.

Tagalog to Pilipino to Filipino

All through the years, and even today, the national language was referred to as “Tagalog.” In 1959, Education Secretary Jose Romero ordered the use of “Pilipino” as the proper name for this national language.

The 1960s was a contentious decade for the national language. On one hand, the rising tide of nationalism produced “purists” advocating a national language with minimal foreign influences. The purists coined new words such as “salumpuwit” for a chair, and the use of the suffixes “Anak” and “Apo” for names, instead of “Junior” and “III.”

This “purist” tide produced two responses. One was a campaign against Tagalog as the national language by non-Tagalogs, who used the purists to complain that a difficult Tagalog was being imposed on the nation.

The other reaction was a “Modernizing the Language Approach Movement” or Molam, headed by Congressman Geruncio Lacuesta, attempting to promote a “Manila Lingua Franca” which integrated words from different Philippine, as well as international, languages. He published a magazine called Katha, using this Manila Lingua Franca. After Lacuesta died, the movement fizzled out.

The 1973 Constitution declared both English and Pilipino as official languages (with then President Ferdinand Marcos adding, in 1973, Spanish as another official language). The 1970s was marked by social ferment and martial law. The use of Filipino (or Pilipino) became a marker of nationalism, and sometimes, as an expression of antimartial law sentiments, but there was ambivalence here, with even the most radical students switching between Pilipino (for example, “Ibagsak ang Rehimeng EU-Marcos”) and English (“Expose and Oppose the US-Marcos Dictatorship”).


After Marcos fell, a new constitution was written, naming Filipino and English as the official languages. It also instructed the government to “take steps to initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official communication and as language of instruction in the educational system.”  In 1988, President Corazon Aquino issued Executive Order No. 335 ordering all government agencies to use Filipino in all forms of communication, in names of offices, buildings and signages.

The post-1987 national language policy was more pragmatic and inclusive. A new Filipino  alpabeto  was introduced, expanded from the 20-letter Tagalog-based  abakada.  The current  alpabeto  includes F, J, V and Z, which are actually present in several Philippine languages. In addition, it has the Spanish N, Q and X, which, together with F, J, V and Z, make it easier to borrow words from English and other international languages.

The 1987 Constitution also mentions “regional languages” as “auxiliary official languages in the regions and shall serve as auxiliary media of instruction therein.” But it took another 20 years before the Department of Education was to look into regional and auxiliary languages, with a Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) system. The rationale of this system is that children learn more quickly in schools if a local mother tongue is used. This mother tongue is used up to Grade 3 to teach various subjects, including Filipino itself.

In this MTB-MLE system, 19 languages have been named as possible languages for instruction in schools. These include eight “major languages,” “major” being defined by the relatively large number of speakers (more than a million). These are Bikol, Ilokano, Hiligaynon, Pampanggo, Pangasinan, Sebwano, Tagalog and Waray. Another three languages spoken by Muslim Filipinos are also included as “major” languages: Maranaw, Tausug and Magindanaw.

An additional eight languages are also recognized for the mother tongue-based program: Ibanag, Ivatan, Zambal, Chabacano, Akeanon, Yakan, Kiniray-a and Surigaonon.

The 19 languages may seem like a confusing lot but we should remember there are more than 170 languages spoken in the Philippines. Note too the 19 mother languages do not include English, which is actually considered as a first language for many upper-class Filipino children. Thus in many private schools, students feel more comfortable in English and end up learning Filipino as a second language or, in non-Tagalog areas, even as a third language.

No doubt, we have made progress toward a national language. In 1939, speakers of the “wikang pambansa” numbered about four million Filipinos or 25 percent of the total population. By 1980, speakers of the national language totaled more than 12 million or 44 percent of the total population.

A 1989 survey conducted by Ateneo de Manila University found that 92 percent of Filipinos understood “Tagalog,” 83 percent could speak it, 88 percent could read it and 81 percent could write in that language.

Today debates continue on language policies with a vocal “English only” lobby. It didn’t help that President Gloria Arroyo ordered, in 2003, a return to English as a monolingual language of instruction. Fortunately, that has been replaced by the DepEd’s mother language system, a reflection of the way we continue to appreciate the need for a national language, while recognizing how linguistic diversity can be beneficial too.

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E-mail: [email protected]

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TAGS: 1973 Constitution, Department of Education, DepEd, Geruncio Lacuesta, Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, National Language Week, President Gloria Arroyo, President Sergio Osmeña, Surian ng Wikang Pambansa, Virgilio Almario
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