Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Filipino with the "F": A Guide for the Perplexed (Part One)

During the proceedings of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, Constitutional Commissioner Tingson stood in prayer as follows:

MR. TINGSON… Panginoon, bigyan mo po kami ng mga Filipinos nga may kasing-kasing na mahinulsulun. Nga nagahigugma sang katarungan apan nagasabdung sang kalainan. Kay, Ginoo, ito pong mga Filipinos ang aming bayan ngayon may kailangan kay amo ining mga Filipinos nga may matuod nga sadsara. (4 CONCOM 486)

The argument was that the above prayer is the new Filipino language, rich, democratic, and hardly intelligible.

That's why you don't know how thrilled I am that somebody has actually filed a case directly attacking the language policy of the government, particularly on the medium of instruction. This is not the first time somebody had done so, there were previous efforts but none were given enough attention by the Supreme Court. My thrill is not because I am an advocate of one language line -- my views have shifted from one line to another, and now I don't know where I am. More than anything, I am excited because finally the Supreme Court can have a chance to settle the issue on what is the national language.

The recent case makes a point about Filipino, and the backseat it has taken with the EO 210 and DepEd Order 36 making English the medium of instruction in schools for certain subjects. But the case that needs to be settled is about Filipino itself. Does it actually exist? What is it composed of? How can we tell if what were using is Filipino with ""F" or Pilipino with "P" or Tagalog with the "T".

I have spent my junior year in law school researching the history of our language laws, and, with my efforts and a lot of luck, this article was born: Filipino with the "F": A Construction of the National Language Policy The article was publised in the Ateneo Law Journal in 1994.

When the case goes to the Solicitor General for Comment, one of the key arguments would be the ambiguity of Filipino with "F", and the difficulty in obtaining learning materials in a language not yet developed. And with that the Supreme Court will have no choice but to settle the question, what is the Filipino language?

In the meantime, I'm blogging the article here in series.




The absence of a settled definition of Filipino has triggered many long and winding debates on the nature and character of the Philippine national language. The esteemed author Edilberto Alegre, for instance, writes that the distinction between Filipino and Pilipino exists only in the statutes. As written and spoken, Filipino and Pilipino are similar, and to maintain the distinction is to be foolish. But as others hold, the distinction is substantive.2 Pilipino, is a mere component of Filipino, since the former is based solely on Tagalog while the latter is based on all existing Philippine languages. Undoubtedly, the State’s legal intervention in the national language issue has done much to confound the problem. The different shifts in the language policy have brought enough confusion not only to the people but also to policy-makers themselves. Hence, to untangle the complications which have developed on the subject throughout its legal history, an historical and legal construction is in order.


A. Definitions

“Pilipino,” on one hand, is the national language declared3 by then President Manuel Quezon by authority of Commonwealth Act 184.4 It is based on Tagalog, an existing language which is native to the inhabitants of the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Batangas, Laguna, Cavite, and Quezon among others. “Filipino,” on the other hand, is the national language consisting of a fusion of all languages in the country the number of which range from forty (40) to ninety (90) depending on how one distinguishes a language from a dialect.5

It is admitted, however, that there is no established language which consists of a fusion of all languages in the Philippines. If ever one does exist, the most that can be said about it is, that it is underdeveloped. In this view, a noted linguist declared, Filipino is a mere “linguistic legal fiction.”6 In Tumang v. Bautista, et. al.,7 a case for damages, the plaintiff filed his complaint in Filipino. The defendant objected on the ground that the complaint did not use the official language, i.e., it was not in English. The trial court admitted the complaint, but on review, was reversed by the Supreme Court. Speaking for the Supreme Court, Justice Vicente Abad Santos held that Filipino is still a gestating language as the National Assembly failed to take appropriate measures to develop Filipino as mandated by the 1973 Constitution.8 Thus, from this ruling, it is clear that litigants may validly object to pleadings written in Filipino. Moreover, judges should avoid writing decisions in that language.

Curiously, under Executive Order No. 335,9 Filipino was made an official10 language by mandate of the 1987 Constitution. In this regard, the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports issued an order11 prescribing guidelines for the use of Filipino as a medium of instruction. If Filipino is a gestating language or a linguistic legal fiction, how can it be used as an official language or a medium of instruction? Needless to state, only an established language or a medium of used as a language of official communication or medium of school instruction. In other words, Filipino is an ambiguous concept. This ambiguity is the foremost hindrance to the effective implementation of the national language policy. Hence, the meaning of Filipino must be defined and articulated to overcome this hindrance.

B. Approaches

There are two (2) ways to understand the concept of Filipino: the Complete Amalgamation Approach and the Universal Approach. The former is attributed to Dr. Demetrio Quirino, Jr.12 and proposes that all languages in the Philippines must have a democratic representation in Filipino. Philippine languages will have an allocated percentage in the phonology, morphology, syntax, and vocabulary of Filipino according to the population of the speakers. Tagalog will only have an allocation of thirty (30%) per centum. This approach was explicitly rejected by the 1986 Constitutional Commission.13

The second perspective is the Universal Approach14 developed by Dr. Ernesto Constantino. Under this, Filipino is based on the national lingua franca, or the language used by persons with different linguistic backgrounds. The lingua franca is said to have evolved informally. This approach does not subscribe to the democratic allocation proposed by the Complete Amalgamation Approach. Instead, it allows a single language to be the nucleus of Filipino. The nuclear language is then developed by allowing other languages to influence it through usage and standardization. Filipino, under this approach, is said to be similar to the taglish15 variety of Pilipino spoken in Metro Manila.

Dr. Ponciano Pineda, the Director of the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa (SWP), provides a schema16 to further understand the universal approach. According to him, the manner of developing the multi-language based Filipino is by using Pilipino as the nucleus or the corpus of the language, and by allowing the corpus to assimilate popular words and phrases from other Philippine and foreign languages through a process of rigorous selection. Naturally, there will be modifications in the lexicon, grammar, and orthography of the corpus. These changes will then be assimilated through standardization. Then, the government must expand the usage domain of the corpus to include the fields of education, culture, public administration, sciences, technology, lawmaking, judiciary, society, and media to develop the language. In the meantime, Pilipino, the corpus, is similar to Filipino. But after a period of development, the multi-language based Filipino may then be realized.

This study uses this second approach in arriving at a definition of Filipino. It is, however, necessary to indulge in a digression on the origin and history of Filipino in order to fully appreciate its meaning and context.


A. Deception in the 1934 Constitutional Convention

The need for a single unifying language in the Philippine archipelago had been the constant concern of the Spanish and American colonizers and even the Philippine Revolutionaries. There were attempts to impose an official language through legislation, but none would leave a lasting effect other than the drafting and subsequent ratification of the 1935 Constitution. This ushered in the rivalry between those who advocated a national language based on one language (the mono-language based movement) and those who advocated a national language based on all existing native languages (multi-language based movement). An overwhelming sentiment17 to adopt a local language as a national language which would eventually replace English moved the delegates of the 1934 Constitutional Convention (1934 CONCON) to consider the proposition18 of Delegate Villanueva making Tagalog the national language. The Villanueva proposition started the mono-language based national language movement (hereinafter the mono-lingualists), as it would later be known. Delegate Villanueva said that it was time for the Filipinos to set aside their sectionalism for the purpose of achieving a common goal – the selection of a common language.19 Among the dialects in the Philippines, Tagalog had the surest promise of developing into a national language, because it was widely spoken.20 It was the language of the capital.21 It also had a formidable body of literature.22

In opposition to the Villanueva proposal, Delegate Bueno stated that it was more prudent not to mention any native dialect in the Constitution and to leave to time the selection of a national language.23 Mentioning a native dialect in the Constitution would foster impressions of preference, thus breeding division instead of cohesion.24 Moreover, there were other dialects, aside from Tagalog, that could just as well serve as the national language.25

In the course of the debate, Delegate Briones objected to the Villanueva proposition. He suggested that the dialects of the Visayan Islands and Mindanao and another of those of Luzon, be unified, primarily through their literature. From the two unified systems would later evolve a national language.26 This unification would not be difficult to attain, in view of the common Malay origin of the Philippine dialects.27 Delegate Briones’ suggestion marked the conception of a multi-language based national language. Eventuallym the Villanueva proposition was defeated, 71 votes against 47.

Without further debate, the delegates approved a compromise provision on the national language submitted by Delegate Vinsons. It stated:

The National Assembly shall take steps towards the development and adoption of a common national language based on existing native dialects.

Until otherwise provided by law, English and Spanish shall be the official languages.28

It appeared that the multi-language based national language bloc scored a victory with the approval of the Vinsons provision.29 The victory, however, was short-lived. When the Style Committee considered the provision, it amended the provision so that the national language was to be based on one of the existing native languages instead of all of them. Note that the amendment was more than a matter of style; it affected the substance of the provision. This action raised questions on the propriety and validity of the provision. It was, however, voted and carried on readily by the Convention. The provision read:

The National Assembly shall take steps toward the development and adoption of a common national language based on one of the existing native languages. Until otherwise provided by law, English and Spanish shall continue as official languages.30 (emphasis supplied)

The entire draft of the Constitution with the altered languages provision was then approved by the 1934 CONCON on 8 March 1935. U.S. President Roosevelt signed it on 23 March 1935. It was ratified in a plebiscite on 14 May 1935. It may be said, therefore, that the irregularity was cured.

Charges were hurled against the President of the 1934 CONCON, Claro M. Recto, and the members of the Style Committee for submitting to the alleged prodding of Senate President Manuel L. Quezon to rephrase the Vinsons provision.31 The charges were never proved, but such did not endear President Quezon32 to the non-Tagalogs and the multi-language based national language movement (hereinafter the multi-lingualists). In the meantime, the multi-lingualists quietly acquiesced to the turn of events.


* Juris Doctor 1995, Notes and Comments Editor, Ateneo Law Journal, 1993-1994, Associate Editor, 1994-1995
Edilberto Alegre, Filipino is the National Language in Monico M. Atienza, Kilusang Pambansa Demokratiko sa Wika 300 (1992).
2 In 1969, two civil actions were filed against the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa (SWP) questioning SWP’s authority to propagate Tagalog as the basis of Pilipino. These cases were: Ferrer v. CA, et. al. CFI of Manila Branch VII, Civil Case No. 53048, 10 October 1969, docketed as L-32167 in the Supreme Court and dismissed on a minute resolution in 1970; and Madyaas Pro-Hiligaynon Society v. Surian ng Wikang Pambansa, CFI of Manila, Civil Case No. 77548, 28 January 1971.
3 Executive Order No. 134 (1937).
4 13 November 1936.
5 Emy M. Pascasio, The Language Situation in the Philippines from the Spanish Era to the Present, Brown Heritage, (A. Manuud ed. 1969).
6 Quoting Bro. Andrew Gonzalez, FSC, Ma. Teresa R. Robles, A Filipino Language at Last, in Development Issues: Constitutional Response 25 (Florangel Rosario-Braid ed. 1987).
7 136 SCRA 682, at 685 (1985)
8 Id. It appears that Justice Abad Santos ignored the difference between Pilipino and Filipino. Nevertheless, it is clear that he is referring to Filipino alone.
9 1988.
10 An official language must be differentiated from a national language. The official language is the prescribed means of communications in government transactions. A national language is the language used generally in the country. The government has the right to insist that official communications be done in the official language which may not necessarily be the national language.
11 Department Order No. 81 (1987).
12 Pociano Pineda, Ang Wikang Pambansa sa Saligang Batas, Limampung Taon ng Surian ng Wikang Pambansa: Huling Isa’t Kalahating Dekada (1970-1987) 61 (Aurora E. Batnag ed. 1987).
13 Commissioner Ople’s interpellaton with Commissioner Bennagen on the 1 September 1986 session proves this assertion.

MR. OPLE Does the committee, however, believe, that the enrichment, expansion and indefinite strengthening of the living language through assimilation will have to be done in the course of the evolution of this language, and that it is not the intention of the committee to prescribe certain quotas, according to quotas of assimilation from different languages, in accordance with a certain fiat of the government?

MR. BENNAGEN. No Madam President, because we look at the language as an organic thing which has its own logic of growth; therefore, we must follow that x x x

See 4 Records of the Constitutional Commission 153 (hereinafter Concom).
14 Ernesto Constantino, Ang “Universal Approach” at ang Wikang Pambansa ng Pilipinas, Filipino o Pilipino? Mga Bagong Babasahin sa Pambansang Wika at Literatura (Ernesto Constantino, et al. eds. 1974)
15 This variety of Pilipino employs a loose mixture of Tagalog and English.
16 See Pineda, supra note 13 at 32.
17 Jose Aruego, The Framing of the Philippine Constitution, 639-640 (1949 reprint).
18 Actually, the proposition was in the form of an amendment to the proposed draft of the Committee on Official Languages. The draft stated: A national language being necessary to strengthen the solidarity of the Nation, the National Assembly shall take steps looking to the development and adoption of a language common to all the people on the basis of the existing languages. (Id., at 636).
19 Id. at 642.
20 Id.
21 Id.
22 Id.
23 Id.
24 Id. at 643.
25 Id.
26 Id. at 644.
27 Id.
28 Id.
29 Historians refer to this as the Vinsons Amendment.
30 Id. at 645.
31 Leopoldo L. Yabes, History of Filipino as the Common National Language, Language Planning and the Building of a National Language (Bonifacio P. Sibayan and Andrew Gonzalez, FSC eds. 1977.)
32 Prof. Yabes attributes this alleged act of Pres. Quezon as the basis for Pres. Quezon’s designation as the Father of the Pilipino Language, and the celebration of the National Language Week in the week of his birthday August 19. The designation is not officially conferred. The celebration of the language week during Pres. Quezon’s birthday was based on Proclamation No. 7 (1955). Id. at 645.

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