The Philippines was too far from Spain — two oceans removed — and only
a handful of colonists came. And these remained in Manila to invest in
the highly profitable galleon trade. They stayed away from the rural
areas, and the only white face the people saw was that of the
For practical reasons, the missionaries agreed to preach the Gospel
through the indigenous tongues. It was much easier for a single
missionary to learn several dialects at once, than for an entire
community of old and young members to learn Castilian. And in 1594, the
Crown divided the country into exclusive linguistic zones for each
missionary order. Perhaps unintended, the decree made the missionaries
the first linguists, grammarians, authors of dictionaries of the local
But the Philippines remains a Hispanic country. Its culture, its
ideals, its usages are strongly Hispanic, so strong that, if one were
to remove this basic element, the people will cease to be Filipino.
Remove, for example, "martes," "cememnteryo," "birhen," "meryenda," and
other Spanish derivatives, and Filipino society will drastically change.
One of the first successful tasks of the new American government was to
introduce English. It was meant to unify what the first Americans here
called "a collection of tribes, not a nation." This, of course,
introduced a new lifestyle, different ideals. For beyond mere
vocabulary, language is the vehicle of culture, the link that cements
individuals into a cohesive unity we call "society."
Add to this the successful anti-Spanish "leyenda negra" that the
Americans subtly continued. To counter it in some way, to try to erase
the popular fiction that Hispanic Christianity was for the old, the
weak, the effeminate, the women, the first American Jesuits in the
country organized athletic sports in the Ateneo, e. g., boxing. And the
archbishop raised his eyebrows, the parents complained, and an order
from Rome banned the sport.
Is Castilian necessary? Very much so. Why is Philippine history so
distorted and replete with errors? Why are so many individuals who do
not deserve the honor considered "national heroes"? The controversy
over erroneous history is not yet over, and many schools continue to
use age-old texts written by authors who seem not to know that much new
research into Philippine history is being published — in Castilian, of
course. And why do those who claim to be "interested" in history hardly
study our documents gathering dust in our archives? Simply because they
do not know Castilian!
We have a triple problem: that of Castilian, paradoxically the
instrument that forged more than 7,000 islands into a colony that now
values human dignity and social justice; that of English, which now
several want restored as the exclusive medium of school instruction to
make the country "globally competitive"; that of the national language,
which remains very much in inchoate form — for some, e. g., the
Visayans, look askance at Tagalog as its base.
How did the Italian dialects develop into the Italian we now know? When
a genius used his native Tuscan to write his immortal trilogy, La
Divina Commedia. Significantly, our Filipino writers who have won
worldwide acclaim wrote in English. What does this signify?
We are still waiting for our genius, a Filipino Dante.