National identification, communication and learning

This new introduction is in order to place the following article in the proper context. Language is an important issue in the Philippines and I see three possible ways to go:

1) Complete Americanization or globalization with some local flavor – make the Philippines like Guam or Hawaii.

2) Complete Filipinization, which is the flavor of many Filipino nationalists, but may not be practicable.

3) Something in between I call pragmatic nationalism with many possible flavors and variations, acknowledging and accepting local identity at some level, still being open to abroad but controlling the access of foreigners to the local scene, for example by speaking their language(s) like the Dutch do, but having an own language or languages for use within the country.

Language is also about one’s own culture and traditions, do people want to preserve them or not? It all ties in with where the Philippines wants to go, my first question in this blog. The following article is a somewhat different proposal to encourage further discussion, to think about all the possibilities.

Most of the more than 100 languages in the Philippines are linguistically classified as Philippine languages, to which certain languages from Sulawesi also belong. Exceptions are the Spanish creole language Chavacano with around 600.00 speakers – and English.  Northern Philippine languages include Ilokano and Kapampangan; Tagalog, Cebuano and Bikol are Central Philippine languages; Maguindanao and Maranao are Mindanao languages. Some Lumad languages lie outside the main language groups. As of 2000, languages with at least one million speakers were:


  • Tagalog with around 26 million speakers
  • Ilokano with around 8 million speakers
  • Kapampangan with around 3 million speakers
  • Pangasinan with around 2.5 million speakers
  • Northern Bikol with around 2.5 million speakers
  • Southern Bikol with around 2 million speakers


  • Cebuano with around 21 million speakers
  • Hiligaynon with around 7 million speakers
  • Waray-Waray with around 3 million speakers


  • Maranao with around 2 million speakers
  • Tausug with around 1.8 million speakers
  • Maguindanao with around 1.8 million speakers

Visayan languages and Tagalog are also spoken much in Mindanao. The national language Filipino is based on Tagalog and is spoken by around 45 million of the ca. 100 million Filipinos. Modern Filipino spoken on the streets is strongly influenced by the Filipino spoken in Metro Manila and spread via television and movies. The official language English is spoken by around 60 million Filipinos with varying proficiency, while Spanish has all but disappeared. Filipinos often code-switch between Filipino or their own local language and English.

Obviously the Philippines lacks a common tool for learning, identification and communication. English is widely used but often badly spoken and used in a perfunctory, shallow way like Latin was used in medieval times. Starting school in a language too different from what one speaks at home hampers true learning and encourages rote. A language closer to what one has learned at home and to what one feels is better for identification and communication. However, Filipino is presently only spoken by less than half of the population. Let us look at the situation:

  • Ilokano is a Northern Philippine language and somewhat different from Central Philippine languages. It is the lingua franca of most of Northern Luzon.
  • Central Philippine languages are very similar. It is therefore not difficult for a Bikolano to learn Filipino. Visayans could easily learn Filipino too but often don’t.
  • The Visayan language subgroup, which is more of a dialect continuum than separate languages, has more speakers than Tagalog and is strongly represented in Mindanao.

The pragmatic solution might be like in Switzerland, to have THREE national or major languages:

  • Filipino/Tagalog would cover most of Luzon except the North plus Mindoro and Palawan.
  • Cebuano would cover the Visayas and major parts of Mindanao.
  • Ilokano would cover Northern Luzon.

In due time, the majority of Filipinos would speak one of three national languages, many at least two. This in conjunction with federalism or decentralization may increase the still weak identification with the country in many provinces. This not in contradiction with building a strong national community, if one overcomes traditional nationalist dogmatism.

The intellectuals that promote languages for teaching should also be more flexible and accomodate more words from living street language without becoming vulgar, in order to increase accessibility and acceptance among the people who are the target audience. The German dictionary Duden is very quick in adapting current terms used in the mass media while still labelling inappropriate street terms as such. Most formal Filipino dictionaries hardly reflect reality, meaning they do not help learn a useful language. And getting it to the children might work this way:

  • teach the first four years in the national or major language used in the specific area, the similarity with the own local dialect would help in learning.
  • learn one other national language starting Grade 5. Ideally Ilokano for Cebuanos and Tagalogs, and Cebuano or Tagalog for Ilokanos to have good coverage.
  • Starting 7th grade, English or Spanish, both global languages. Latin America is now economically resurgent and Spanish is part of the Filipino heritage, just as English is.

In fact I think Spanish is closer to the Filipino soul than English is. But English should not be dropped, it is also part of the Filipino heritage, just somewhat younger. The plurality and the colonial heritage of the Philippines should be recognized and accepted. To form a strong bond that is really lived by the national community. One that is in the end more competitive in a globalized world.

Irineo B. R. Salazar

München, April 24th 2015

62 thoughts on “National identification, communication and learning

  1. It saddens me that there is division among various groups about our identity as Filipinos. There’s a multitude of Filipinos who don’t feel divided as these groups would claim. For the most part feeling Filipino is a definition from the gut. That’s what matters. Let the various social science disciplines take care of digitizing that identity. Our experience has always been, from the ground, a slow but sure movement towards a Filipino nation! Our culture and history might have surrounded us as polyglots but our education and mores are in unison. For many generations, the great universities and colleges in Manila and Quezon City have been a centripetal force for that national evolution. The education of our citizenry in the Visayas and Mindanao have not been that much different or essentially differentiated from what was happening in Manila, which is our cultural center. The idea of an imperial Manila is a fictitious construct.

    • I don’t have the stats but I truly suspect the majority of our Filipino families are at least bilingual, in the inter-regional sense.


    So many writers and scholars have claimed that our race has no identity of its own. They say that we are still seeking an elusive national identity. Most of them somehow have this “warped” view of the subject, stating that more than three hundred years of Spanish colonization hindered the development or natural evolution of our identity. Some say that the Filipino identity started to exist only when the Philippines revolted against “Spanish tyranny and oppression”. And some argue that we still have to develop it.

    “A definite national identity has continuously eluded the Filipino peoples,” declared Gabriela Network. “Colonizers and imperial powers have thwarted fledgling attempts at nationhood, redefining the archipelago for their own benefit.” The late statesman, Carlos P. Rómulo, wrote intrepidly that “our history is a record of the search for the Filipino identity,” implying thus that there is an absolute absence of it. “The examination is urgent because we are witnessing a resurgence of the spirit, expressing itself in a boldness with which we like to conceive our politics, our social organization, our intellectual and artistic tradition, our system of education, and, more significantly, the assertiveness with which we like to regard ourselves in relation to the larger context of Asia,” he continued.

    Retired colonel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (and author of the History of the Armed Forces of the Filipino People) Dr. César P. Pobre even tried to explain why there is a lack of such an identity: the country’s archipelagic nature, a deficiency of unity and unifying symbols other than the national language and flag, colonial policies, the protracted terrorism of local communist and separatist groups, and demographic diversity.

    But to say that we do not have our own identity is tantamount to declaring that we have no country, that we are not a unified network of nations. Or that perhaps we are a nation of fools. From Aparri to Joló, aren’t we all proud and united in joy whenever boxing hero Manny Pacquiáo waves the three stars and the eight-rayed sun in victory over a devastated (and pre-match loudmouthed) opponent? Our nationalistic pride is always stirred up whenever a kababayan receives honors abroad. And we are angered in unison whenever we receive news that one of us is harmed overseas. Our nationalistic fervor is alive. We acknowledge each other’s united presence even in other countries. Doesn’t this prove that we already have an identity? We already have a concept of nationhood, but the problem is that this concept is somewhat bigoted and not wanting in atavistic blindness. In this age of information and ecumenism, we are no longer finicky toward racism. It’s (supposedly) a thing of the past. Why then are we still behind in identifying our very own identity as a people?

    We do not need to seek nor build our own identity. It’s already here, ready to strike us in the face. What needs to be done is to simply identify it. It is already within us. We just need to tap it. And make it known among ourselves.

    But what is national identity? It is generally accepted that this concept refers to a group of people’s distinguishing characteristics or specific features, making each of its member feel a warm sentiment of belongingness to that group. Sentient commonality is present regardless of racial origin (i.e., regional attributes) or creed or regional peculiarities. Its importance thus cannot be taken for granted.

    “A nation strongly built is a nation secure,” remarked Dr. Pobre. “To be strong it must have unity. And to have unity it must have, among others, a national identity. Hence, the quest for national identity is an imperative to building a strong national community.” It is so true. Therefore, if we already have a national identity, why are we still a weak and blighted nation, blind with rage toward our past, particularly at our glorious Spanish past? Because we haven’t been able to identify this controversial identity. Or we refuse to do so.

    The words “glorious Spanish past” has to be mentioned and even emphasized because it is exactly from that epoch that our identity was first formed and forged. Before the Spaniards came, there was no Philippines and no Filipino people to speak of. The Filipino identity is the product of the Filipino State that began to exist in Spanish on 24 June 1571. The Filipino State was founded together with Manila on that same date, with the government having Spanish as its official language. It’s as simple as that; no more need to use effusive language and pretentious arguments.

    With the birth of a nation follows the birth of its people’s own unique identity. Before 24 June 1571, each tribe (called indios) living all over what is now known as the Philippine archipelago had their own petty kingdoms, languages (including a system of writing), culture, traditions and customs, beliefs, and identity. Technically speaking, they were divided as various independent states or countries. That was all changed when Spain occupied the islands and united all of them into one compact and homogeneous body (that is why those who refused this generous Spanish act should not consider themselves as Filipinos in spirit).

    In nation-building, the people has to be united first and foremost. And in order to be united, its peoples should acknowledge a shared identity among themselves. Our forefathers, the first ones who synthesized the concept of nationhood back in 1571, avowed to this shared identity through concepts and newfound knowledge brought about by Spanish culture. “In our orthodox history education, it’s regrettable that the core appears to be lessons in history with a ‘nationalist’ attitude,” wrote fellow nouveau “propagandist” Arnaldo Arnáiz. “That in order to glorify the homeland, we must acknowledge that colonialism was entirely immoral and therefore never produced any meaningful transformation, that we have an obligation to focus on ways to remove its influence, and that we must to go back to our pristine origins — that the more aboriginal our mindset is, the more Filipino we become. Along this line of thinking, there are those who argue that to be a Filipino, the correct attitude must be above all that of an Asian. This essentially puristic approach is an attempt to undo the path of our evolution as a society. The trouble with this is that the Filipino’s base can only be traced in its mestizo genesis. Even the formation of its name, ‘Filipino’ and ‘Filipinas’, is the outcome of that merger.”

    This is not to say that the Spaniards were pure saints and that they didn’t do us any wrong at all. “Colonialism has its faults,” says Arnáiz. But it should be noted that the Spanish takeover was mainly for evangelization because unlike other colonies, the Philippine archipelago had no spices nor any major gold deposits (save perhaps for a few places such as the one in Paracale, Camarines Norte). This country, in fact, developed into a progressive nation through the latest technologies and economic breakthroughs coming from the West. And this economic progression later on paved the way for former US President William McKinley’s infamous “Benevolent Assimilation” proclamation in 1898, thus shaming and mocking the precepts of his own country’s Monroe Doctrine.

    Such a fact prompted another “modern propagandista” and foremost Filipinist/Hispanist of our time, the great scholar and 1975 Premio Zóbel winner Guillermo Gómez Rivera, to observe that “the Filipino State became so rich and so vibrant that from a mere missionary outpost it went on to become a colony, in the Spanish sense of the word. It went on to become an overseas Spanish province under a Ministerio de Ultramar until it graduated into the 1898 República Filipina which the invading American forces of the 1900s literally destroyed with an unjust war by murdering one-sixth of its total population.” Señor Gómez further adds that “the Americans claimed the Philippine Islands as a ‘territory of the United States of America’ but never gave any American citizenship status to the Filipinos as Spain did from the start of her rule. Thus, while it was the Spaniards who started for all Filipinos the organization of what was later to become their own Filipino State, the basis of their national patrimony and rights, the American WASPs* took away from the Filipinos, their own STATE.”

    If only today’s generation are still Spanish-speaking like our ancestors, the abovementioned facts would have been very easy to grasp. And more facts would have been uncovered, especially those that were twisted by today’s educators who are under the influence of WASP neocolonial policies. Another colleague of ours, José Miguel García, correctly ascertained that “many of our documents, records, and literature were written in Spanish. These are records of our past. Without records of our past, we do not have access to our common origin as a nation. Without our common origin as a nation, we do not have a common identity. Without a common identity, we do not have anything to do with each other as a nation…”

    Once our true Filipino Identity, an identity based on our glorious Spanish heritage, has been correctly identified and made known to all, nationalistic pride and patriotic love will have more sense and meaning. That is why it is imperative to bring back the Spanish language in this country. It is the key to identify and recover our national identity.

    “Only when we become aware that we have an inheritance and how and where it was taken can we recover our national identity,” wrote García. “Only then can we recover our beautiful stock. Only then can we recover our national genetic code and regenerate once more our beautiful stock from which development of not only the once glorious Manila will again spring, but our once glorious Filipinas.”


    Dr. Pobre wrote: “A nation strongly built is a nation secure. To be strong, it must have unity. In addition, to have unity, it must have, among others, a national identity. Hence the quest for national identity is an imperative to building a strong national community.” I fully agree with his observation; after all, there should be something that ought to unify all Filipinos for as long as everyone is given equal opportunity, as a nation ought to give its citizenry.

    However, in his chapter about the lack of unifying symbols, Dr. Pobre said, “One such symbol is a common language… we need to have one, which we can speak and write, and by which we can connect ‘our inner selves to the realities of community life.’” This is where I differ from Dr. Pobre’s thoughts. There are many in this country who still insist on having a single national language policy, which groups like the Save our Languages through Federalism (Solfed) or those who belong to that Internet group dubbed Defenders of Indigenous Languages throughout the Archipelago (DILA) strongly believe is detrimental to the many cultures that have survived in the Philippine archipelago long before the name Philippines was even invented.

    In fact, when this issue surfaced during the SSG conference, Atty. Manuel Faelnar of DILA clearly pointed out that having a common language that is forced upon non-Tagalog-speaking Filipinos have only disunited this country. The reason is very simple. As the old saying goes, we had 400 hundred years in the convent and 50 years of Hollywood until we finally got Philippine Independence. An ethnic group composed of Tagalog nationalists is now forcing its own language to those of us who do not speak that language. This is why we look at Imperial Manila as another colonizer!

    In his column (I’m sorry, I only have a printed copy that has no date or what newspaper it was published), “Fastfood for Thought” written by the late Vicente Albano Pacis entitled “Conceived in Sin, Reared in Ignorance,” he wrote about the national language: “After Linggo ng Wika, the truth must be told that the so-called National Language was conceived in unmitigated sin, reared in total ignorance, and maintained in style through constant constitutional dodging.”

    Mr. Pacis added: “According to official records and documents, the language provision approved by the Constitutional Convention of 1934-1935 was as follows: ‘The National Assembly shall take steps towards the development and adoption of a common national language based on existing native languages. (Concon record, Vol. IX, pp.470-471). When the Constitution was printed, this provision was tampered with to read, ‘Based on one of the existing native languages.’ Somebody had inserted ‘one of the’ between the words ‘on’ and ‘existing.’ The simplicity of the insertion of only three short words, one of only two letters and two of only three letters each, might have been additional temptation to the crime’s perpetrator. This was the unmitigated ‘Original Sin.’ But who was the original sinner? Abangan!”

    This article proves that someone monkeyed around with the 1935 Constitution and today those who continue to espouse a national language based on the Tagalog language has to look into this article and tell us honestly if the tampering of the 1935 Constitution was done in good faith. I have written volumes that having a common language is no guarantee for having a national unity. God knows that the American Civil War killed five million Americans who spoke the same language. So, too, with the Spaniards.

    National unity will come with the recognition of the other major spoken languages of this country. It’s high time we accept the reality that Filipino is nothing but Tagalog in disguise. Call it what it really is… Tagalog, then allow Cebuano, Ilonggo, Waray, Kapampangan, Bicolano and Ilocano as the national languages of this country and we shall see nationall unity.

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