Weather in Ilagan City, Isabela, Philippines

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The truth about the Spanish language in the Philippines

Written by Don Guillermo Gómez Rivera Member, Academia Filipina de la Lengua

Though it is true that all the inhabitants of the Philippine Islands never had Spanish as their mother tongue, it is however unjust to state that this language was never spoken in the Philippines on a national scale. The mere fact that Spanish began to be the official language of the Philippine Islands from 24 June 1571 – day of the founding of Manila as the capital city of the Filipino State under the Spanish Crown – until 1987, the year of the promulgation of then-president Corazon ("Cory") C. Aquino’s questionable constitution – puts in an absurd light all those who say this language was never spoken in the Philippines. It was the official language for so many centuries, which means that it was the language of the judiciary, of the legislature, and of the public writs and official and judicial publications in this Archipelago

It is likewise undeniable that there exists a body of literary works, in effect, a literary tradition, by Filipino authors written from 1593, the year the first printing press was founded in these islands, until the present. All the above is proof that the Spanish language was spoken in the Philippines – and not to the disputed extent that the questionable North American documentation has told us. We say "questionable" because it is a fact that the U.S. colonialists have had a "language agenda" in favor of English since 1898 and against the Spanish language, which they look upon as a latent obstacle to their linguistic objectives and economic empire to this day.

 Let us now examine the statistics. It is true that when the Philippines had a population of just a little over four million and a half (4,500,000 persons), Agustín de la Cavada y Méndez de Vigo pointed out that those who spoke Spanish did not exceed 2.8% of the cited population. However, this book of statistics was published in 1870, just seven years after Queen Isabel II had decreed (1863) the establishment of the public school system in all the Islands, whose medium of instruction was predominantly Spanish, with the most important languages of the Archipelago serving as auxiliary educational vehicles. By the year 1898, when the Philippines separated from Spain, the percentage of Spanish-speaking Filipinos must have already increased considerably. And if, in fact, the increase in the number of Spanish speakers had not grown in greater proportions and with a larger extension in all these islands >from the extant 2.8% in 1870, the Filipino delegates at the constitutional convention in Malolos, Bulacán in 1898 would not have declared Spanish as the first official language of the Philippine Republic, just as was established by the Malolos Constitution. Neither would the Filipinos in the Aguinaldo government have used Spanish in all their proclamations and official publications, including the newspaper "La Independencia."

José Rizal, a polyglot who knew seven languages including Tagalog, would not have written his most important works in Spanish; he would have written them in English and Tagalog – but no, José Rizal wrote it all in Spanish for his countrymen who, naturally, could read him in this same language. In a book published in 1908 by the Typographic College of Santo Tomás in Manila, entitled General Geography of the Philippine Islands, whose author is the Very Reverend Father Fray Manuel Arellano Remondo, the following information is found on page 15:

"The population decreased due to the wars, in the five-year period from 1895 to 1900, since, at the start of the first insurrection, the population was estimated at 9,000,000, and at present (1908), the inhabitants of the Archipelago do not exceed 8,000,000 in number."

The referenced "first insurrection" was the one that took place on August 29, 1896 against the Spanish government. In that case, the population of the Philippines totaled nine million inhabitants. The North American census of 1903 and of 1905 mention that the Spanish speakers of this archipelago have never exceeded in number 10% of the population during the final decade of the 1800’s. This means that 900,000 Filipinos – 10% of the nine million cited by Fr. Manuel Arellano Remondo – spoke Spanish as their first and only tongue. Aside from these 900,000, Don Luciano de la Rosa, the defense lawyer of those who were taken to court for libel because of the editorial in the newspaper El Renacimiento entitled "Aves de Rapiña" (Birds of Prey), published in 1907, concluded – in a study we cited in the book Filipino: Origin and Connotations (Manila 1960), "...that 60% of the Filipinos" in his time "had the Spanish language as their second tongue." If we add to this 60% the preceding 10%, we have 70% of the Filipino population as making daily use of the Spanish language between 1890 and 1940. Recent studies by Dr. José Rodríguez Ponga indicate that at the time of the withdrawal of peninsular Spaniards from the country, a total of 14% of the population were Spanish-speaking Filipinos (i.e., 14% of 9,000,000 or 1,260,000). Fray Manuel Arellano Remondo, upon informing us that "the population was reduced due to the wars," undoubtedly refers to the casualties of the war between the First Philippine Republic of 1898 and the United States of America.

This reduction of the Filipino population is pointed out by another source, this time North America, as representing "one-sixth of the Filipino population." (1.5 million). The historian James B. Goodno, author of the Philippines: Land of Broken Promises (New York, 1998), provides us with this important figure on page 31. If we are to believe that a sixth of the Filipino population perished as a result of the massacres perpetrated by the U.S. military invasion between 1898 and 1902, the victims would in fact be equivalent to one and a half million. This historical fact is nothing less than genocide committed against the Filipino people, precisely those who were Spanish speaking. If today it can even be said that Spanish was never spoken in the Philippines, that result is the very evidence of the genocide perpetrated during the Filipino-American War which lasted until 1907 – including the armed resistance against the U.S. led by the second president and general of the Filipino Republic of 1898, Macario Sakay de León.

President Sakay assumed the leadership after the capture and house arrest of President Aguinaldo, but in 1906 he was deceived through the false offers by Filipino politicians (who began to believe in North American "benevolence"), of amnesty and a seat in the future National Assembly. He was quietly hanged in 1907 in a manner that was unfair and totally criminal, in comparison to the Spaniards’ treatment of the case of José Rizal. The second president of the Philippine Republic was criminally hanged. The above-mentioned Don Luciano de la Rosa informs us that "it is no surprise that a huge percentage of these casualties should have been Spanish-speaking Filipinos, since they were the ones who best understood the concepts of independence and freedom and those who wrote works in the Spanish language on said ideas." This is why Padre Arellano Remondo’s book is the one that provides us with the following statistical data for the first decade of the 1900’s, in these terms: "6th. Population. The official census of 1903 resulted in the following global figures: 7,635,426. Of these, the civilized or Christians were some 7,000,000, and 647,000 were uncivilized or non-Christians" (op. cit., p. 15). The same 1903 Census states that Spanish mestizos comprised 75,000 or scarcely 1% of the population. The implication was that the latter were those who predominantly spoke Spanish; "Spanish mestizo" was understood to mean that the father was a peninsular Spaniard and the mother a native. Not counted as Spanish-speaking were the children of marriages between Spanish mestizos and natives, who in fact were twice as many as the cited 75,000 mestizos.

Neither were the descendants of Christianized Chinese accounted for, many of them mestizos who were a mixture of Spanish, native and Chinese, and who made up the most numerous group and spoke Spanish as their primary language. The natives who made up the creole-speaking communities (Chabacano) of Cavite and the suburbs of Manila’s Extramuros (Ermita, Pacô, Binondo, San Miguel and Quiapo), as well as in Zamboanga, Cotabato, Davao, Joló and Basilan in Mindanao, very easily would have added another 500,000 persons. In 1916, writer and lawyer Don Tirso de Irrureta Goyena made the following observation in his book, Por el Idioma y Cultura Hispanos (For Hispanic Language and Culture), Santo Tomás University Press, Manila, 1917:

"There is a minority of Filipinos, descendants of Spaniards, for whom Spanish is naturally their own and -- one would almost say -- their only language. There are a few localities where pure-blooded native Filipinos, for example Cavite, San Roque, Caridad, Zamboanga, and even many of those who live in Manila and in other important capital cities, that likewise [sic] speak no other language apart from a more-or-less adulterated Spanish.” "And the North American mestizos are a miniscule minority, in many of whose descendants one finds a curious phenomenon, of their having adopted Spanish or one of the native languages, leaving English completely aside." (Op. cit., p. 30)."

In the Eighth Annual Report of the Director of Education David P. Barrows, dated 1 August 1908 (published by the Bureau of Printing, 1957), one finds the following observations regarding the Spanish language:

"Of the adult population, including persons of mature years and social influence, the number speaking English is relatively small. This class speaks Spanish, and as it is the most prominent and important class of people in the Islands, Spanish continues to be the most important language spoken in political, journalistic and commercial circles" (p. 94). This observation points out that the country’s adult population, which included persons of mature age and social influence, "had Spanish as their language, and thus Spanish continues to be the most important language spoken in all business, political and journalistic circles."

This observation confirms the statement by the attorney Don Luciano de la Rosa on Spanish being the second language of 60% of the total Filipino population during the first four decades of the 1900’s. What is most curiously significant is that the alleged alphabetization or education in English in the public schools established by the North Americans beginning in 1900 tended to produce a larger number of Spanish-speaking – not English-speaking -- Filipinos. For this reason, the Director of Instruction Mr. David P. Barrows himself, alarmed and almost indignant, wrote the following (Emphasis ours): "It is to be noted that with the increased study and use of English, there has been an increased study of Spanish. I think it is a fact that many more people in these islands have a knowledge of Spanish now than they did when the American Occupation occurred" (op. cit., p. 96)."

After asking for more funds to be allocated to a budget item for "night schools," which meant redoubling the teaching and imposition of English on Filipino children and adults in order to not leave them under the influence of the predominant language which was Spanish, Mr. Barrows, much in the manner of consolation for himself and his superiors in Washington, D.C., wrote that Spanish, through certain measures adopted against it, would tend to disappear in the long run because the Filipinos would be far from the Spanish-speaking countries and therefore would have no support from the latter in their desire to preserve their Spanish language:

"But in spite of these facts, it is believed that the use of Spanish will wane. It is unsupported by Spanish-speaking countries adjacent to us" (op. cit., p. 96). From this observation one may well glean the white Anglo-Saxon policy of deliberately isolating the Filipinos from the Hispanic world that they belonged to.

On the other hand, the aide memoir – report submitted by Don Carlos Palanca to the Schurmann Commission in 1906 -- indicates the following:

"...apart from the eight Tagalog provinces described as Spanish-speaking, there are another eight provinces which are equally Spanish speaking." (From Tulay, a weekly publication of the Chinese-Filipino community in Manila, 10 October 1999, article by historian Pío Andrade.) Aside from these 16 Spanish-speaking provinces, the referenced article states, Don Carlos Palanca mentions five other provinces where "Spanish is little spoken." The data provided by don Carlos Palanca were considered "of great weight" by the Schurmann Investigative and Legislative Commission because they came from the wealthiest Chinese Filipino in the Islands who was the head of the powerful Chinese Businessmen’s Association, which in turn had an up-to-date compilation of data on the local market it served. Another revealing source on the extent to which Spanish was spoken in the country is the Report of Henry Ford in 1916 to the United States president.

Although the 1903 Census prepared by the U.S. government gave it to understand that Spanish "is spoken only by 10% of the Filipinos," the observations of the referenced Ford Report give the lie to this statement. It states:

"There is, however, another aspect in this case which should be considered. This aspect became evident to me as I traveled through the islands, using ordinary transportation and mixing with all classes of people under all conditions. Although based on the school statistics it is said that more Filipinos speak English than any other language, no one can be in agreement with this declaration if they base their assessment on what they hear...Spanish is everywhere the language of business and social intercourse...In order for anyone to obtain prompt service from anyone, Spanish turns out to be more useful than English...And outside of Manila it is almost indispensable. The Americans who travel around all the islands customarily use it." (The Ford Report of 1916. No. 3. The Use of English, 365-366.) As we have already pointed out through the observations in 1908 of Education Director Mr. Barrows, the preponderance of Spanish continued to alarm the Americans since their agenda of imposing the English language on the Filipino people was in danger of failing. They had been quite certain that it would be possible to impose English in just ten more years after 1916, the year the alleged Jones Independence Law was passed. But Henry Ford himself, in 1916, was the second voice to sound the alarm. He did so in the following terms:

"In the meantime, the use of Spanish, instead of declining in the face of the propaganda promoting English, seems to spread by itself. This fact has merited the attention of the government. The Education Director’s report for 1908 says in page 9: Spanish continues to be the most prominent and important one spoken in political, journalistic and commercial circles. English has active rivals as the language of trade and instruction. It is equally probable that the adult population has lost interest in learning English. I believe it is a fact that many more people now know the Spanish language than when the North Americans sailed for these islands and their occupation took place...The customary prerequisite for dispatchers is for them to know English and Spanish. Through the great upsurge in numbers and circulation of newspapers and publications, there is much more reading matter in Spanish than before... "There is an uncontestable meaning behind that fact that in all these islands there is not one Filipino newspaper published in English. All the native newspapers are published in Spanish and in the vernacular. La Vanguardia, the Manila newspaper with the largest circulation, has its section in Spanish and in the vernacular, and the majority of the island newspapers follow this practice. The Philippine Free Press, the newspaper with the largest circulation under North American control, is printed in English and in Spanish, and all the rest of the North American newspapers use Spanish in conjunction with English. The only newspaper that is under total Filipino control that also uses English is the revolutionary organ, The Philippine Republic, which is published in Hong Kong. It is in English and in Spanish, its objective being to reach North American readers in the interest of promoting Filipino independence.

"The report of the Education Director in 1908 attributes the obstacle in the propagation of English to the action of the government in extending the time during which the use of Spanish in official documents would continue to be allowed. The Director says on page 30 of his report: ...The date set for English to become the language of the courts was rolled back to January 1, 1911. This measure, though recommended by the fact that a larger number of judges and lawyers are insufficiently trained in English, has had an unfortunate effect on public confidence in the final adoption of English as the government’s official language. "Nevertheless, the Education Director expresses the belief that the ascendancy of Spanish is only temporary. He said, The new generation, which will take over the affairs of these islands within the next ten years, will not use Spanish for its day to day purposes and its influence shall be decisive. Spanish will cease to be the language of the courts on January 1, 1911. It is quickly ceasing to be the vehicle for administrative correspondence. It is probable that its use as the language of the legislators will be delayed even further...”

This was said five years ago, but the events since then have not confirmed the forecast. The use of Spanish as the official language has been extended up to January 1, 1920. Its generalized use seems to be spreading even more.

"The natives acquire it as a living language. They hear it spoken by those who lead in the community, and their hearing is accustomed to its pronunciation. On the other hand, these people have practically no phonetic basis for acquiring English, and the result is that they learn it as a language of books instead of learning it as a living language. English becomes valued as an important qualification for getting employment, particularly in the government service, but it is certain that to date it does not show the least tendency of becoming more important than Spanish or the vernacular language of daily use" (op. cit.). One of the important aspects of the Ford Report is the desperation on the part of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants before the continuing use of the Spanish language in the Philippines. This desperation is the reason behind the following "legal" measures that were taken against the Spanish language in these islands. The Ford Report continues:

"The archive on the official action as regards language demonstrates a series of steps of surrendering before the continued use of Spanish, brought on by the stress, or the difficulties of necessity. The original intention was to impose [its] rapid substitution by English.

"Law No. 190 of the Commission made provision for English to be imposed as the official language of all the courts and their archives after January 1, 1906. Law No. 1427 extended that period to the 1st of January, 1911. "Law No. 1946 extended that period to January 1, 1913. By Executive Order No. 44, dated 8 August 1912, the legal prerequisite was amended and ended up being nothing more than an expression of preference for English. This instructional document is included herein (Annex B). "The impossibility of substituting Spanish with English in the judicial process and the provincial and municipal governments is such that there even exists the probability that, even if the English language is declared as the official one on January 1, 1913, Spanish will continue to be used because of official connivance. "This abnormal situation was terminated by a law passed on February 11, 1913. This law provided that, while English is the official language, Spanish shall also be an official language until 1 January 1920. (See Annex C.) "No indications exist at present that Spanish can be discarded in 1920 or in another future year, since, as has been seen, its position as an official language is most certainly established." (Ford Report of 1916, No. 4. Increasing use of Spanish, pp. 366 and 368; No. 5. Legislation as to Language. Pages 368-369.)

These complaints against the preponderant use of Spanish by the Filipino people confirm what was always an evident agenda on the part of the North Americans to quietly exterminate the Spanish-speaking Filipino population of Manila and outlying areas, under the pretext of a "war of liberation" in 1945 against the Japanese.

Two veritable instances of genocide occurred (1899-1907 and another in 1945, whose subsequent results we can still see in Circular No. 59, Series of 1996, issued by the current "Commission on Higher Education" (CHED), which denies the most minimal provision for a regular curriculum of Spanish instruction, making this language optional together with Arabic in the university "education" canon of the Philippines today.

The preponderance of the Spanish language does not merely constitute proof of its daily and official use by the immense majority of the Filipinos in the 1900’s and the 1920’s, but until the 1930’s, when the Hollywood movie industry found an important Filipino market for its Spanish-language movies. The Manila magazine Excelsior in its July 1930 issue criticized the practice adopted by the offices of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer in Manila of returning to the U.S. the Hollywood movies produced in Spanish. The return was done to support the U.S. authorities in Manila in their genocidal campaign to suppress Spanish in the Philippines. The article entitled "Talkies in Spanish" of the referenced monthly magazine published on Potenciana Street in Intramuros says:

"...with respect to the cultivation and diffusion of Spanish in the Philippines, a vigorous protest from the Círculo Cervantino, Círculo Escénico, Asociación Talía, Cultura Hispánica, Peña Ibérica and other institutions and centers of learning whose names are not mentioned here, against the practice of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer of not showing Spanish-language movies and returning them (that is, without premiering them in the Philippines first, as was the objective of their dispatch to these Islands) to the United States. "They describe this procedure as unfair, since, in view of the fact that 40% of the older and young generations speak the language of Cervantes much better than that of Shakespeare, there is no reason whatsoever to impose only English on them, against all the rules of equality. Even more, forgetting that the Company in question, forgetting that Spanish culture and civilization in this country have put down deep roots in the Filipino soul and that it can easily, without harm to itself, satisfy this respectable percentage of the island populace. [MGM is] moved by misguided egoism or by an even more faulty concept of economy, if it considered that Spanish-language movies are enthusiastically accepted by the Filipino public, as was demonstrated, according to the protesters, by the recent film from MGM entitled "Gay Madrid," shown in Cine Ideal, which had a run of several weeks, to full audiences, setting a new record."

After commenting on MGM’s violation of the "so noisily vaunted Democracy" the article ends with the following paragraph (Emphases ours):

"We trust that [the Company] will bring them back and we shall once more see movies in the Cine Ideal that are completely filmed and spoken in Spanish, as happens in other moviehouses that are not so exclusivist, but that cater to the public’s desire to see Spanish-language pictures" (op. cit., p. 11). After the terrible Second World War, through the American bombing of Manila and the provincial capitals, the 1950 Census still stated that the Spanish-speaking Filipinos made up 6% of the population, for which reason the legislature passed two laws providing for 24 units of Spanish and Filipino literature as part of the university curriculum, since Spanish continued to be official, together with English and Tagalog. But then came the ominous 1987 Constitution of President Cory Aquino that suppressed the official status and regular teaching of this language in Filipino schools. Despite these measures, there are still almost 500,000 Filipinos who speak Spanish, outside of those who speak creole, who number over a million people in the provinces of Zamboanga, Basilan, Cotabato and Cavite. These Spanish-speaking survivors could be strengthened through a well-thought-out program to restore Spanish on the part of the Spanish government, through the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and the Instituto Cervantes of Manila.

Will they do it? Because if they do, Spain and Latin America will have a new friendship base in the Asia of the future.

Revised and corrected in Metro Manila, 14 November 2000.

We would appreciate your comments. Join our campaign for restoration. Email us at:

Original article was in Spanish, free translation from the Spanish by Elizabeth Medina. This English version of the article was emailed by Mr. Andreas Herbig,

Post by Gerry Yabes, 2018 in celebration of the Language Month in the Philippines.

No comments:

Facebook Page

To Amend or Not To Amend: That is the Question. A Debate on Charter Change.