Philippines: President Quezon and King Canute's Lesson

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Aug 21 14:13:14 UTC 2007

Monday, August 20, 2007
President Quezon and King Canute's Lesson
Posted by Dean Jorge Bocobo

The 1935 Constitution states: Art. XIV Section 3. The Congress 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. In 1937, Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon
signed Executive Order No. 134, "Proclaiming the National Language of
the Philippines Based on Tagalog". More than just based upon it,
Tagalog was renamed "Pilipino" -- in which thin disguise it became the
"common national language." Or did it? The 1973 Constitution and its
language provisions are discussed at length by Marvin Aceron (La Vida
Lawyer) in a June post

>>From 1973: "Section 3. (1) This Constitution shall be officially
promulgated in English and Pilipino, and translated into each dialects
spoken by over fifty thousand people, and into Spanish and Arabic, in
case of conflict, the English text shall prevail.

(2) The National Assembly shall take steps towards the development and
formal adoption of a common national language to be known as Filipino.

(3) Until otherwise provided by law, English and Pilipino shall be the
official languages."

When the adoption of the 1973 Constitution was finally declared, the
national language was supposed to be multi-language based, but the
multi-lingualists did not appear to be the clear winner. The real
outcome was contingent upon how the Batasang Pambansa was to evolve
the multi-language based Filipino as the 1973 Constitution mandated.

1987 Founding Father Joaquin Bernas, S.J. weighs in on the National
Language issue with Filipino or Pilipino or Tagalog? noting a recent
heated debate over it in the House of Representatives. He explains the
subtle distinction between "Filipino" and "Pilipino" as used in the
1987 charter which he helped to draft.

Bernas: "Under the 1987 Constitution, the basic policy on language is
stated in Section 6 of Article XIV. It says:

"The national language of the Philippines is Filipino. As it evolves,
it shall be further developed and enriched on the basis of existing
Philippine and other languages. Subject to provisions of law and as
the Congress may deem appropriate, the government shall take steps to
initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official
communication and as language of instruction in the educational

As can be seen, Filipino, which was seen as a dream by the 1973
Constitution, is now categorically declared the "national language."
While the 1987 Constitution has retained the distinction between
Filipino and Pilipino, it in effect has demoted Pilipino, the more
developed language, in constitutional stature. In its stead, Filipino
has been made the national and official language.

If I may summarize what has happened:

1935 A common national language is mandated by the Constitution.

1937 President Quezon proclaims Tagalog, renamed Pilipino, to be that
common national language.

1973 A common national language is again mandated by the new
Constitution, to be called Filipino, thus demoting Quezon's Pilipino,
aka Tagalog, from "national language" to "official language, one of
two along with English.

1987 The Filipino referred to in 1973 was elevated to the status of
that "common national language" even though in the short interval of
14 years Congress did not pass any law or do anything to "evolve"
Filipino any further, for example by incorporating "other Philippine
languages" into it as the 1973 charter mandated.

In a sense therefore, the "political deception" of the 1930s, in which
Tagalog aka Pilipino became the national language, was continued in
1987, which proclaimed Filipino aka Pilipino unevolved aka Tagalog as
the actual national language.

But there is a deeper kind of deception, or common delusion that runs
through all three Constitutional stabs at the common national language

Perhaps it is IMPOSSIBLE to decree, legislate or even will into
existence a common national language in an archipelago surrounded by
oceans of language. Ethnologue lists 175 distinct languages in the
Philippines, including the biggies like Cebuanao, Tagalog, Ilokano,
Pampango, etc.

A national language is not like the national bird or the national
flower, which you can just designate by law and that alone makes it
so. NOT SO with such a mysterious and powerful thing as language.

>>From 1935 to 1973 to 1987 to 2007 the common thread in the thinking of
our leaders and constitutionalists is the hopelessly vain and
demonstrably nilpotent concept that a common national language can be
politically and legislatively willed into existence.

Yet, even if between 1973 and 1987 some national language institute
had indeed been busily "evolving" Pilipino and other Philippine
languages into Filipino, they would only have produced a Frankenstein
Monster composed of Tagalog, Ilokano, Pampango, Cebuano, Bicolano,
Tausug, etc. that for sure NO ONE at all speaks in any such
artifically defined configuration.

Language is the most powerful, most viral, most infectious of all the
MEMES, for Language is the Meme that carries all other memes into our
brains, and remains therein the actual "container" of those memes.
Simply put, every idea that enters our head is immediately labelled in
the language that it arrives in. Thus both payload and carrier occupy
and suffuse into the newly entered brain.

Unfortunately for our common national language idea, it has been
arriving in the brains of politicians, academics, and legislators in
neither, Tagalog nor Pilipino nor Filipino, but in the very language
in which you are reading this post!

For when you look at 1935, 1973 and 1987, it is very clear what the
Lingua Anglica of the Filipinos truly is--the very language in which
those pious incantations to conjure up the Genie of a Common National
Language were themselves written and debated to this day.

Here is Manuel L. Quezon in that 1937 radio broadcast from Malacanan
Palace: "It affords me an indescribable satisfaction to be able to
announce to you that on this the 41st anniversary of the martyrdom of
the founder and greatest exponent of Philippine nationalism, I had the
privilege of issuing, in pursuance of the mandate of the Constitution
and of existing law, an Executive Order designating one of the native
languages as the basis for the national language of the Filipino

Quezon strangled and smothered the common national language idea in
its infant bed with such surpassingly beautiful English in birthing
it. And the framers of every Constitution written since then have
participated in the same infanticide while hoping Francisco Balagtas
will be reincarnated in their best laid plans and progeny.

As it turns out, King Canute had better luck commanding the oceans to
stop their ceaseless rolling, not knowing 'tis the Moon commands the
tides, than our common national lingualists.

In the 100 years since the Supreme Court and the Legislature have
existed, what we have in the stream of official language are all the
laws and decisions, debates and deliberations of these two branches of
government whose entire output comes in the form of WORDS of a very
powerful sort.

But this is now an objective and irreversible FACT: During the first
Century of the Philippines as a democratically constituted republic
English has been the medium of official communications of the
government. It is the language in which every Constitution, save
Malolos, has been originally written and promulgated. It is the
language in which is written and promulgated, virtually every single
law enacted by Congress and every decision rendered by the Courts.

The MEMORY of our Republic, the record of its existence during its
first century, is ineradicably cast in the MEME of the English
language. Thus even if by magic a national language is made tomorrow
based on one or more or all of the 175 officially recognized languages
in the Philippine Archipelago, it would have to contend with that
First Century's worth of English grammar and composition.

Father Bernas ended yesterday's PDI column piece with a question: "So,
when Congressman Lopez spoke at the Batasan in celebration of Linggo
ng Wika, did he speak in Filipino, Pilipino or Tagalog?"

Hmmm...if I were to guess, and knowing the habits of these Lower House
talakitoks as Miriam Defensor Santiago calls them, I'm willing to bet
you Rep. Lopez was thinking in English and translating into Pinoy
English, Pinglish, which is the largest single English dialect in the
world, when you count its native speakers. Since he was quoting and
addressing all of the above Constitutions and linguistic history, how
could he possibly avoid it?

But there is something that English has in common with Tagalog that
was truly new only in the 1987 Constitution and a year 2000 Supreme
Court decision we've been discussing here recently. King Canute should
be rolling around laughing in his grave about this...and Jose Rizal

Both English and Tagalog are NON-INDIGENOUS languages according to the
Supreme Court.
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