Philippines: Not the cause but the effect

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Jan 21 14:09:52 UTC 2007

COMMENT: Not the cause but the effect
Written by Patricio P. Diaz/MindaNews

Saturday, 20 January 2007 18 58 35

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / January 19)  Two months after the House
of Representatives had passed House Bill 4701, the English as Medium of
Instruction Act, co-author Rep. Luis Villafuerte of Camarines Sur blamed
the poor state of English proficiency among Filipinos today to the
bilingual policy which he called policy of linguistic juggling. He said:
Whether it was merely coincidental or an unintended result, the fact
remains that since the introduction of bilingual instruction, the English
adeptness of our students and teachers alike suffered considerably and,
along with it, the overall quality of basic education began to slide.


His observation about the still deteriorating proficiency of English among
Filipinos as borne out surveys is correct but he is wrong in the
following: First, bilingualism is not linguistic juggling. Second, the
bilingual policy introduced in the Philippine pubic schools in 1974 was an
effect, not the cause of the deterioration of English proficiency among
Filipinos. Third, the deteriorating quality of English among teachers and
students may have contributed to the decline in the overall quality of
basic education in the Philippines but it is the effect of other major


Bilingualism is the ability to speak two languages. It is a desirable
trait of a person and of a nation.  As a nation, we have been bilingual
since the Spanish era. It is mandated in our Constitution since 1935. At
present, Filipinos are bilingual, using Pilipino and English.  What each
Filipino should aspire is to be able to use both proficiently.  Learning
to do so depends on how correctly one practices the languages.  Language
is an art.  Learning one does not deter the learning of another. Our
problem now seems this: Most Filipinos can no longer use English so
proficiently as their fathers and grandfathers used to hardly is there any
comparison at all. And the problem is being blamed on the bilingual policy
in our schools since 1974. Is HB 4701 the solution?  What does the bill
provide? We can only ask.  We tried the Internet for a copy to no avail.
We have no idea how the bill addresses the problem.

The Policy

Bilingual education is not a new concept; that in the Philippines is not
the first.  When learners are not proficient in the foreign language as
medium of instruction English, Japanese, etc.  they may be taught in both
their first language and in the foreign language for more effective
learning. Until 1940, English was strictly the only medium of instruction
and communication in Philippine schools.  This continued to a fair degree
until the 1950s when Speak English Only gave way as nationalism surged
into the school campuses.  Why outlaw Tagalog and other dialects? By 1970,
English was no longer strictly spoken in the campuses and classrooms. To
perfect an art, it must be correctly and vigorously practiced. That was
English in 1940 and earlier but not after. With the proper learning
environment gone, English proficiency among both the teachers and students
plummeted. Comprehension also became very poor. So did the quality of
education basic and higher.

The bilingual policy was adopted to arrest the going down of the quality
of education. The policy was clearly an effect of the bilingual conditions
in the campuses when the speaking of English could no longer be enforced.
It did not cause the deterioration of English; it was adopted to arrest
the adverse effects of deterioration in the last 20 years. Villafuerte was
right. The bilingual policy did not stop the slide of the quality of basic
education.  But why blame the policy?  The teachers, most of them, were
neither proficient in English nor in Pilipino?  How can they be proficient
in bilingual teaching?  The teachers hence the school system were not
properly equipped to implement it.

Linguistic Juggling?

Villafuerte was still right in noting that subjects that were supposed to
be taught in English were actually taught in Taglish or a combination of
English and the local dialects.  However, he failed to understand and
appreciate properly the emergence of Taglish in its variations, Ilocoish,
Pampangoish, Bisayaish, Ilonggoish, etc. Taglish is part of the evolution
of our national language that while based on the Tagalog balarila or
grammar and vocabulary, it is enriched by the local dialects. Since
English is part of the Filipino tongue and thinking, English words are
part of the Pilipino vocabulary if the speaker has no Pilipino or dialect
word for his idea at the moment of speaking. This is not linguistic
juggling but a natural linguistic stimulus-response.  Whether in speech or
in writing man expresses his thoughts with the words that handily comes to
mind at the moment.  Through constant usage, foreign words become part of
the local dialect or national language.

Taglish is an every minute reality everywhere in the Philippines.  It is
not only in our schools but in the offices, in business, in radio and
television, in the market places, in the streets, in the barrios, etc.
Villafuerte did not mention it but Taglish is used in the halls of

The Solution?

Villafuerte said: As a language is best learned through constant exposure
and usage, we have to prescribe again by law not simply by administrative
fiat the restoration of English as the medium of instruction, except in
Filipino taught as a subject.  Thats the primary purpose of HB 4701. Is it
the solution? The prognosis is correct.  But the prescription seems
irrelevant.  English has remained the medium of instruction.  It does not
need to be restored but to be invigorated.  Mere legal mandate cannot do
it. Does HB 4701 outlaw bilingualism and multilingualism in school
campuses and classrooms? If not, the correct learning environment for the
constant exposure and usage of English will be absent. Does HB 4701
provide for adequate funds to revise and reprint textbooks full of faulty
English?  If not, exposure to bad English will negate proficiency growth
among the students, as well as the teachers.

Does HB 4701 provide for adequate funds for special refresher classes in
English for teachers?  Can HB 4701 make teachers speak English only among
themselves and the students to attain high proficiency?  The teachers
English necessarily influences students. Our street names, traffic
directions, business names, billboards, and other outdoor notices are in
English.  Does HB 4701 mandate that all these must be in good English?
Bad models can undo correct English.


HB 4701 relegates the teaching of Pilipino as a mere school subject as it
abolishes not only the bilingual policy but necessarily bilingualism in
schools.  Will this not be in violation of the 1987 Constitution,
particularly Section 6 of Article XIV? To quote: 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 system.

N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.


More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list