A Hispanized Philippines: A Good Option?

A Hispanized Philippines: A Good Option?
© Elizabeth Medina, Santiago, Chile, March 30, 2000

Recently a Filipino friend who lives in the U.S., Rafael Onrubia, asked me why I thought it feasible and positive for the Philippines to be hispanized, and my answer was as follows:

The Philippines has 479 years of written history (from 1521 to the present), and 379 of them have been recorded in Spanish. It is a fact that we have a documentary legacy that is untranslated into English and that therefore we are unable to read – a motherlode that has hardly been mined by our historians. Aside from this, the works of modern Spanish historians, who have researched and published innumerable works on our Hispanic culture and past with such dedication and skill, are accumulating in libraries without the Filipinos’ being able to make use of such an invaluable store of new contributions.

It is undeniable and curious that the Spanish wrote much on the Philippines, and I suspect that they wrote more about her than about the majority of their American colonies. This surely is due in part to the fact that the Philippines only became independent 88 years after Spanish America. However there can be no doubt that the Philippines in and of herself was a fascinating geographical and cultural space that captured the imagination, scientific interest and human sensibility of the many scholarly Spaniards who spent long years living among the people.

Speaking as a non-expert and basing myself on what I have been able to gather from the few contacts I’ve had with Filipino academics and their writings, from my own inquiries and those of independent researchers, it seems to me that the Spanish-language documentation overflows with gems that still wait to be rediscovered by the scholars of Philippine history. Our historians have not paid them much attention, preferring to study the writings of Anglo-Saxon historians and the few works written by Spaniards and translated into English, for a very simple reason – because unless one has profoundly assimilated Hispanic language and culture, it is impossible to penetrate the deep, implicit levels of meaning in the documentation.

We therefore have a double magnification of the problem. Filipino historians and scholars cannot read Spanish documents on one hand; on the other, they study their own history by reading Anglo-Saxons’ interpretations of the Spanish documents. Thus they study it from third hand, through the cultural filters of researchers who, though they may possess an operative knowledge of the language, nevertheless have cultural filters that invariably select only those contents that reinforce the particular way of knowing that characterizes their non-Hispanic sensibility and understanding.

Therefore, no matter how sincere their interest in penetrating into the profound messages ciphered in the documents, they lack the pitons that they need to scale that cultural glacier. Without pitons and all the specialized equipment that only profound experience and study of the culture that has produced that documentary wealth can give, it is impossible to receive its messages and capture its spirit. This is because, even more important than the external information that they offer, is the inner landscape, adequately grasped and then deployed, that equips a researcher for perceiving all the other information – implicit, invisible, unstated – that underlies the external linguistic content.

The result is that, although data and interpretations of apparently great scientific value are accumulated, the human and spiritual significance of that history remains unapprehended.
And if we assume – as I do – that knowledge must always incorporate a cultural and spiritual component that goes far beyond mere accumulation of neutral data, that concerns itself most of all with giving orientation to human development, then this manner of proceeding ought to be corrected and reoriented, without further loss of time and effort.

Culture, I am convinced, is the gold mine of this new century. It is the last undiscovered continent and the greatest wealth of nations. If a people discovers the way to create in other countries a vivid interest in their culture, and they materialize that fascination in marketable products, they can assure themselves of an inexhaustible source of earnings. Spain has created markets for her music, literature, architecture, fashion; Italy has done the same, particularly through her gastronomy and haute couture; Germany with her engineering know-how, her cars; likewise France, and of course, the U.S., whose products fill our homes to overflowing, even our brains, and everywhere on our planet.

The Philippines necessarily must learn to create external markets for her culture, not just the culture of folklore and tradition, which leads to not much more than a proliferation of objects. Most important, the innate talents of the Filipino people, which are already recognized worldwide, must be developed – in the culinary, plastic and visual arts, music, fashion, inventiveness and – something that today is just beginning to arise – the creation of a new literature that gives witness to the marvelous complexity and richness of our historico-cultural experience. All of these things have their deepest roots, their creatives sources, in the culture of the Hispanic-Filipino past.
This, without mentioning another issue of extreme importance, which is the development of our trade relations with the Spanish-speaking countries of the Pacific Rim.

An Invisible World that Refuses to Die
The 377 years of Filipino hispanization gave birth to a culture and a past that some have tried to annihilate and that is still under siege — but that refuses to disappear and die. It is a culture and a past that only become visible when — like the Little Prince of St. Exupéry — one learns to see with the heart.

If one doesn’t know how to speak Spanish fluidly, one cannot realize what a wealth of Castilian words there are in Tagalog and in so many other Filipino dialects. If one doesn’t carry Hispanic culture within oneself, one cannot recognize the Hispanic culture that informs and suffuses Filipino social customs and practices.

If one has no familiarity with the landscapes of Spain and Hispanic America, with their imposing buildings from the Middle Ages and the Colonial Era, one will be unable to recognize the Hispanic past whose faithful witnesses are the old churches, homes and towns of the Archipelago.

The Responsibility of the Cultural Guardians of Filipino Society
The fact that the majority of our years of written history took place during the Spanish colonial period and that they are recorded in the idiom of our Hispanic-Filipino culture necessarily places the guardians of culture and education in a position of heavy responsibility. To erase the past is to erase the future. The greatest cultural problem that we Filipìnos face, in my opinion, is that fact that we do not have the habit of reflecting deeply on cultural and educational issues in the Philippines, because as we have said, we were not clarified about the importance of profound culture. Part of the blame rests without doubt on our old Spanish administrators; another on the North American educational system that was implanted afterwards, which necessarily tried to erase the cultural past in order to impose an Anglo-Saxonized present and future.

But another portion of blame rests squarely on those who have governed the country and have allowed the love of the old generations for Hispanic-Filipino language and culture to be abandoned under the new conditions of independence, when they surrendered themselves completely to the new foreign power, to the detriment of their own identity and historical legacy.

Therefore, though our new proposal cannot be an attempt to flip the cultural tortilla from one day to the next, and – just as English was imposed on us – to impose Spanish this time, what is indeed indispensable is the modification of the educational canon so that our historians, sociologists, anthropologists, writers, architects – all of our agents and formers of culture – may recover a full awareness of the past and be given the option of undertaking profound studies, whether in the Philippines, in Spain or in Latin America, in Hispanic-Amerasian history and culture, in the Spanish language.

I am likewise convinced that cultural exhange between Hispanic America and the Philippines cannot but lead to a new synthesis that in turn will produce a blossoming of the best in each one of our countries, thanks to the new climate of brotherhood and unity that it will tend to promote. A synthesis that will help lead our relations with Spain to a new level of maturity and mutual cooperation.

The foregoing does not mean that I advocate the separation of the Philippines from her Asian family, which would be absurd, a new backlash under the sign of the very same purism of those who today advocate our fanatic separation from our Western past. The fact is that we Filipinos are a living link between East and West. We come from both worlds, and both worlds are ours. The naturalistic and deterministic look, first of the Spanish and the North Americans, and now of ourselves in front of ourselves, said that we were Indians or Asians and therefore we had to be what we were and nothing more.

And this is the origin and the root of the continuing absurd debate about whether the Philippines should be hispanized once again, or not. When the Philippines has always been hispanized, except that the “Filipinos” born from 1901 onwards rapidly suffered, first of all, a cultural switch and the suppression of the past, and later, the outright deformation and annihilation of their historical consciousness.

In synthesis, I would say, in answer to the question of “Would it be positive for the Philippines to be hispanized once again?” that the Philippines already is hispanized. All that is lacking is for the Filipinos to realize this truth and make it work for their own benefit, to enrich themselves and progress, instead of impoverishing themselves and regressing. Because regression – unlike progress – has its limits, and it seems to me that we have already reached those limits.

Comment on the article by Alfredo Chicote, a Spaniard born in the Philippines, residing in Madrid, who considers himself Hispanic-Filipino:

“As you know, I am in complete agreement with your thesis. It is a fact, without the Filipinos’ knowing it, that the Philippines is a hispanized country. I believe the article is well written and argued. It is necessary to know Spanish in order to dig into one’s own past. We must see things as they are: the Philippines – for good or ill – was born as a country under Spanish dominion and her history — as W.E. Retana well saw it — must be read in that language, as well as in English, Tagalog, Bisaya, etc.

To give you an example to illustrate your thesis of the deformation of Philippine history, I cite a passage from a tourist brochure that I’ve just gotten:

“In the 19th century, Spain’s colonies were racked by corrupt administration and internal disorder. Liberal ideologies fired the spirits of enlightened manileños (residents of Manila) like Philippine national hero José Rizal, who studied abroad, and Filipino rebel leader Andrés Bonifacio, who read books on revolutionaries and philosophers……..”

“But freedom would not come so easily, for the Filipinos found themselves under their erstwhile ally, the Americans. Under the new conqueror, Manila spread outwards, roads and bridges were built and schools taught Filipinos Western culture in a new language — English. Democratic processes were introduced; and Neo-Classical government edifices rose around the old city…”

Not one word about the Revolution and the war between the United States and the Philippines, which cost more lives, perhaps, than all the years under Spanish rule! And of course, they also taught the Filipinos Western culture — as if Spain had not done. But Spain, aside from being Western, is also mestiza [of mixed blood] — is Jewish, Arab, Roman and Phoenician; in other words, she is as mestiza as her former colonies. Therefore perhaps she has a greater capacity to understand the Philippines than the North Americans.

From another brochure, written at least by a Spaniard, I send you this very brief passage:

“When Magellan landed on the island of Homonhon in 1521, he claimed these islands for King Philip II and called them ‘Felipinas’.” Well, my dear, I don’t know who taught this writer his history — two huge mistakes in just one short sentence! The king at that time was Carlos I, and the name ‘Felipinas’ was coined by Ruy López de Villalobos in 1542 for part of Mindanao or Leyte — we do not know with precision. Only with the passing of time was the name used for the entire archipelago. At that time, in 1521, it was known as the Western Isles or the Spice Islands, the latter because it was believed that spices grew there, as in the Moluccas Islands.

In other words, two vivid examples that illustrate your thesis:

An absolute lack of knowledge about one’s own past — no doubt inherited from an equally ignorant “Thomasite” — that no one throughout the years has bothered to correct.

An utter disregard for the achievements of the Hispanic period. In the Philippines, before the Americans arrived, there was nothing — only corruption and disorder. Western civilization and democracy reached the islands with Merritt’s soldiers (the Cádiz Constitution never existed). And Manila, far from being the vibrant and beautiful city that the chroniclers describe for us (See Morga), did not have a single building worth mentioning, until the “Neoclassical” government buildings were built (might they be copies of those in Washington, D.C.?).

Worst of all, Elizabeth, is that the people who publish these brochures really believe these things. There are a lot of false beliefs that must be changed! Long live Sr. Gómez and his grain of sand!


[*] Refers to Prof. Guillermo Gémez, Head of the Spanish Department, Adamson University, Manila, who to this day publishes two Spanish-language newspapers in that city.
Everybody is invited to discuss this article on our
Discussion Board.
See also by the same author:
Who was Wenceslao Emilio Retana?
The book “Rizal According to Retana: Portrait of a Hero and a Revolution” is available from the author.

7 responses to “A Hispanized Philippines: A Good Option?

  • Jose Miguel Garcia

    From our past comes our inheritance. It has long been hidden. Let us recover it.

  • Jose Miguel Garcia


    I sent you emails. Some of them have references cited. I hope your read them. They might have fallen into your spam category. We need to discuss some more so that we could develop the form in which we can maximize opportunities for our efforts to bear fruit.

    With just the proper coordination, we can complete all the necessary information, the genetic code (history) of our authentic Filipino nation. Once this is completed, a program can be started for the organization and reeducation. This will be the groung work for the revival of that resistance started by Gen Ricarte, Gen Antonio Luna and many more of our elder warriors.

    Then will come the regeneration of our nation. And we can finally come home to our own nation.

  • nold

    remarkable and insightful, thank you for your commentary. Please do visit the site frequently, there is much that I could learn from such well examined views.

    Thank you.

  • Jose Miguel Garcia

    I agree with your observations. I am also sharing mine hoping we could establish some form of touching of base and see explore possibilities. As an initial step, I am posting this without citation of sources. They do have documented basis.


    Around the 17th century, our nation was at a conception stage for 3 centuries from the intercourse in our history out of Ilocanos, Pampangos, Tagalogs, Visayans, Moros from the north to the south of the group of islands in the Pacific and Southeast Asia where we are staying today and the Spaniards and Basques from Europe. During that stage, our national territorial baseline similar to that in the Baseline Issue as a position paper of Sen Trillanes IV was being formed. Among the bonds that formed us during that period were: the faith in the one living God and the parish churches; the University of Santo Tomás- a pontifical university under the authority of the Vatican, and also one of the oldest and largest Catholic universities in the world; the wheel and plow; the paper, painting and architecture; the camote, adobo, pan de sal and the guisado; the Spanish blood in our hero Andrés Bonifacio; the fiesta; and the Philippine national government among others.


    In a geographical unit called Las Islas Filipinas during the Spanish rule, only the Spaniards born in the Philippines were called Filipinos. Then on October 1889, a group of ilustrados among us in Paris, signed ourselves as “The Filipinos” in addressing this message “To Our Mother Country, Spain”:

    When a people is gagged; when its dignity, honor,
    and all its liberties are trampled; when it no longer
    has any legal recourse against the tyranny of its
    oppressors, when its complaints, petitions and
    groans are not attended to; when it is not permitted
    even to weep; when even the last hope is wrested
    from its heart; then. . .! then. . .! then. . .! it has left no
    other remedy but to take down with delirious hand
    from the altars the bloody and suicidal dagger of

    In the 1890s, we of the different islands in the orient under Spain became of one identity as Filipinos. Our Filipino Nation was conceived.

    On one hand, there was the oppression of Spain from which, we want to be free. On the other hand, there was the beautiful people and islands we already want for our heritage. Both of these pulling us towards a strong desire for independence.

    Andrés Bonifacio organized a movement called Katipunan, which worked towards that independence from Spain. The Katipunan stressed the shared characteristics of Filipino which was birth of one and the same country, people and mother. This was to make us conscious of an identity for the purpose of a cohesive community. It was to be distinct from that of the Spaniards, the Americans nor any of our Asian neighbors. The revolutionary organization was guided by the principles of equality, honor, integrity as well as respect and obedience to legitimate authority. In April 1895 Bonifacio and a band of Katipuneros went to the Montalban hills, initiating some men of the area. Here in the Pamitinan cave they assembled; an indication of their presence is an inscription scratched in charcoal on the walls: “Viva la Independencia de Filipinas!” This was the ‘first cry for liberty and independence’ by us Filipinos.

    It was in this womb that our nation was emerging. It was in this biological home at the social level that we were establishing our own national identity—Filipino.


    This is our point of reference. This is organic to our biological development as a nation. This is our heritage which makes us equal before the nations of the world. This is our own. This was not granted to us. This is ours by birth right. This is our home!

    On June 12, 1898, we proclaimed the independence of the Philippines from Spain. We officially hoisted for the first time the Philippine National Flag as the Marcha Nacional Filipina was being played in public. With budget allocation, we produced our own government, our own defense system, our agricultural system, and our educational system.


    After we became independent from Spain and become a nation in 1898, the Americans invaded us in 1899. We resisted. A bloody war started. From 500,000 to 900,000 of us Filipinos died in that war. With mutual benefit with the Americans of being able to explore our resources when we are already weak, the Chinese, in coordination with the Americans also conducted a separate but constant and more subtle invasion. With a weak physical resistance, the Americans transmitted in us the virus of corruption of our national psyche.


    This is the heritage our fathers—Andrés Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto, Gen Artemio Ricarte, Gen Antonio Luna, Maj José Torres Bugallon, Gen Vicente Lukban, Macario Sacay and many more died for, to give us our home. Our fathers were not mere reformers for change. Because exept for Bonifacio who was a revolutionist because he fought for independence when we were not yet a nation then, our fathers resisted foreign aggressors who were invading our nation which was already a sovereign nation. Nor are we already an independent nation today. Today, we have been corrupted as to have registered enemies as merely our countrymen who function within a system which just happens to be corrupt. Indeed, if this is the case, mere reform is needed. This is an internal and political affair best left to the civilians and politicians. It is not the area of professional soldiers. But our fathers were soldiers who resisted foreign invaders and their collaborators. Today we are still being invaded by foreigners—the Chinese and the Americans. GMA is collaborating with them.


    There are Americans like Capt David Fagen, Mark Twain, Andrew Carnegie and many others who defected on our side or have fought for the rights of nations which their own nation have abused. There are Chinese or Chinese meztizos in the Philippines such as Herman Tiu Laurel, Alejandro Lichauco and Gen Danilo Lim in the Philippines who: came here with legitimate purpose; fought for the cause of our liberation as a Filipino nation– they are more Filipinos than the collaborator GMA, the congressmen for sale or Filipino mercenaries in the Armed Forces. They are not the enemies referred to in this report


    We have a home. Let us recover that wholeness of our Filipino Nation. We are not are not the inferior replica of the Americans who are white, rich and powerful. We are not inferior replica of the Chinese who are white, rich and powerful. We are not any other national. We are not mendicants at their mercy. We need not crawl in order to recieve crumbs from the left over of their tables. We need not look at our brother Filipino with contempt in order to have the illusion that we are less of a Filipino and more of either our American or Chinese masters. We need not be dominated by them.

    We have our own nation to come home to. We have a nation who can receive us with love and protection. We have a nation where we can receive our brother Filipino with love and protection.

    Let us come home to Filipinas!

  • Jemuel

    Buenos días caballeros!

    Pls. don’t lose hope.
    I appreciate this small community of writers who appreciate our hispanic past. I don’t know much about your missions but I believe we have similar visions for our country. I’m 25 years old and a member of Grupo Lengua Española Manila (GLEM) founded 2006 by a spanish from Extremadura whom I opt not to mention his name for now for security reasons.
    I was surprised that there are still a lot of people of my ages are interested about spanish language as I am. We have regular members consist of more or less 10 individuals. We don’t have mission as a group since we’re just a small conversational group having our own motives & ways of learning the language & appreciating hispanic heritage.
    What I’m trying to point out is that there are passive groups and individuals to appreciate everyone’s efforts regarding this matter because majority of our population is contented with the forged history being taught in our educational institutions today.

  • nold

    Thanks my friend. i believe that our research and studies would not be wasted, we would have our oppurtunities, I’m certain that it would come. In what form? this is where I am uncertain.

    In our own little ways we would have to, atleast try. That’s what men like Quijano de Manila did, although our identity and history is still in a quagmire! and I’m pretty sure it would remain that way for a long time, since the Filipino of today would be quick to cry,’ preserve this century old churches, and this intramuros, for they are the manifestation of how beautiful our culture is!’, but this same Filipino would disdain and dismiss the era that created his beauty, this Filipino wants to get rid of that identity actually, as if it was a dress. As if it was a commuter, according to Nick Joaquin. Our generation has already decided to just take pictures with their fancy cameras and proclaim to the world the beauty of Filipino without even bothering to review its true origin, but those pictures would look great in their social websites – it serves its purpose. Who cares this days?

    Perhaps we would not be able to finish this book we have been discussing about! I’m resign to the fact that my resources are dwindling down and that I have to face the real world soon.

    hasta luego.

  • Pepe Alas

    That’s exactly what I’m telling you, amigo: we’ve got a lot of “archiving” to do despite the obstacles which beset us. Let them not spoil our “road to true freedom.”

    Our Archives have tons of almost forgotten documents written in a language so noble and so ours, but which is now so alien to our generation. It is quite a sad fact that you and I, in our late 20s, are perhaps the only young Filipinos left in the world today who have realized the evils of the so-called leyenda negra. It is gloomy even to think that this knowledge bequeathed to us through the powerful and convincing pen of Guillermo Gómez Rivera, Pío Andrade, Fr. Fidel Villaroel, and the late great Nick Joaquín will all come to a halt. I just hope that there are other people out there who are of our age, our generation, who will support and uplift our downtrodden spirits.

    We keep on telling ourselves that this knowledge that we have will die with us. But we should keep the fight going!

    The works of Joaquín et al. are scattered in every major library and scholarly home, but who pays real and sincere attention to them? I dare say, NO ONE BUT WE.

    Remember what Señor Gómez told you when you first met him at his Makati studio/library/home. You asked him if this struggle of ours still have a possibility of winning, of seeing justice. He answered you in his jolly old way, and with a light-heartening confidence only he can muster: “Yes, we are winning!”

    Well let me tell you this: we are not.

    Let us be realistic — we can never bring back the Spanish language in our islands. We can never convince even a fraction of our population to believe our pronouncements that the friars nor our Spanish past subjugated us into tyranny. And I’m damn sure that people will laugh at us, scorn us, mock us, or might even punish us with silence and nonchalance; they’ll think of us as crazy romantics of the Spanish past. But the bottomline is this — we know that what we’re doing is righteous. We know that we are on the right track. Twice in our travels have we experienced the Divine in our searches (remember how we discovered that small chapel in Biñán and the old site of Muntinlupa’s main church in the most unlikely hour?).

    No, we might not be able to see the light. Only, not in our lifetime. And that is if we do something about it.

    Hombre, we are on a Divine Mission. This is for Our Faith (go ahead, critics and cynics and Mr.-Know-It-Alls, laugh while you still can), for our race, and even for our dreams.

    I hope that you wouldn’t get depressed by my above-mentioned statements.

    Arnaldo, who said life’s fair? It isn’t. Even The Son of God had to die and suffer.

    That’s why I didn’t believe Señor Gómez that we’re winning, because I knew that he was just encouraging us. He had to lie just to encourage us. Although he never once told it to me, but I know that he knows for himself that we are on the losing end.

    But so was Christ during His last hours.

    The good Señor was just encouraging us. And for that, I love him more so much.

    We might not see the light of day, but hopefully, the future generations will. That will, of course, depend on people like us.

    Do not falter, my brother. So what if the odds against us makes the two of us mere dusts against boulders? This may be a losing fight. But this is one good hell of a fight.

    We should never surrender. Our obstacles be damned (excluding our loved ones of course, hehe). Since we have already accepted that change might happen but not in our lifetime, why the heck surrender at all?

    And the scariest part of all this is when, many years from now, when both of us have grown old and grey-haired and wrinkled and all that old stuff rummaging our would-be frail bodies, we would look back and curse ourselves for not having done what we should have done. Those are scary days of doing nothing but looking back in anger and regret and despair.

    We are still young — and yes, I look more younger than you, =) — thus, let us take advantage of this.

    However young, though, always keep in mind what you texted to me several days ago: TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE. It still is.

    Arnold, several times have I thought of surrendering. I couldn’t keep up with my studies what with all the household chores of taking care of my three kids and assisting my wife and the household help, making both ends meet, and thinking of all these wacky bills that contribute to wrinkles and sleepless nights and weight loss. Sometimes, I even think of just training my children for them to continue on the fight. But I think that would be foolish. Soon, they will have their own lives and preferences. I can only guide them.

    But sometimes, after getting a good day’s sleep (not good night’s sleep; I’m still working the fuckin’ night shift), I feel reinvigorated and revved up to continue this good fight.

    Maybe we just need to get some more sleep! I mean, seriously!

    But more seriously, we really have to continue this. Right now, our present situation render us helpless invalids. But even some invalids can pick up their own newspapers from the porch. Why not us, man?

    There’s always a way outta this rut that we’re in.

    And only God can pull us out.

    Thus, my dear friend, don’t ever say that we’re doomed anymore.


    The blood of our heroes cry for redemption.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: