By Pio Andrade

Filipinos in the 20th Century were repeatedly taught or told in schools and in the press, that Spain always kept their ancestors uneducated to have them ignorant and the always docile subjects of Spain. The blame was, in particular, thrown upon the friars, “who, from motives of their own, discouraged the learning of Spanish by the natives, in order that they may always act as intermediaries between the people and the civil authorities, and thus, retain their influences over their charges”. The most common proof cited for the alleged uneducatedness and ignorance supposedly reigning in Hispanic Philippines is the incontrovertible fact that only the Philippines, among all the other former Spanish colonies, is not Spanish-speaking today. But was this really so?

The 1896 revolution, the first revolution in Asia by a colonized people for independence from the colonizer, refutes the charge that Spain did not educate the Filipinos, for revolutions are not made by the ignoramuses but by the educated folks. Indeed, most of the leading lights and leaders of the 1896 Revolution were Ilustrados, or educated folks. The propaganda literature and the communications coming from the Revolutionaries were mostly in Spanish; and, the Malolos Constitution was debated and drafted in Spanish. The revolution was made possible by the widespread knowledge of Spanish. Thus, Spanish was the language of the 1896 Revolution and Philippine nationhood.

King Philip II’s Law of the Indies (Leyes de Indias) mandated Spanish authorities in the Philippines to educate the natives, to teach them how to read and write and to learn Spanish. However, the latter objective was well-nigh impossible given the realities of the time. First, there were very few Spaniards in the Archipelago to teach Spanish at that time. Second, the Philippines, at the coming of Spain was inhabited by diverse tribes with different languages, customs, and religion. Third, the geographical barriers – – – the seas, the mountain ranges, lush virgin forest and the absence of enough roads made travel and communication difficult during those years. Thus, the friars, the vanguard of evangelization and education, opted instead to learn the native languages first and in order to use them as tools to evangelize and teach the natives in the missionary schools.

But Spanish was also taught to those who wished to learn the language. Among these were the native principalía and the Chinese traders who only began to come in greater numbers after the coming of Spain to the Philippines.

Another proof that Spain’s language education was taking place in the first years of Hispanization in this Country was the Galleon Trade. The Galleon Trade would not have been possible if the Filipinos, Spaniards and Chinese could not communicate with each other in Spanish.

In 1863, with the passage of the Education Reform Act in the Spanish Cortes, the Philippine public school system was born. Separate schools for boys and girls were established in every pueblo for the compulsory education of Filipino children. The law also established the Escuela Normal to train male and female teachers. This was ten years before Japan had a compulsory form of education and forty years before the American government started a so-called public school system in the country.

One of the most vociferous voices claiming that Spain did not educate the Filipinos was UP historian emeritus Teodoro Agoncillo who wrote in THE REVOLT OF THE MASSES that “When the Americans took over the Philippines, only 2.5% of the Filipinos spoke and wrote in Spanish”. This figure was taken from the 1880 book of Cavada Mendez de Vigo. Later, in his history textbook , THE HISTORY OF THE FILIPINO PEOPLE, Agoncillo also claimed that “it is safe to say that the literacy rate of the native population was somewhere between 5% and 8%”. These Agoncillo claims are wrong for these two statements on the Philippine literacy can not be sustained by factual evidence.

Agoncillo failed to see that since 1811 with the publication of DEL SUPERIOR GOBIERNO, the Philippines had a popular press which further disseminated the Spanish language in the country. The Philippines was the first country in Asia to have a popular press in Spanish and, by the coming of Dewey, there were many more popular newspapers and books published in Spanish. The several newspapers in the native languages most always carried Spanish language sections. Manila, itself, (then with about half a million people) had three Spanish language dailies in the morning and three other dailies, also in Spanish, in the afternoon. These dailies in Spanish had no equal counterparts in other Oriental countries.

Another factor for increased Spanish literacy was the Chinese population. The Chinese community obligates Chinese cabecillas or Chinese barangay captains to teach rudimentary Spanish to new Chinese immigrants. After a month in these Chinese-owned schools, the Chinese immigrants spoke kastilang tindahan, or Caló Chino Español, a kind of Spanish Chabacano, that later become fluent albeit accented Spanish . When these Chinese immigrants intermarried, they brought forth Spanish-speaking mestizos. The 100,000 Chinese population at the turn of the century were all conversant in Spanish though in varying proficiency, from the kastilang tindahan of the new Chinese immigrants to the fluent Spanish of Chinese old timers.

Actually, Spanish grew even more during the 1900-1920 period. Professor Henry Jones Ford of Princeton University in his 1913 secret report on his six months travel and research about the Philippine situation to President Woodrow Wilson, had this to say on the use of Spanish in the country at that time: “There is however, another aspect of the case that should be considered. I had this forcibly presented to me as I traveled through the Islands, using the ordinary conveyances and mixing with all sorts and conditions of people. Although on the basis of School statistics the statement is made that more Filipinos now speak English than any other language, no one would think of the testimony of one’s own ears. Everywhere Spanish is the speech of business and social intercourse. For one to receive prompt attention, Spanish is always more useful than English and outside of Manila, is almost indispensable. Americans travelling about the Islands, use it habitually. What is more, they discourage the use of English. This was a development that took me by surprise. I asked an American I met on an inter-island steamboat why he always spoke Spanish to the stewards and waiters, and whether they could not understand him in English. He said that probably many of them could but one would not be treated with as much respect using English and not Spanish; that Filipinos seem to loose their manners using English, becoming rude, familiar and insolent.”

Professor Ford further underscored the widespread use of Spanish in the country by writing about the existing press thus: “There is unmistakable significance in the fact that there is not in all the Islands one Filipino newspaper published in English. All of the many native newspaper are published in Spanish and in the dialect.

It is relevant to mention here that as late as 1930, the Spanish dailies had a much bigger circulation than either Tagalog or English dailies. Noteworthy also is the fact that in the 1930’s there were a few Chinese periodicals in both Chinese and Spanish.

Modesto Reyes Lim in a 1924 issue of the Rizalian Magazine ISAGANI vehemently criticized the imposition of English upon the Filipinos. He wrote: “¿No es acaso de sentido común, que hubiera sido muy fácil propagar más el castellano, que ya se usaba como lengua oficial y se hablada ya por muchísimas familias filipinas dentro y fuera de sus hogares, y del cual contaba entonces el país con muchos literatos, poetas y escritores distinguidos?” (Is it not of plain common sense to know that it would have been far easier to further propagate Spanish, which was already the official language and the mother tongue of so many pure Filipino families, in and out of their homes, and from whom where born so many writers, poets and distinguished men of letters?)

“Indudablemente, como dice un ilustre filipno miembro actual prominente de la administración de justicia, que con el mismo tiempo y dinero gastado, sistema y otros medios modernos de instrucción empleados en la enseña del inglés, si en lugar de éste se hubiera propagado en mucha mayor proporción que se haya hoy propagado el inglés.”

(There is absolutely no doubt, says a Filipino jurist of today, that if the same time and money, and the same teaching system and methods, now employed in the teaching of English were instead dedicated to the teaching of Spanish, the latter would have been propagated in a much larger proportion in which English has been propagated.)



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