I met with some friends a couple of days ago and had an interesting discussion about Philippine History and the need to bring it closer to the mainstream Filipino. A hearty Filipino breakfast was served as usual in the generous home of a man who I admire and respect not only because of his accomplishments in Filipinismo but for the kind of person that he is. He welcomes me as if I’m someone who belongs to his house, and he always listens to what I have to say about history — to think that I’m young and hold no authority in history like him. Of course, these meetings are not complete without his amazing recollections of how it was back then, how everything was before, and how it started to change afterwards. I’m a sucker for stories about life in Old Filipinas. Admittedly, I’m such a zealous antiquarian (people who know me well know what I mean); my fascination with our unique history, our past, has brought me around the country. I’ve always wanted to study and appreciate it more. This desire of discovery only increases as the day goes by.
At first I thought that this love, this interest in Filipino history, is innate in every Filipino. But of course, as you grow older, you understand that there’s lack of real appreciation and awareness among us. History is regarded as mere dates and events, no thanks to our schools’ superficial approach in history education. We’re fed with stories of blood-spattered revolts and fierce struggles but never did they teach us the appreciation of our language, culture, and traditions — all integral ingredients of what we know today as Filipino. Sometimes, the past is not easy to deal with especially if our minds were trained to think in certain ways — thus, we can’t blame the Filipinos of today if they prefer the American lifestyle and culture. As for this generation, we started with the ABCs and the MTVs — the American dream is what we want just like what the disillusioned Federalistas who urged us years ago that America would make Filipinos Americans. The generation after the 1896-1898 revolution were all Americanized, not by choice of course but through brute force. This new master successfully reoriented this country in less than a century, something that they failed to do in the other Spanish colonies they invaded. And this has a lot to do with the Spanish language. So effective was their imposition of their ways on us that we began to feel ashamed of our Hispanic first names and started trading it with theirs (we are already talking about our NAMES, ladies and gents). We naturally would want to rid ourselves with what we perceive is wrong — what we were taught to be wrong.
Instead of having a history which teaches us to connect with our past, we inherited a divisive one, history lessons that are out to cleanse out and destroy the memory of our founding fathers. Revisions stop us from appreciating our rich culture and heritage. We try to find more faults, more errors, when we already know they exist. We forget many important things because we were taught to read history in a way that we’ll make us continue to be sightless of what had transpired. We were already educated and cultured when the Americans came — we seem to forget this fact. We were not backward and godless like what the Americans wanted us to believe — we had a Republic for crying out loud, the first in Asia, an institution which they destroyed. Teaching history was perverted to suit the view of a few. Their view and those who allied with them: the Americanist, who believes the Yankees gave us civilization. And then there’s the nationalist historian, who believes in the edenic principles of an untouched, pristine Philippines but still end up calling it Philippines, as if it existed before the Iberian colonizer came. Many would belittle what I say as mere Hispanist chatter, but some of these heralded historians can’t even define what a Filipino means. Even Agoncillo wrote that it’s hard to plainly describe what is a Filipino — this coming from our premier historian. So what do we expect from students? What can we do about it? This is the question we all must ask ourselves.
We already know what the problems are. We know the revolution spoke Spanish and that the greatest generation of Filipinos that ever lived were not only speakers of Spanish but were artists of the highest order. So what’s with the cold shoulder towards the Spanish language? Are some people afraid of the potential that Filipinos might achieve? That they we might finally uncover the well filled with lies and deceit in our history? Why is it being largely ignored? Some argue that there is no more use for it. Some probably out of contempt and hate; they simply don’t want it around. We have to be reasonable, as I’ve been saying in my previous posts. we now live in a world where English is the language in the world of business. This is an advantage, definitely, and it would be a mistake not to use it. But continuing to suppress the Spanish language and avoiding its inclusion from our schools is unjust. By this, we continue to separate our children from our written history of almost 400 years!
Sometime in the early 1900s, the Americans started reorienting the Filipino mind. The forced imposition of English and the restructuring of the government commenced. Prominent Filipinos even started to push for statehood but the Americans never even intended to marry into our society. Their intention was clear right from the moment they took Intramuros: neocolonialism. American dream? It remained a dream forever. The American never had the intention of giving political equality to a nation which they deprived of its independence. They destroyed the first republic, a government whose existence they failed to recognize. To them, we were considered as lowly “negroes” and savages in the worst epoch of the modern world. They justified their occupation with benevolence and democracy. The genocidal war against those who resisted is probably the greatest cover up in our modern history. Why is this not taught in school? Because it would be too harsh for the America that we know of from history books. They were, after all, according to our books, benevolent.
English was introduced only in the early 1900s at a time when Filipinos were already using Spanish as the language (as Srª Soledad Lacson-Locsín calls it). Something that many historians try to dismiss but with overwhelming documentation (in Cebú, the Acta de Gobierno and almost all government papers were written in Spanish until the mid 1900s; this was prevalent in most of our old towns) available in written Spanish. It’s impossible to deny that its status was indeed national. It’s historical revisionism to claim that it never was. How many people spoke Spanish is subject to debate, as some contemporary historians claim that it was not even spoken by one percent of the total population, a gross exaggeration in my opinion. The Ford Report indicates otherwise as it details the widespread use of Spanish. Carlos Palanca made similar observations in a separate document. Pío Andrade, Jr. has written that much of Chinatown spoke Spanish! As if our literary giants who wrote in Spanish were not enough to convince us that there is a need to bring it back. We have yet to see a Rizal or even a Recto equivalent from our English writers. Our contemporary writers’ work would turn pale in comparison to our Hispano writers. I know it’s an unfair comparison but this happens to be the truth. Some might never had the chance to learn it but this was because of the conditions brought by the new political rules imposed on us. History shows us that the Spaniards public school intended to teach it at the end of 1800s. It failed because the Spaniards were preoccupied with issues of empire survival (Spain was then undergoing political crises). There was no one to teach the language. What I believe is that there were varying degrees of how the language was used, but its status as the official language was never in question back then. Its decline started when it was removed and replaced with English. The role Spanish played in our national history is an enormous one. Add to this is the more than twenty thousand adopted Spanish words that we have in Tagalog. This alone should be enough to bring it back in the classrooms. But why are we encountering so much resistance in its reintroduction? Let me go back to my earlier statement, “we were taught wrong”, for if we understand its value, historically we would never give it up. It was the late senator Blas Ople who said that its removal was a “strategic error” on our part. It was a blunder of epic proportions. How I wish all our children can read Rizal, Recto, Mabini and all our great men of letters in their original.