Tag Archives: guillermo gomez rivera

Why not Spanish?

(L to R) Tia Lydia, “Mommy” Doña Amparo y yo (¡Qué muchachito lindo! ) CTTO: James Mo

Looks like our local educational system is opening its doors to more languages like Korean. Hardcore K-Pop fans were delighted to hear the news!

But why prioritize Korean and Mandarin? Why not Spanish? Our old lingua franca?

All my siblings had mandatory Spanish. It was removed from standard curriculum when I started tertiary education.

With its contribution to our local languages, why was it removed as an “official” Filipino language in the Cory Constitution? Whose idea was it?

The late statesman and journalist from Bulacan, Blas Ople, who took part in drafting the 1987 constitution, tried to salvage it from being written off but was thwarted by hispanophobic colleagues.

While he doesn’t speak it fluently he was a staunch defender of the old lingua franca. His efforts was not forgotten by the Spanish speaking community. He was awarded the Premio Zobel, the country’s oldest literary award, in 1993.

In his Panorama column in 1992, he shared his experience during the crafting of the Constitution of 1987:

“I should reveal this now. In the Constitutional Commission of 1986, I fought until the end to have Spanish retained in the new Constitution as an official language, together with Filipino and English. I wanted at least an explicit recognition of Spanish as such a language until the wealth of historical material in our archives, most of this in Spanish, can be fully translated into English or Filipino.

But the real reason was that I wanted to preserve our last formal links with the Iberian world, which includes most of the countries in Latin Américas with a population of about 400 million. I remember Claro M. RectoClaro M. Recto’s sentimental journey to Spain, which was aborted by a heart attack in Rome. If we lost that final strand of solidarity with the Spanish-speaking world, we, too, would never get to Spain.

It was as though both sides had agreed on a policy of mutual forgetfulness.

The “radicals” in the Con-Com strongly advised me not to press the provision on Spanish, because this would have the effect of reopening other controversial issues in the draft charter. It could delay the framing of the Constitution beyond an acceptable deadline.

My worst fears have been realized. We have expelled ourselves from the Iberian community of nations. The rift is final, and will never be healed.

A few weeks ago, I saw an “Inquirer Radio” interview of Guillermo Gomez Rivera. An octogenarian, he remains the most active advocate of bringing Spanish back in our schools. Like Ople and his grandfather, Guillermo Gomez Windham, he won the Premio Zobel in 1975.

Another proponent of the language that I respect is the Filipina writer based in Chile, Elizabeth Medina. She now makes short YouTube lectures on Filipino history and culture. The last one I saw was about “Asuangs” (bruho)! In it she translates the accounts of Padre Francisco Ignacio Alzina about the fabled night creature.

Those who wants to improve their Spanish can benefit from her lectures. She speaks in Spanish and translates it in English and Tagalog. Must be her ulterior motive—imparting Filipino history while teaching Spanish—a matar dos pájaros de un tiro!

To continue to deny Spanish as a Filipino language is counter productive. We have thousands of words that came from it. We have centuries of history with it and it has economic value. Just ask Filipinos working as Spanish language support in BPOs.

My first Spanish lessons came from “Mommy,” our Spanish-American neighbor. She spoke often in English and Tagalog but she speaks Spanish sometimes, curses and sings in it too. At a very young age I heard such words as “urbanidad,” “amor propio” and “palabra de honor”. And, “hijo de puta,” “puneta,” “cabron” and “tarantado”! She loves Julio Iglesia’s “Hey” (Spanish version). And yes, I’ve got it memorized.

When Spanish was vilified in school it never got to me. Why? Because I was taught that it’s a well where many of our great traditions came from. I knew it was not something I should fear or hate.

I am sure many Spanish advocates in the country today had grandparents who shared with them wonderful stories about it. We all should consider ourselves fortunate that we heard it from the last generation that spoke it as a Filipino language.

Felipe Buencamino’s US Senate Appearance

The biopic movie “Heneral Luna” introduced many Filipinos for the first time to Felipe Buencamino. Veteran actor Nonie Buencamino, a descendant of his, played his“contra vida” character.

Felipe Buencamino is one of Emilio Aguinaldo’s trusted ministers. He started on the other side of the fence, worked for Manila’s Audencia (courts), became a fiscal and later a judge. He fought against the Filipinos (which he claims at the beginning were mostly brigands, disorganized and had no political goals) during the outbreak of the revolution. But he had a change of heart after he was imprisoned for espionage by Spanish authorities. He jumped ship after his incarceration.

He must have impressed Aguinaldo because he had a meteoric rise—from the battle fields to becoming foreign affairs minister. He remained one of the closest man to the president’s ears until he was captured (November 1899). Unlike most of El Presidente’s trusted Caviteño men, Buencamino was a true blue Bulaqueño. He later help frame the Malolos Constitution.

In the early 1900’s he co-founded the Partido Federalista with Trinidad Pardo de Tavera as president (while Aguinaldo escaped north). The party’s goal was to have the US take us in as its citizens and the country as one of its states. They were also popularly referred to as the Americanistas.

I got interested in Buencamino’s story when hispanist historian Guillermo Gomez Rivera gave me a copy of his “Statement before the committee on insular affairs on conditions in the Philippine islands.”

He appeared before the US Senate in 1902.

Here are some of what Buencamino shared during the hearing.

On “Heneral Luna,”:

“Two bands were formed within the Philippine Army, one for Gen. Luna and the other for Gen. Aguinaldo.”

“General Luna wanted to effect a coup d’etat to supplant Aguinaldo.”

“General Aguinaldo decided on the suppression of General Luna… collected 4000 men and went to look for General Luna, leaving the town where the captain-general was temporarily on June 1. General Luna was leaving Bayambang, about 75 miles from Cabanatuan, so that it took Aguinaldo four days to arrive at the town of Bayambang. But what I can not explain is the coincidence that upon the same day that Aguinaldo was arriving at the residence of General Luna… on the same day and at the same hour General Luna reached General Aguinaldo’s house (Cabanatuan).”

“Everybody lost confidence in the insurrection by this occurrence (Luna’s assassination). It can be said that from that time the insurrection had morally died.”

On how the hostility started between the Filipinos and Americans, the US Senate Chairman asked, “so the opening of the hostilities was simply premature. The hostilities were to be begun by Aguinaldo (through an executive order) anyway a little later?

“Yes, Sir. The basis of this was a lack of confidence in the Americans.”

While he was critical of how Spain failed to entirely educate Filipinos, he acknowledged the benefits of their regimented religious education:

“When the Spaniard came they taught Christianity, the immense benefit of which I cannot but acknowledge. This was an incomprehensible act in the 15th century, because only the Philippines in the Far East were selected to be Christianized; and, as is natural, Christianity perfected us and our education about the basic principles of life… Spain at that time brought about the unity of the Philippine people, who had been divided into a great many tribes. We were as highly educated as any people in the world, any citizen of the most civilized country in the world could go to the Philippine before the revolution and could be sure of his life, his property and interest.”

Buencamino’s opinion apparently changed after the abortive revolution. This appears to be the opinion of the Federalistas for wanting to become American citizens. They believe we “can not govern ourselves,” he continues:

“Self-governance, according to my sad experience, belong only to people and nations who can inspire their neighbors respect and consideration… Let it be supposed that Aguinaldo established a free government under a system of independence, and he would have a conflict with any of the hundreds of these foreigners (with residences and businesses in the country, some of whom were claiming indemnities because of the damage caused by the revolution, i.e., in Iloilo) because he has no idea of what international responsibility is, we would have international conflict. Thus, we would go on until we would extinguish ourselves forever, and we would suffer the fate of Samoa and China. For all these reasons I deduced the inadvisability of our being independent.”

He believes that the Filipinos unpreparedness to govern was brought about the Spaniards failure to educate its colonial subjects. “We have never had an opportunity of being politicians,” Buencamino said.

The name Felipe Buencamino will forever be linked to Antonio Luna’s ghastly death. Buencamino allegedly told his men, “At last they’re dead, go see the body and get all the papers from their pockets, especially the telegram”. This same man would later state that the Filipino revolution “morally” died the day Luna was assassinated.

#AngLarawan: not a film review

We Filipinos complain about the sad state of our film industry. But when a good local film comes out it doesn’t get the support it deserves.

Ang Larawan, adapted from Joaquin’s Portrait of an Artist as a Filipino (1952) is as good as it gets.

A friend remarked, “sadyang mababaw daw tayong mga Filipino.”

I don’t agree—I’ve seen artsy foreign films get noticed by moviegoers and receive rave reviews from local film critics.

Perhaps a more acceptable explanation is this:

We lack the education and exposure to Filipino art and history. We limit our children with what television offers (and lately, social media). We bring them to malls and beaches, rarely to museums, plays and art classes.

It is time that we read Filipino literature to our children. Many of our great writers remains unread.


Déjà vu!

The late director and National Artist Lamberto Avellano’s adaption (A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino 1965) was snubbed as well when it came out in . It closed after 5 days because of poor attendance. It starred his wife, Daisy H. Avellana as Candida. Like her husband, she’a a National Artist awardee.

Joaquin’s classic first appeared in Weekly Womens Magazine. Before it was adapted to film, the play was popular among theater viewers. It run for 160 shows which is considered the longest in Filipino theatre history.

Avellana was said to have approached Atty. Manuel “Manny” De Leon for support. The LVN boss was curious if Manila would see it—if there was such “intelligentsia” that would see the film. He produced it but they would be disappointed—the film flopped.

Ang Larawan Comeback

I intended to watch the film in SM Muntinlupa. It was pulled from their cinema the day I was about to see it.

The film critics and awards it garnered has put winds on its sails. Now cinemas started showing the film once more (after being pulled out in many movie houses during its first week). I saw in TV Patrol the other day that people has started buying tickets—bravo!

Thoughts on Joaquin

Guillermo Gomez Rivera, who used to play Don Perico (in one performance, a boozed up Joaquin howled and cheered from the audience), told me that the entire play is Joaquin’s interpretation of what happened to identity as people—we had a truncated culture.

“That was the termination of something beautiful (our culture and identity)… we perhaps would never see it again,” Gomez told me. Paula, Candida and the Father, the maestro, died defiant against a fast changing world.

Contra mundum! 

One of my biggest regret was not meeting Joaquin. I would love to pick his mind (but he’s not into interviews I was told). Filipina writer based in Chile, Elizabeth Medina, told me that she once requested for an audience with Joaquin.

“Too bad Nick Joaquin didn’t “pescarme” (hindi ako pinansin) when I called him in Manila in 1997. He didn’t realize, that’s all that I was asking him, to mentor me, that I was genuine. But then it means that he was not meant to be my mentor,” She said.

Seeing Joaquin’s work articulated visually by artists and even students today is personally gratifying. I’ve been a fan for so long that it feels good to see his following grow in number (among my generation and the so called “milleneals”).

My only other wish is that Filipinos dig deeper, contemplate on the message Joaquin conveys through his stories and characters. He is to me, the conduit to our glorious past forgotten.

So long Andrade!

Feeling a bit under the weather I thought of staying home yesterday. But I was informed by the family of the eminent Chemist and historian Pio Andrade Jr. that Wednesday is the last and only day of his internment. He passed away last December 26. They decided to cremate his remains the next day and bring him home to his beloved Paracale.

Before heading to Kamuning (where Andrade is interred) I dropped by Sampaloc to see popular historian Benito Legarda Jr. This is the only second time I’m meeting him. I brought two books he authored and had them signed. We spoke briefly about WWII (more on this on future post).

During our chat he asked if I’ve read his Rizal book (Eight Rizalian Miniatures, 2011). I told him that I’ve heard about it but I’ve never seen one for sale. He sold and signed me a copy. We weren’t talking about Rizal or anything related to him. The offer came out of the blue.

Before leaving I told him that I’m visiting Andrade. I asked if he knew him well. “Yes, where is he now?,” he inquired. He was surprised to hear that he has passed away. “That’s sad,” he said.

Your company up there for sure would enjoy your wonderful stories!

I arrived at the Chapel in Kamuning pass 6PM. I spent a couple of hours with Andrade’s family exchanging stories. In the times we met we talked for hours and hours. So, I had my fair share of Uncle Junior stories to tell.

One of my favorite story was when he was quizzed by the US Secret Service. He actively wrote against the martial law during his time in University of Florida. Marcos had an upcoming US state visit. They were trying to assess if Andrade was a threat. Asked if he knows how to use firearms, “No, only firecrackers!”

Not many knows that Andrade has a great sense of humor. Maybe the way he writes (in his own words “accusatory” and “angry”) sends that vibe that he’s a difficult person. But he’s a great guy to hang with, look, I’m 38, our age are decades apart but we get along.

How I wish that publishers took a second look at his book ideas. I feel that the “Fooling of America” was too controversial that many thought it risky to work with Andrade.

The last time we spoke he told me that he’s got three books lined up. He was already wrapping up editing his Paracale book (Romancing the Gold) and was working on two other: “Que Barbaridad” (vignettes on Spanish cultural and historical contributions) and a Rizal book which tackles inaccuracies and fabrications about the national hero.

I proposed to the family that they donate all his completed and unfinished work to the Ateneo. I remember him telling Guillermo Gomez Rivera to do the same for his huge library in his Calle Mola. The historian Fernando Zialcita, who came earlier to the chapel, suggested the same.

Whether or not the books (or what can be recovered) gets published is entirely up to the family. There were at least a couple of his young nieces that are interested in his work (one in particular is Ariel who I believe writes).

I reached home at around 10 PM. I had a few pending work that I wanted to complete in the morning so I went straight to bed. I pulled Legarda Jr.’s “Eight Rizalian Miniatures,” from my backpack (the book I just acquired earlier). Reading relaxes and puts me to sleep.

I opened it and landed on page 15, there it was, an article (Sidelights on Rizal) Legarda wrote in 2008-09. “Self-professed iconoclast and historical gadfly Pio Andrade delivered a lecture at the Instituto Cervantes… in which he view erroneous impressions about Rizal’s life.”

This was the event where I first met Andrade. He must be kidding around—pulling a prank of sorts!

One more reminder that his work would stay with us for as long as we exist.

Thank you my friend.

CIA’s cross hairs: then Recto, now Duterte?

There were those who kept vigil in the night of our forefathers… (photo courtesy of NHCP)

President Rodrigo Duterte’s paranoia of a CIA plot against him was recently responded to by US Ambassador Sung Kim who flatly denied the allegation. No surprise there. No powerful country that spends millions on their spy agencies would admit to commiting espionage—even when their mandate is to do so.

But Duterte’s charge isn’t new. America has intruded—and will continue to do so—in our political affairs.

A few months ago, Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, the President’s son, exposed a meeting in which US representatives met with some members of the opposition in Manila. He did not specify who were the players, but the claim gives wind to rumors of a plot to oust his father.

President Erap Estrada himself believed that the US had a hand in ousting him. This after he did not heed the White House’s calls to stop military operations against the MILF back in 2000. Even the late President Ferdinand Marcos, inspite of his liaisons with the US government, wrote in his diary about the US Embassy and the CIA’s activities during his government.

Recto’s Heart

One historical figure that comes to mind whenever I hear talks of Filipino nationalism in the 20th century is Claro M. Recto. He was a vociferous anti-emperialist, opposed the unfair Bell Trade and Parity acts, fought for Rizal’s life and works to be taught in school—a political seppuku during his time. The Catholic Church did not want Rizal taught in schools, much more in their schools.

I recall a story from renowned hispanist Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, a Premio Zóbel Awardee (1975). Sometime during the 50’s, he visited Recto at the latter’s Pásay law office (Calle Leveriza) to talk about Spanish-Filipino literature. Señor Gómez said that there was no doubt that Recto was only “equal to Rizal!”.

Recto, a hispanista, was able to see our deeply embedded identity in its Spanish past. In a society fast gravitating towards anything American, he was one of the few hold outs challenging the new master’s impositions.

Recto died of a heart attack in 1960 while he was on his way for a goodwill visit to Spain and to meet with Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. But Señor Gómez insists that Recto was assassinated. Recto was on regular medication at that time, he said. But when Recto suddenly fell ill, his medication mysteriously disappeared from where he had kept it. Investigative reporter Raymond Bonner in his 1987 book “Waltzing With a Dictator” mentioned something about a vial of poison being readied for Recto, but was not utilized. I also recall reading an article that implicated the CIA with regards to Recto’s death. The writer alleged that a powerful beam was directed to Recto’s heart. This was what killed him. But I find this too incredible to believe. Or is it?

Taken Down, Shake Down

In the book “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” by John Perkins, the author wrote about the death of Panamá’s Ómar Torrijos. Credited for bringing the Panamá Canal back to Panamá, Perkins believed that he was taken out. He wrote: “The jackals (US operatives) were back… they wanted Omar Torrijos and everyone else who might consider joining an anti corporatocracy crusade to know it.” The author quotes a book by Graham Greene, “Getting to Know the General” which gave an account of a bomb planted inside Torrijos’s plane. It is believed that another motive for the hit was his threat to get the Japanese to build and maintain the Panamá canal, taking it away from US companies like Bechtel. Torrijos was not only against US interests but Panamá’s oligarchs as well.

Is it safe to assume that what had happened in the Americas is not confined to that continent?

UP Professor Roland Simbulan in a lecture given in UP Manila said “It is now a well-documented fact that General Ralph B. Lovett, then the CIA station chief in Manila, and US ambassador Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, had discussed a plan to assassinate Recto using a vial of poison. A few years later, Recto was to die mysteriously of heart attack (though he had no known heart ailment) in Rome after an appointment with two Caucasians in business suits.”

Remember that unbelievable story of a beam directed towards Recto’s heart?

In 1975, Idaho senator Frank Church called an investigation on alleged CIA abuses (look up “Church Committee” in search engines). A weird looking gun was presented to the committee. It shoots a small, poisonous dart, developed to be undetectable. The target wouldn’t even know he was injected with a toxin. Deaths caused by this dart would later be made to appear as caused by some massive heart attack.

Was this “heart attack gun” or any similar lethal instrument developed by the US the one that ended Recto’s life?

Gomez’s “quis ut deus” and the aswang

When the prolific Cebuano writer, Antonio Martinez Abad penned “La Vida Secreta de Daniel Espeña” in 1960 I wonder if he knew it would be the last from his generation. When I heard that the most dedicated advocate of the Spanish language in the country, Guillermo Gomez Rivera, completed his Spanish novel (more than half a century after Abad’s novel piece) I had to see him.

He handed fellow blogger Pepe Alas and myself a copy. I was supposed to read it but I forgot my copy back home. Alas told me that it’s an autobiographical novel. In it the Premio Zobel awardee included prominent contemporaries, individuals he knew—some family members.

Entitled “quis ut deus” (Latin for Who’s Like God?) the novel’s about Teniente Gimo; our version of Count Dracula.

Driving around Intramuros with Gomez. We had a so-so lunch in pricey Ilustrados were we ate sad small dishes. Pepe Alas took this photo. We were somewhere in Muralla (near Letran) here.

Interesting is how this novel, written around the legend of Teniente Gimo, have real people in it. This ghoulish character has prominently figured in Ilongo culture. If you’re Ilongo, or have Ilongo parents like myself, you perhaps heard about this legend from Dueñas.

This myth has done much to the detriment of this enchanting agrarian town’s reputation.

How an aswang could have anything to do in fighting the Americans in the 1900’s?

Well, this is something that we all have to find out.

Now, I really have to go back and get that book.

* * *

My mother is a hardcore believer in aswang. She swore that she had seen one, in fact she claims that one of our former household help in the 90’s was one! Her reason? she would see her walk around our compound pass midnight when everybody’s sound asleep. When quizzed what she was doing wandering around late at night she would have no memory of it!

It’s impossible to convince them that these things are not real. I remember one time telling them that aswangs are rumors instigated by the CIA in the Visayas to counter communist insurgency (Major General Edward Lansdale, lead intelligence operative in the islands admitted to this). My parents would not have any of this—they’re convinced that these ghouls disguised as ordinary people are as real as you and me.

The Spanish Orders who chronicled much of our ancient oral traditions had noted some of these in their accounts. These folklores are not a recent creations or something that the Friars invented to scare the general public into going to church.

My time spent around Malaysians has provided me with an invaluable understanding of our historical and cultural links with them. Most of our pre-Filipino customs and traditions are essentially “Malay” (I would be writing more on this topic later on).

The myth of “aswang” in all likelihood came from our Malay forefathers.

For example, the Mananangal also exist in their folklore. They call it “Hantu Penanggal”. They have Tianak too, they call it “Pontianak”. Their “Manaden,” “Langsuir,” and “Bajang” (we have “mambabarang,” these are witches) are like our aswang. At first I thought that because they’re Muslims they would not believe in these creatures but they do—turns out they’re as superstitious as we are!

Gomez joins us for this Podcast!

I’ve known Sr. Gomez for 7 years now. But to this day I’m still learning new things from this man. His mind is a gold mine!

Two years ago he told me that we’re related. I told him that’d be hard to prove. A few months later he showed me this book with detailed family trees of the Locsin clan showing our familial link.

The guy’s a historian with a knack for finding buried truths.

I could understand why the ol’ man’s controversial. He doesn’t shy away from touchy historical topics. But as a young historian, I appreciate men like him because there’s not a lot people out there turning over stones. Whether you agree with him or not he deserves to be heard.

Gomez’s advocacy for the Spanish language is eerily similar to those forgotten Filipino who not only fought to keep it but used it to fend off rapid and rabid Americanization in the early 1900’s. His efforts, in print and, believe it or not, in social media, to bring Spanish back is quite fascinating.

Gomez’s from that generation of Spanish speaking Filipinos that saw Spanish as ‘THE’ language. While we all could draw different conclusions to this stand, it’s important to keep an open and critical mind. To understand this historian’s perspective we have to consider hisorical context. Gomez shares this ardent advocacy with the likes of Recto, Abad, Apostol, Balmori, Bernabe, Magalona and Cuenco.

There was a time when Filipinos stood up to defend Spanish, and to do so was patriotic. No one then questioned this advocacy as romanticism, although the American did consider it subversive. These days, only a handful of people fight this battle, and Gomez’s one of the last.


I’m of the opinion that Spanish must be studied not as a foreign language but a Filipino language. It’s irrefutable that old Spanish is part of our heritage.

Whether Spanish could lead the present generation of Filipinos to a deeper appreciation of our past is subject for open debate. I honestly believe that it’s not always the case. I’ve been in the BPO business for some time and has been friends with so many Spanish speaking Filipinos and majority of them possess no interest in our history nor our identity.

And yet, I’ve met people like the historian Pio Andrade, who has never spoken Spanish but has become a leading voice in bringing Spanish back in our schools. Another friend, a former Philippine Marine officer, who writes passionately on the subject, he too, never spoke Spanish.

So we go back to the question why Spanish is relevant today — I’d leave this for my distant uncle, my good friend, Sr. Gomez to answer.

Enjoy the podcast!

I’m kinda stuck now doing these podcasts in youtube. At the beginning, I thought that once the quality gets better and I get better producing it I’d try out itunes, only to find out that it would cost me to do so. So, I’m not going that route for now. These are the times when you wish you have money to pay for stuff.

For now, while it would be cool to have your own website and your files hosted, the way to go is to not to pay fees because there’s no fund for it. I think what’s important is that these conversations are uploaded in the internet and to allow people that are interested in ’em to get it when they want it. I have names lined up and together with my ol’ bud Filipinoescribble’s Pepe Alas, would continue making these podcasts.


Chinatown Chow and Friends

Tag: Instituto Cervantantes Manila, Carlos Madrid, Guillermo Gomez Rivera, Chinatown Manila

Driving around Binondo on a regular day is a torturous errand. There’s nothing like it. Forget Makati and EDSA, in this part of the country traffic takes on a whole new meaning. But Manila is Manila and if you’re a history nut like me it makes going through the capital’s abyss of vehicle and smoke worth it.

And so when friends, Pepe and Don Guimo invited me to eat lunch and catch up in Binondo I said yes!

The new director of Instituto Cervantes, Dr. Carlos Madrid, upon the invitation of Don Guimo also joined us in that mall in Calle Reina Regente in Binondo. It took me around 2 hours to reach the place from Makati. There’s another person that was supposed to there but didn’t make it, Ms. Sony Ng, a historian for the Locsin clan. Gomez said that the new IC director is keen on knowing more about the Locsin clan (Gomez and I are related through this family). My impression of  Carlos is a guy that’s historically inclined and intellectually curious about Filipino history. The first question he asked me was about my last name which he recognized. He recently published a book about the political history of the Marianas Island’s from 1870 – 1877.

Carlos, Arnaldo, Pepe and Sr. Guimo

I could see good things happening at the Instituto under Carlos. It’s about time we get someone passionate about Filipino history at the Instituto. Expect projects geared towards engaging Filipinos to take another look at their Spanish past – an essential part of our identity as Filipinos.

When I was studying Spanish at the Instituto a few years back, my first professor, erudite in Hispano culture, would find time in his class to talk to us about Hispanic culture in Latin America. Of course, these Hispanic traditions are all too familiar — surprising was that many students commented and has showed interest on the subject (after all, these so called ‘hispanic’ traditions are all under our noses). I would talk to some of these students too. Their interest to know more about the language and our hispano-filipino memory is like that of a child’s genuine curiosity to understand more by asking more.

And so I thought it a good idea to speak with then IC director, Pepe Rodriguez to share my ideas. I waited for him in the staircase and approached him one afternoon. Pepe’s a proper looking fella but very accommodating. He used to be a correspondent for a Spanish news agency and in the process has met most of our past and present national leaders. I told him about that interesting class and how it can be improved. I asked if it was possible to discuss Filipino traditions our Spanish past gifted us in our class, for professors to present (as that professor of mine did with the Latin American tradition he adores) these Filipino traditions having strong ‘hispanic’ influence. I firmly believe that this would have a deeper impression on the young Filipinos and would make them look back with a profound appreciation of our Spanish past.

Well, the meeting didn’t last long. Mr. Rodriguez said “it’s interesting that you thought of that, I agree with you…”. While I appreciate his response I wasn’t under the illusion that he’s going to act on it. Nothing came out of that short exchange of course, but I felt I needed to share. It was here that I realized that the Spanish government’s cultural arm real mandate is to teach Spanish as a foreign language and its culture (and that of the Latino countries) as lessons in people and geography.

There must be changes but this is easier said than done because such foreign institutions are cautious in involving itself in controversies. I could understand why presenting some parts of our past as hispanic or ‘Spanish’ would certainly ruffle big feathers in the country. But I remain a believer that the Instituto must be a vehicle that counteracts a century of miseducation that started when the Americans landed in our shores. We’re dealing with generations of Filipinos conditioned to see Spanish, both the past and the language, as nothing more than small insignificant blips in our historical evolution.

Still, I appreciate our Instituto Cervantes and I’d recommend it to everyone. The past few years has been fruitful for researchers, historians and students — it truly is a place for learning, not only language, but Filipino history and culture. I’ve met some of the most interesting lecturers and experts in its halls. Dr. Madrid said that the school’s programs now are aimed at making the institute more of a community for people interested in Spanish language and culture. The cultural programs are worth seeing (visit their official site for what’s goin’ on there here).


Like what I always say, history is a strong incentive for the young to learn Spanish. It was for me… once young Filipinos could relate to the historical importance of Spanish as a language they would embrace it for life.

June 2014

el idioma español en filipinas docu in IC Manila

A few days ago I attended the Asian premier of the doumentary “El Idioma español en Filipinas” at the Instituto Cervantes. The film was directed by Javier Ruescas and was produced by the Asociación Cultural Galeón de Manila and its partners. Local Spanish speakers were interviewed in the film; Gemma Cruz-Araneta, Manoling Morato, Fernando Zialcita, Maggie de la Riva, Georgina Padilla Zobel, Macario Ofilada Mina, Guillermo Gómez Rivera, Benito Legarda II and more. The film also touched on the history of the language during the three centuries of Spanish rule.

Well attended, standing room premier of ‘el idioma espanol en filipinas’. It was nice to see young people taking interest in history(Photo courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. Pepe Alas)

The documentary was enlightening and moving. I could identify with the sadness expressed by those who were interviewed for what happened to Spanish. I have descendants that spoke Spanish and I often wonder what would they make out of their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren that doesn’t have the slightest of interest to learn it–me included for the most part up my life. My grandparents on my father side spoke the language (both murdered when San Carlos, Negros Occidental was ‘liberated’ from the Japanese by the US and those terroristic Filipino guerrillas). And so was my great grandfather on my mother side–he was the last person to do so in his family–all the wives, he had 3, and his children, none of them ever learned the language.

It was my adopted grandmother, Doña Amparo, a Filipino American, who taught me to respect and admire Spanish as a language–this, when I was attending public school where everything Spanish is taught to be evil. Whenever I listen to Julio Iglesia’s 1980’s hit ‘Hey’ I remember her singing–she love’s the song! And this was the first lyrics in Spanish I ever memorized–although I did not know what it was about then. It would be years later before I realize that her Spanish songs (not only Iglesias’ and the ‘besame mucho’ but really really old ones) was her way of introducing the beauty of the language to me. The last time we met, we spoke Spanish, but I spoke it so poorly that I got reprimanded!

I appreciate how the film went into an area of Philippine history rarely discussed by historians. And this is the topic of Spanish as a Philippine language. I would have been more satisfied if they presented the historical data that proves Spanish was not a monopoly of the elite in Philippine society. That there were the likes of Mabini, common people, who learned it because they had the fortitude to educate themselves.

Historical data of Spanish usage in the early 1900’s are often swept under the rag. This is the period where it made great progress because of the Spanish public school system that was put to work in the 1860’s. Spanish as the Philippine lengua franca during the late 19th and early 20th century is not some speculation but an undeniable fact. The figure propagandized by nationalist historians that there was only 1%  that spoke Spanish is not only without basis–it’s a blatant disinformation to convince people that only the elite could speak it during the Spanish epoch. This argument gives them the platform to make their case that it never was a language spoken by Filipinos. They insist that this was the case even when you have all the broadsheets and other literature at that time–in Spanish–who was reading those newspapers? the ‘1%’? C’mon! I’ve never heard of newspapers printed to be enjoyed by such a minuscule percentage–these papers would’ve been out of business in no time but we had broadsheets in Spanish flourishing up until the pacific war broke out. The secret Ford report and several foreign accounts that describes communities that spoke Spanish are all irrefutable substantiation. You have Palanca and those Manileño Chinese of the 19th century, they spoke Spanish, too.

One of my favorite account of Spanish being spoken in Manila came from a Mexican pilot that fought alongside the Americans here in the country during WWII (the first and last time Mexico sent a military force outside their country). They went looking for a bar and could only found one frequented by Americans. To their surprised all of its employees spoke Spanish! A story told to me by my friend Pepe Alas was that of his wife’s grandfather, a simple farmer from a distant town in Mindoro island, not highly educated but spoke Spanish. Pepe have in his possession some of the letters of this man–written in Spanish. My adopted grandmother, whose father was an American officer learned the language because everybody around her spoke it, even her mother, a native of the province of Iloilo. Intramuros was exclusively for Spanish speaker, and the populated suburbs around it as well. Even the aguadores and the sorbeteros conversed in Spanish. Abuelita knows, she was born in Intramuros but spent her childhood in their Pasay home–and, yes, they had Spanish speaking neighbors(their house stood where Philippine Chung Hua School now stands, and those century old mangoes in the school compound was planted by her American father–this land and most of Cartimar belonged to them).

But how come Spanish lost grounds?

Here’s nationalist historian Constantino’s explaination:

“The first and perhaps the master stroke in the plan to use education as as an instrument of colonial policy was the declaration to using English as the medium of instruction. English became the wedge that separated the Filipinos from their past and later was to separate educated Filipino from the masses of their countrymen., English introduced the Filipinos to a strange new world. With American textbooks, Filipinos started learning not only a new language but also a new way of life, alien to their traditions and yet a caricature of their model. This was the beginning of their education, At the same time, it was the beginning of their miseducation, for they learned no nationalist goals because they had to become good colonials. The ideal colonial was the carbon copy of the conqueror, the conformist follower of the new dispensation, He had to forget his past and unlearn the nationalist virtues in order to leave peacefully, if not comfortably, under the colonial order. The new Filipino generation learned of the lives of American heroes, sang American songs, and dreamt of snow and Santa Claus. Nationalist resistance leaders like Macario Sakay were regarded as brigands and outlaws. The live of Philippine heroes were taught but their nationalist teaching were glossed over. Spain was the villain, America the savior.”

Of course Constantino, a hardcore nationalist historian, does not believe that Spanish deserves to be revered but  his words gives us a clear picture how the American education removed Spanish–not by force, no, but by changing the educational landscape. I’m sure some people would ask what’s wrong with English–you’re speaking English now! Yes, language is a skill and that we should always be keen to learn a new language when there’s an opportunity to do so–but Filipino tradition is not rooted in American tradition, our tradition is rooted in our Spanish past–so why insist on a “English” only policy? So let me return the question, what’s wrong with bringing Spanish back in our schools? Is it not right to study it because more than three centuries of our history was recorded using it? Is it not right to study it so we would have better appreciation of our local languages that borrowed numerous words from it? Is it not right that we reclaim the language that our grandparents spoke? Is it not right that we study it so we could understand our great heroes without the need of having their poems, novels, plays and writings translated to English?

If we refuse Spanish in our schools then I believe we deserve to be separated from our past. Let’s continue then with this amnesia, because without memory we’re fair game for all those carpetbagging desgraciados who steals our wealth and devalue our identity, and you know, I feel there’s so many among us that are conditioned to accept these abuses happily. I’ve always believed that reviving Spanish is  speaking on behalf of our ancestors, because they “never meant revolution to mean turning our backs on a rich culture and embracing a foreigner who wasn’t even interested in marrying into our race and spending the rest of their lives in our homeland,” as that compleat historian from Chile, Liz Medina puts it.

An interesting incident happened in the Q&A portion after the film concluded. Guillermo Gómez Rivera who was seating among the audience volunteered to answer a question posed by a student. Being the scholar and expert on the subject, he provided a lengthy but very informative answer. Trouble with history is that it will always be long and knowing Gómez, he’ll go the extra mile to ensure his answer is clear. But when he started talking about the US and its policy against the Spanish language and Rizal, the Institute’s director asked one of his staff to cut him off. Then I saw Georgina Padilla, the grand daughter of the founder of Premio Zobel, sitting near the front row turn to the director and say ‘decía es historia filipina’, referring to what Gómez was trying to explain. To this the director said that it’s not anymore connected with the film. But around this time the mic had already been taken from Gómez. This reminds me that we still live in an world where such historical topics are proscribed–and this in a place where our Spanish past is supposed to be promoted and celebrated.

It’s  ironic that the people responsible for the resurgence of interest in Spanish here are the Latin Americans. Their presence in America gave rise in demand for Filipino Spanish call center agents. No one ever saw this coming. But the study of Spanish here in our country must go along with historical learning. Otherwise, once the demand is gone, then interest goes with it (Instituto Cervantes has been getting a 50% increase in enrolment for the past few years). But what do I mean by historical learning? When I was studying in Instituto Cervantes, I approached then the director of the Institute, Mr. Pepe Rodriguez. It was a brief and informal discussion (chanced upon him chatting with some students near the stairs). I told him that while our class had instructors sharing are Spanish and Latin culture (in pictures and stories of their time in these countries) in between the language studies, it felt like they’re introducing something new to the students–why not show the students local traditions that came from Spanish culture? This would have more impact. He smiled and said it was a good idea but these are up to the teachers as the main goal remains the teaching of Spanish lessons which the students paid for. My point was that if we could make our young people understand how the Filipino identity is intrinsically connected with our Spanish past then we would have better success in waking them up from this deep slumber of ignorance.

A round table discussion at the  historic casino español! Organized by Gomez (in white) seen here talking with friends while this blogger (on his right, in black) having a word with Javier, the head of Asociación Cultural Galeón de Manila. Alas, who blogs at alasfilipinas.blogspot.com was among those that were interviewed in the documentary (the most active in the campaign to bring Spanish back in the internet) seating at the center seat, partly obscured by those who joined us (Photo courtesy of  Mr. & Mrs. Pepe Alas)

For all the nasty accusations against Pres. Arroyo (she has yet to be convicted from any charges) I laud her for her insistence that Spanish be brought back in Philippine schools–no one bothered (or should I say dared)  to do this but her. She’s the only President since her father to speak Spanish. She knows the significance of the language. But I heard that the implementation hit a snag because of the lack of Spanish teachers. The news is that the Instituto is helping address this concern. Now, let’s hope we get the needle moving to the right direction as soon as possible!

Going back to the film, I was particularly delighted by the questions the young people (mostly students in the Institute) posed to the head of Asociación Cultural Galeón de Manila. One question, which I felt was really important was this question about why this language have the reputation of belonging to the elite? Why is it that it appears so un-Filipino to speak it? Why is that if you’re someone speaking it you’re referred to as “coño” (colloq. for social climber or belonging to a rich family in Tagalog).

If I was asked this question I would tell the history of how Spanish language was maligned, demonized and all that but that’s not what these people wanted to hear–listening to these questions, I find myself asking questions, too, like, how can we bring Spanish back to the people? How can we make Spanish less ‘coño’ and more Filipino to these Filipinos?

CEU and the Sampaguita

Last night while trying to look for old Hispano-Filipino songs in youtube I stumbled upon clips of CEU’s gradution rites. It was amazing seeing graduating students singing “El Collar de Sampaguita”. I wasn’t expecting to witness that. I thought they’ve already translated it in Tagalog and abandoned the original.

I’ve read the history of CEU (Centro Escolar de Señoritas, now Centro Escolar) some years ago because I once considered taking a course in their Makati campus. The history buff that I am, I took a liking to one of the founders, Doña Librada Avelino . She grew up during the time when filipino-hispano culture was prevalent. She’s used to the Spanish style of education that when she initially established her first private school it failed because of the new standards set by the Americans. She enrolled herself to the Summer School of Linguistics to learn English.

The Spanish song El Collar de Sampaguita was one of the most popular Spanish songs of its time (and is a personal favorite). It speaks of the unique and rare quality of the country’s national flower. The inclusion of the song in the graduation rite’s probably started during the early 1900’s when the university had Francisco Buencamino, the composer of El Collar de Sampaguita. He taught music in the university.

My favorite part of the song is the closing stanza, “Pero al fin la delicada sampaguita, devorada por el fuego se marchita, y si alguien la guardó, esa flor se convirtió, en recuerdo de la dicha que pasó”. In many ways our remembrance of the old sampaguita is about history and keeping alive the memory of those who cherished it most.

There seem to be confusion on “La Flor de Manila” and “El Collar de Sampaguita”. Both songs dedicated to the national flower. “La Flor de Manila” was composed by Dolores Paterno, the younger sister of Pedro Paterno. She died relatively young at the age of 27. This song which was written in the 1890’s is her only known surviving work. It is said that she composed the music while she was asleep. This story was told to me by GGR. In the 60’s GGR compiled and sung all these wonderful song in his radio program.

The lyrics “La Flor de Manila” are credited to Antonio Luna, Maximo Hizon and Leopoldo Brias. Of course, we’re familiar with Antonio Luna and what happened to him. The other fellow, Hizon another forgotten hero in the revolution. He mysteriously died at the age of 31 after he was captured by the Yanqui’s in Pampanga.

So when someone say that these Spanish songs are remnants of our colonial past, we better think about who created them – because they in most cases, they’re the very people we regard as heroes and founders of our nation.

Discussions on the State of the Spanish Language during the American Occupation

I spent the whole morning talking with Pio Andrade and GGR about the true state of the Spanish language during the American occupation in the early 1990’s [and some other historical stuff].

Below are some of what they had to say about the topic:

PA: The Americans forbided the teaching of Spanish when they came yet the Spanish capability of the Filipinos increased because the Thomasites had to learn Spanish for them to teach English effectively. Instead of decreasing the speakers of Spanish, they increased it.

A number of English publications in 1903 compared to the number of English and Spanish publications of 1918 shows the latter increasing. Almost all English publications had to dedicate Spanish sections in order to be widely read. Agoncillo’s claim of 2% [Spanish speakers in the 1900’s] have no reference. It’s a big  lie.

GGR: It’s a lie to you, to me and to all Filipinos [that Spanish was never spoken by Filipinos]. That’s why they’re [the US] here, to lie. The exploitation was unbelievable since the beginning.

You should have a copy of the book “Rizal’s Unfading Glory”, written by Padre Jesús María Cavanna y Manso. Its the most exhaustive research on the man. Its all there. They try to wishy washy Rizal. Trying to justify American colonialism by promoting the Americanized version of this hero. If they want to get serious about Rizal then they should study his poems, novels, songs and plays in Spanish!

The brave women of Malolos wanted to learn Spanish. Rizal supported them. The message was clear. A lot of people appears to be afraid of the true Rizal but the true Rizal must come out! People just want to repeat the same stories about the man.

WOP: I’ll never forget the stories of my adopted grandmother about Spanish [language]. Having been born in prewar Manila she grew up around people who spoke Spanish. Her father was Irish, having stayed in the country for so long learned Spanish. Her mestiza mom, part Swiss, also spoke it. Intramuros  exclusively spoke Spanish. This includes according to her the servants and the Chinese merchants!

She saw it as something very Filipino. She’s so proud that her generation spoke “the language”. She succeeded in teaching it to her children and grandchildren. And this is an American citizen.

My biological great grandparents, and this came from those who lived with them, spoke the language. My maternal great grandfather was said to be a strict disciplinarian [he evicted my grandpa from Dumangas] exclusively spoke Spanish at home. He was Aglipayan.

Its just strange that we all remember our grandparents speaking Spanish and yet we believe what was taught in school. That it was never widely spoken by Filipinos.

Pio and GGR posing with the newspaper interview ( ¿se retracto Rizal?...¡si!) showing Trinidad Rizal admitting that Jose indeed retracted before he died. GGR here commenting and having fun on the printed shirt (waikiki) of Don Pio!


All other text enclosed in parenthesis is mine.

Mga Antigong Larawan: New Batch of Scanned Pix

One of my favorite picture of GGR. Teaching, whether it Flamenco or Spanish or Filipino historiography, has been his life long advocacy.

Two months ago, a friend of mine, Sr. Gomez, gave me more than 200 pictures to scan. I volunteered to do it because converting old photos to digital format  is something that I enjoy doing – it’s one way of saving them for the future.

I usually scavenge antique shops for old photos. When I visit old houses, I usually ask for family albums – since I can’t take them back home with  me I would just take snapshots using my digicam.

Once these old photos are lost, their lost forever. So we have to try saving copies while we can – and since we have the technology, we can start with Lolo and Lola’s photos that often neglected.

Every pictures tells a story. They capture a time lost in the transition of Filipino tradition, values, faith and lifestyle.

I wanted to show more of GGR’s photos but knowing him (his a very personal person) I would have to keep most of what I have now.

Get together. Notice the bottle of Cokes and weird looking soda "Royal Tru Orange" bottle.

I don't know who are these children. I wonder why they look worried (with the exemption of the tallest girl at the back who managed to smile). If it were not for the jeepn in the background you would wouldn't be able to tell its here.

Lunch with Sr. Gomez Rivera

A distant relative from the “Diaz” side of the family. Sr. Gomez enjoys fast food topped with historical debates!

Just had a great chat and lunch with  Sr. Gomez Rivera. This living legend’s historical lectures both disturb and amuse me all at the same time.

“Disturb” Because he reveals the ugly lies hidden just beneath the surface of Filipino historiography. His voice speaks the truth of how Filipino history is still being manipulated and used to favor the interest of groups who wants to destroy the “Filipino”, and these people, unfortunately, has partly succeeded as we accepted to manage decadence and a culture of ignorance.

When will we finally lose our culture, our identity as Filipinos?

The Ermitense Leon Ma. Guererro, the prince of Filipino poetry warned us “Filipinos” against joining  these “idiots and dwarves” who have thrown “our” heritage to the dustbin – because of this careless attitude, we continue, willingly to be “degraded into the condition of disenfranchised beggars”.

“Amuse” yes, because he perfectly blends history and humor. Humor that always ends with his hysterical laughter! No-one could tell stories like Gomez: history, literature, politics, arts, writing, books — all rolled up in his interesting accounts of life as Filipino.

It must be his dancing, writing activities and his voracious reading habits that keeps him fit physically and mentally. He’s in better shape than most people my age – what’s shocking is that he eats all kinds of fast food! I remember my friend saying, “he would outlive both of us!”.

I hope he will give us more of his works for many, many years to come. Eres el mejor, Sr!

We owe him a great deal of thanks for the many lessons he shared with us. He has finally agreed to have his books “digitalized”, a project that I had proposed a long time ago. Pepe and I can’t wait to get it started!

11 November 2009

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