Perhaps, for many Filipinos today, Spanish is simply a former official language in the country or even, an altogether foreign language. Some Filipinos have grown up believing that it is a language that this country had no links to. But this fundamental ignorance/omission is a threatening situation because as much that languages can bring people together, it can also lead to a society’s decline if its historic significance and identity is forgotten. The Spanish language in the Philippines is a medium, more poetically, a bridge, that links Filipinos to their culture and heritage, history and identity.
Today is El Día del Español or El Dia E, when Instituto Cervantes centers around the world celebrate the Spanish language as a language widely spoken in the entire world but also as a language that speaks of the patrimony, love and soul of countries, provinces, towns and even homes. In the Philippines, however, the situation is not that easy to describe or analyze.
When the Spaniards came to Manila in the 16th century with the arrival of el Adelantado Don Miguel López de Legazpi, the language used by the Augustinian missionaries who came along to preach to the natives was Spanish. However, without batting an eyelash, these priests shifted their paradigm and began instructing in the native languages instead of Español.
Although this was the case, there were plenty of exceptions. The colegios and beaterios, as well as the universidades established instructed the students in Spanish. In fact, Philippine history and literature can prove that the 17th, 18th and of course, 19th centuries, Spanish-ruled Philippines, naturally, produced quite a number of notable Spanish speakers and writers.
By the middle of the 1800s, however, a new class of citizens have emerged and education had been very much made more available to more Filipinos. Thus, the Ilustrados were born.
Rich, intelligent, and articulate in Spanish and other languages, these men (and women!) were to become the future nationalists and thinkers of the country, the first class inteligencia of the Philippines. Poets, doctors, painters, writers, historians, teachers, lawyers, and whatnot, all beginning their destinies by simply coming from Spanish-speaking families. But not even all of these notable icons of our culture are from well-bred, de buena familia backgrounds. One can simply look at the example of Tondo-boy Andres Bonifacio who taught himself Spanish!
At the on-set of the Independence, the National Anthem was performed in Spanish, the Act of Independence read in Spanish and Spanish was proclaimed the official language of the country. Even the failed revolution of ’96 was said to be in Spanish.
Amazingly, however, the Spanish language blossomed and reached its golden age AFTER the Spanish regime. When the Americans became the new masters, Filipinos found Spanish as the rallying language, the language understood by both the educated and the uneducated. It was a symbol of national integrity and resistance.
It was during this time when many of our grandparents grew as young Filipinos, and thus, the reason why they can speak Spanish. It is also thus the reason why to them, speaking Spanish is a reminder, a reminder of a better Philippines, of more idyllic and civilized days. Before the war, almost every Filipino had a working knowledge of Spanish despite the American’s rigorous campaigns to discredit and demolish it. However, many businesses, campaign advertisements and even government notices as well as newspapers and radio shows, films and plays still utilized the Spanish language. It was, however, in Catholic schools that the language found its bulwark and bastion. Even Filipinos entering the seminary had to have excellent command of Spanish, the language used by the clergy if not using Latin.
The war, however, changed everything. And that included Spanish in the Philippines. With the destruction of the city came too the destruction of urbanidad. Spanish was one of the first things that starving Filipinos forgot. They had to learn to speak English to beg help from the Americans and to plea for mercy from the crazy Japanese. Spanish, which used to be a language of literacy and culture, was ignored and forgotten. Plus the fact that many Spanish-speaking families were totally wiped out from the face of the earth due to the indiscriminate bombings and cold murders committed during the war.
Right after the war, what remained of the small Spanish speaking community was divided. Some left for Spain, some went back to their home provinces and the rest who decided to stay in what is now known as Metro Manila moved out of the rubble of Manila City and spread to areas such as New Manila, Kamuning, Greenhills, Cubao, Tomas Morato and Makati.
However, Spanish didn’t simply disappear. Even during the 1950s until the 60s, Spanish was still a respected language in the realm of education, politics, Church and culture. It remained a required course for college, and was retained in some high schools like the Ateneo de Manila. It was still also spoken widely in the homes of the country’s affluent and old-rich middle class citizens and provinces such as Pangasinan, Batangas, Pampanga, Bicol, Negros, Cebu and Iloilo continued to produce their share of Spanish-speaking Filipinos.
The language however was met by a terrible blow when in 1973, it was removed as an official language. From then on, the language had deteriorated rapidly. It has also been struck out from college curricula (yes, a good number of Filipinos born in the 60s,70s and 80s still had access to the Spanish language through a required 24-units compulsory course).
Today though, with the active and vigorous campaigns of Instituto Cervantes de Manila, as well as the influx of Filipinos to Spain either as students who could now easily gain scholarships due to the Internet or as overseas workers, the Spanish language is seen and hoped to make a glorious comeback not only into the schools of this country, but more importantly, back into the homes of Filipinos.
In any case, a complete ignorance of this language will lead to a great crisis in national identity. It is a language that should remind us of our history and a language that will bridge us to our noble and golden past as a country so advanced in Asia that it served as a beacon in this part of the world.
VIVA EL ESPAÑOL!