I am reposting an undated book review written many years ago by the late chemist-historian Pío Andrade Jr. He was a researcher and regular contributor to the Filipino-Chinese weekly magazine “Tuláy” published by Teresita Ang-See in Binondo, Manila. Andrade was the author of the best-selling and controversial book “The Fooling of América: The Untold Story of Carlos P. Rómulo“. In this book review, Andrade countered the claim that Spanish was not widespread in Filipinas during the US colonial period.
A REVIEW OF BROTHER ANDREW’S BOOK: “LANGUAGE AND NATIONALISM: THE PHILIPPINE EXPERIENCE THUS FAR”
–Pío Andrade Jr.–
Brother Andrew González’s treatise “Language and Nationalism” was praised in the foreword by Cecilio López as “the most exhaustive and up-to-date treatment of the language problem in the Philippines”.
It may have been up-to-date when it was published, but by no means could it be described as exhaustive. One look at the list of references shows the absence of very important sources such as the following:
1.) The Official Census of 1903.
2.) The Ford Report of 1916, which shows that the use of Spanish was more widespread than commonly admitted.
3.) Pío Valenzuela’s History of Philippine Journalism.
There are many big and important facts on the language question that are not mentioned at all in Brother Andrew’s book, such as the fact about Spanish being the language of the Revolution, the role of Spanish in effecting the unity of the various Filipino ethnic groups which made the 1896-1899 Revolution possible, the role of the Chinese Filipinos in disseminating the language of Cervantes all over the country due to the fact that the Philippines was the most thoroughly educated Asian colony in the last decades of the 19th century, and the fact about the much higher circulation of Spanish language dailies than either the Tagálog or English dailies in the 1930s.
Brother Andrew González, FSC, uncritically accepted the figure of 2.8% as the percentage of Filipinos who can speak and write in Spanish at the turn of the century given by Cavada Méndez y Vigo’s book. This book was printed in 1870, just seven years after the establishment of the Philippine Public school system in 1863 by Spain.
Surely by 1900, more than 2.8% of the Filipinos were speaking and writing in Spanish and there was incontrovertible proof behind this assertion.
Don Carlos Palanca’s Memorandum to the Schurman Commission listed eight Spanish-speaking provinces in the islands in addition to the 9 Tagalog-speaking provinces which, according to him, are also Spanish-speaking. To this total of 17 Spanish-speaking provinces, Don Carlos added that there were only five other provinces where “only a little Spanish is spoken”. Don Carlos Palanca was the gobernadorcillo of Binondo and the head of the Gremio de Mestizos (Chinese Christians were the ones referred to as mestizos since the Spanish half-breed was called criollo).
William Howard Taft’s 1901 statement after his tour of the Philippines clearly says that Spanish was more widespread than Tagalog.
This fact about Spanish being even more widespread than Tagalog in the entire archipelago is further attested to by the well-documented fact that American soldiers during the Fil-American war had to speak bamboo Spanish to all Filipinos —not bamboo Tagalog— in order to be understood without any interpreter. There is still that other fact about the early occupational government of the American Military in the Philippines having to publish in Spanish, not in Tagalog, all its official communications in order to be understood by the Filipino people. An English translation was appended whenever necessary for the consumption of the Americans themselves.
This official use of Spanish by the Americans themselves went on up to 1910 when they started to issue communications in English but still followed by a corresponding Spanish translation of the same. In view of this fact, if a Filipino national language needed to be established other than English, the correct choice should have been Spanish, not Tagalog.
A big fault of Brother Andrew’s book lies in his uncritical acceptance of Teodoro Agoncillo’s “The Revolt of the Masses: The Story of Bonifacio and the Katipunan”. Agoncillo’s history book has already been proven to be heavily distorted by omission of facts, false interpretation of events and documents, and by outright lies. The omission of these other facts was done because the same could not be reconciled with Mr. Agoncillo’s own personal bias in the narration and teaching of Philippine history. An example of Brother Andrew’s fault with regard to his uncritical acceptance of Agoncilo’s distortion of history is the conclusion that the founding members of the KKK (Katipunan) were Filipinos of lowly origin. The founding Supremo of the KKK is Andrés Bonifacio and it is not so that he is of lowly origin. Bonifacio was definitely not a poor man when he got into the Katipunan.
Nor were the other Katiputan charter members. Agoncillo also failed to mention that the Philippine economy was booming during that decade and that Bonifacio, unlike most other Filipinos, approved of the torture of a captive friar.
The years 1900 to the Commonwealth period (1935-1941) were not well researched by Brother and Doctor Andrew González. Thus, the language issue affecting the Filipinos then was not well discussed. Had Brother Andrew researched more on the language issue of that period, he would have found out that as late as the 1930s, Spanish dailies outcirculated either the Tagalog or English language dailies.
He would have found out also that the use of Spanish during the following decade of 1940 was bound to even get stronger had it not been for the devastating 1943-1945 war.
The strength of Spanish is evidenced by the majority of cinema films shown between 1900 and 1940. These films, even if made in Holywood, were in Spanish subtitles and talkies. And several of the Philippine produced full-length films had all-Spanish talkies.
Another important fact not found in Brother Andrew’s book is the role of the Spanish language in assimilating and integrating the Chinese emigrants into mainstream Filipino society. The 100,000 Chinese in the Philippines at the turn of the century spoke Spanish in varying degrees of proficiency. The Philippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce since its establishment in 1904 wrote its minutes in Spanish until 1924. When they ceased using Spanish in their official meetings and minutes, they reverted to Chinese, not English. Today, strange as it may seem, the last bastion of whatever Spanish language is left are the Chinese Filipinos, and not those of Spanish descent except the Padilla-Zóbel family that maintains the annual Premio Zóbel.
Finally, Brother and Doctor Andrew González treated very superficially the question of nationalism and language. There should have been more discussions on the point that adopting a foreign tongue, or using foreign words, are not per se against nationalism. If nationalism is love for one’s country and foreign words and language can best help literacy and communication, it is nationalistic doing so.
Neither did Brother and Doctor Andrew González realize that nationalism in the question of language can be destructive as has been the case in the Philippines. Doing away with Spanish orthography and the cartilla, the educational authorities did away with a very inexpensive and very effective method for teaching reading skills to the young. Exterminating Spanish in the schools made the Filipinos today estranged to their Hispanic past and made Filipinos prey to nationalist historians who misled several generations of Filipinos in the sense that Spain had done the Philippines very little good when the contrary is true.
What is the prime purpose of language? Is it not to make us understand one another better? Yet, Brother and Doctor Andrew González’s book gives the impressions that showing nationalism is the prime purpose of language.
To be fair to Brother Andrew González, we want to think that he is a victim of too many distortions found in Philippine History including the history of language among Filipinos. Thus, the remark of Cecilio López in his introduction to Brother Andrew’s book “Language and Nationalism”, that it is “the most exhaustive and up-to-date treatment of the language problem in the Philippines”, is only true in the sense that the very few books on the same subject are mostly superficial.
Perhaps it will be correct for us to recall a Spanish saying that says: En el país de los ciegos, el tuerto es rey.