Want to ace English? Then learn Spanish

I found this textual meme in the Facebook group Oficialización del Español en Filipinas (Officialization of the Spanish Language in Filipinas). It compares the various inflections of the English verb do to that of its Spanish counterpart hacer. As you can see, the verb forms in English are not as numerously expressive compared to their Spanish versions.
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This is just one example why learning English is a piece of cake among native Spanish speakers. Picture this…
José Rizal, a native Spanish speaker, taught himself English. And he aced it.
Manuel L. Quezon, a native Spanish speaker, learned English in only about three weeks. He learned it on a steamship while traveling to the United States for the first time.
Claro M. Recto, a native Spanish speaker, mastered English in only three months.
The first Filipino short-story in the English language was written by a native Spanish speaker, Paz Márquez de Benítez of Lucena, Tayabas (where I was also born). That story, “Dead Stars”, was composed during the early years of US occupation. And when you read her story, its masterful language will make you stop and think how today’s Filipino fiction in English pales in comparison to hers. And to think that we’ve been learning English for more than a century while the English of Benítez’s era was still quite young.
José García Villa, our first National Artist in Literature who is also considered as one of the finest (if not indeed the finest) our country has ever produced when it comes to poetry, was another native Spanish speaker. He was highly acclaimed by critics not just here but also those in the United States.
And of course, there’s the one and only Nick Joaquín, the greatest Filipino writer in the English language, hands down. And, you guessed it, he was also a native Spanish speaker. A fact not known to many.
Why is this so? Because Spanish and English are both cognates. They have so many words that are similar or even identical. In layman’s terms, Spanish and English are “cousins”.
It is no wonder why our grandparents and great grandparents who received good education during the US occupation of our country spoke and wrote better English than us. And that is also why most of our literary greats in the English language (Joaquín, Villa, N.V.M. González, Trinidad Tarrosa, Paz M. Latorena, etc.) usually come from that epoch when Spanish was still the language.
Had we allowed the teaching of the Spanish language to continue in our curriculum, and had our government supported its usage, we would all be writing and speaking English much better than our North Américan invaders.
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Fame or family?

From time to time, I look at my list of Facebook friends and it impresses me. In that list are many renowned people. Not just renowned but even famous in their respective field/career. Some are distinguished writers, bloggers, athletes, musicians, celebrities, entrepreneurs, public servants, scholars, etc.

I have to be honest: many times, I feel jealous of them. In a world filled with ambition, I couldn’t help but feel so inadequate whenever I’m with accomplished people, whenever I see them rise to the top each moment as I sit here in this balmy apartment unit of ours, contemplating on when will the moment arrive that I could finally make my friends and family members proud of me.

Why do all of us, in varying degrees, want to become famous or popular? Probably to make us feel that we really exist, so that we will not be belittled in a world filled with injustice and inequality. Or maybe to savor the fruits of self-worth. Or to find a spot in a world that is oftentimes obsessed with dignity. Or to avoid being devoured by rankism.

The only talent I have (or I think I have) is writing, blogging in particular. I try to create my own voice, but it always gets drowned out by louder and better ones. And I fear that I could no longer accomplish much from what I am passionate about especially since I now have five children to take care of; we have no household help, and my wife has long retired from employment to fully take care of our growing brood. Writing and scholarly research is never an easy task. It requires full attention and concentration, and one’s surroundings should be conducive to scholarly work — I do not have that kind of convenience, and it irritates me to no end. To complicate things, I’ve been suffering from physical pain for years already (regional complex pain syndrome), not to mention that I’m always being bothered with this burdensome and unceasing “calling” to protect and defend a once glorious past that is now being calumnied by ignorant ingrates.

And to add to my frustrations, I am still a clock-punching nightly wage slave.

Nevertheless, whenever I see my family together, inside this ramshackle place that we have learned to love, all my vexations subside. Suddenly, I realize that I have accomplished what (sadly and surprisingly) few people today have attained: a loving family that I can call my own, a loving family centered in Christ. We may not be a perfect family, but we are a family intact in spite of all the tribulations brought about by increasing utilitarianism and Miley Cyrus.

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Well, I guess there’s no need for me to be covetous of other people, after all.

¡Enaltecer la familia para la gloria más alta de Dios! 

The day Princess Sarah burned Miss Minchin

Esto fue ese día famoso en que la Princesa Sarah Crewe dejó atrás a la Señorita María Minchin con su excelente español. 😂

I saw this video clip making the rounds in Facebook lately: an angry Miss Minchin got burned upon discovering that Princess Sarah was a native Spanish-speaker. The rather humorous video clip is from that famous 1995 Filipino family-drama movie Sarah… Ang Munting Prinsesa (Sarah… The Little Princess) which starred Camille Prats in the titular role (she was 10 years old at the time). The movie itself was adapted from the 1985 Japanese cartoon series Princess Sarah which was then a huge hit at ABS-CBN during the 1990s. The said cartoon’s high ratings prompted the media giant to make a movie out of it through its film outfit Star Cinema.

In the video clip, Miss Minchin, portrayed by the ever-effective Jean García, got miffed when she noticed that Princess Sarah was the only student in her Spanish language class who was not taking up notes. The little princess tried to explain that she already knew the language, but to no avail. Miss Minchin started scolding her. Enter Señor Francisco, portrayed by the late Tony Carreón, a Spanish language teacher who then inquired what the commotion was all about. That was when he found out that the protagonist was half Spanish after all.

Click on the screen grab below to watch the video clip.

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This scene was a departure from the cartoon series because in the latter, the students  were learning French instead of Spanish (I should know because I was a follower of the cartoons at that time, so feel free to laugh 😂). I don’t know whose idea it was to change the language setting, but it was a good move considering that this is a Filipino film anyway. French is too foreign compared to Spanish. Besides, the late Tony Carreón himself was a native Spanish speaker. Another one of the actors in this movie, my famous friend Jaime Fábregas, is also a native Spanish speaker. I could just imagine how they gave pointers to Camille Prats on how to speak the language. Also, I do remember a former office mate of mine (Tina Jocson, another native Spanish speaker) telling me that she personally knew Camille’s grandparents (father’s side if I remember correctly). The grandparents themselves were also native Spanish speakers. So I imagine that perhaps Camille knew a smattering of the language.

You might notice how I kept using the adjective “native”. Let me continue reminding the very few readers of this blog that Spanish is a Filipino language. It is not a foreign language. Many Filipinos such as Carreón, Fábregas, and Mommy Tina grew up speaking it as their cradle language. That is why local movie scenes like this really put a smile on my face (with apologies to Thanos).

Enjoy the rest of the day! ¡Un buen día a todos!

Of devotions and desecrations

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The modernized façade of the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buen Viaje during my family‘s visit there five years ago.

As a young boy who lived in Biñán for a time, José Rizal frequented the church of Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buen Viaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage) —then just a chapel/visita during his day— instead of the much nearer parish church of San Isidro Labrador at the población (town proper). This puzzled me years ago because during his brief stay in Biñán, he lived at the house of his Mercado relatives at the “sector de mestizos” (now known as Calle Jacobo González) which was just a few steps away from the parish church. But why did he choose to bypass the nearby parish church and opted to walk for about a kilometer or two just to reach the said chapel to attend Mass or to offer his personal prayers?
After much musing, a realization struck me.
Doña Teodora, Rizal’s mother, was a devotee of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage in faraway Antipolo. During childbirth, it was said that she had suffered so much because of baby Rizal’s unusually large head. For a safe delivery, she pledged her son to the Virgin of Antipolo, vowing to one day bring him in a pilgrimage to that mountain shrine to the north. It would take seven years for that pledge to be fulfilled: Don Francisco, Rizal’s father, was the one who took the young José to the Virgin of Antipolo as thanksgiving for that safe delivery (Rizal would later write a least-known poem titled A la Virgen de Antipolo in honor of Our Lady of Peace).
Shortly afterwards, Rizal, against his will, was sent to Biñán for schooling. He didn’t want to go to Biñán as he didn’t want to be separated from his dear mother. But he didn’t make the decisions.
Could it be that a homesick Rizal was imitating her mother’s devotion to Our Lady of Peace? My friend Arnaldo Arnáiz also concluded the same when we traveled there many years ago. Rizal, who was very close to his mother, was barely an adolescent when he was sent to Biñán. Traveling all the way to that faraway chapel bearing the title of his mother’s patroness must have been solace for him, a place to heal his homesickness. We could imagine the deep devotion of young Rizal to Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage in Biñán replicating his mother’s deep devotion to Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage in Antipolo.
It is quite unfortunate, therefore, that in spite of the years Filipino students have spent studying Rizal’s life and works, his Catholic devotion is always left out. Focus is given more on his belligerent writings and political activities. Had our educational system paid more attention to teaching Filipinos about Rizal the Poet —for he was essentially a poet from crib to grave— none of the following stupidity would have happened…
This travesty occurred just recently, right inside the very sanctum that a young Rizal had come to love. While this is not the first time that sacristans were caught disrespecting the altar, it is starting to become frequent as time goes by. Worse, most of these sacristans you see in the photo are minors. Many of them are of the same age as Rizal.
I can’t help but think of Pepe Rizal, kneeling fervently in front of that altar, with tears streaming from his eyes, praying for the day that he’d be able to go home to the loving arms and caresses of his mother. And then I see those misguided sacristans on the photo, desecrating the very altar to which Rizal’s young eyes had laid upon.
“The altar is not a backdrop or a background,” says Seminarians’ Musings (the Facebook page that released the above photo), “but an echo of Calvary, nor are your vestments fashion statements, but they are garbs of servants.”
To reiterate: these sacristans are minors, as young as when Rizal used to frequent the same church. Neither sense of history nor sense of spirituality, these kids. But we could only blame Fr. Raúl C. Matienzo for their impudence and ignorance.

Willie Revillamé as historian

This blogpost will surely raise some eyebrows especially among my historian friends and readers, but I have to admit that I’m a closet fan of Willie Revillamé as both TV host-comedian and philanthropist since his MTB and Wowowee days in ABS-CBN. His way with the masa (Filipino commoners) always strikes a chord in the right keys, and it’s really entertaining. I don’t want to sound like an apologist for his brand of humor (there was many a time when it got him into trouble), but it really works as he speaks the language of the streets. Through his current TV show Wowowin (actually a continuation of his gift-giving days in Wowowee and its later replacements), we get to see how such people comport and communicate among themselves on live TV. More importantly, we get to see the true face of the Filipino masses struggling every day just to survive this cruel, capitalistic world as they relate to him their true-to-life stories.

Willie’s fame, however, took a bit of a backslide when Wowowee was given the ax more than a decade ago following a highly publicized falling-out with ABS-CBN management. The show underwent a couple of iterations later on in rival stations TV5 and GMA, but all of them never got to equal the popularity of the original.

Recently, however, observers (including myself) noticed a spike in Wowowin’s TV ratings and digital media interest because of Herlene Nicole Budol, one of the show’s newest co-hosts whose claim to fame was when her videos as a Wowowin contestant became viral in both Facebook and YouTube in just a few days. That alone earned her a spot in Willie’s show early last month. Nicknamed “Hipon” (local slang for a girl with an attractive body and… well, just that 😂), the slim but statuesque 20-year-old Herlene captivated the hearts of audiences because of her bubbly, non-showbiz behavior.

Despite her sexy figure, pretty face (yes, she is pretty even if she herself doesn’t believe so), and street-smarts personality (she hails from a squatter’s area somewhere in Añgono, Rizal), there is a tinge of innocence in her that fans find so adorable. Countless TV viewers and netizens have been captivated with the show mainly because of her.

Herlene got me hooked with the show in the same manner that I got hooked with the AlDub Phenomenon a few years ago. But since I don’t watch TV anymore, I just rely on the show’s digital media team to upload highlights from each episode. I am not ashamed to say that I watch her videos almost every day as she relieves me of stress.

Yesterday’s episode really sparked my interest because in one of the show’s segments, Willie from out of the blue discussed my favorite topic: Filipino History!

Never mind if he mentioned some inaccuracies — for one, he said that EDSA’s original name was Highway 54 when in fact it used to be called Avenida 19 de Junio, named after José Rizal’s date of birth. What’s important here is that he is trying to spark interest among the masses to learn (or relearn) Filipino History, and not just to go to his show to win cash. And did anyone notice here how he acknowledged that the King of Spain during the arrival of Fernando de Magallanes to our shores was not King Felipe II but his father, Emperor Carlos V? That alone is already admirable because it’s a common misconception among millions of Filipinos that King Felipe II was the Spanish monarch when Magallanes arrived here. Strangely enough, Willie got it right. That piece of information coming from someone who is not a bookish person and is also one of the masses is something praiseworthy indeed.

And yes, there was no Hispanophobia from his brief recounting of history.

¡Mabuhay ca, Profesor Wil!

Debunking historical hatred

I came across this ugly Facebook discussion last year.

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The clueless but hateful FB user in this screenshot besmirched our country’s Spanish past, a wondrous period in our country’s history that I have sworn to defend since I was a teenager. So here is my response to his accusations (which, in fact, is what millions of Filipinos also have in their equally clueless minds):

1) “polo y servicios” —> This actually benefited the natives more than the Spanish authorities. Aside from churches, the purpose was for public works such as roads and bridges that were meant for the natives themselves. Many of these are even still being used today. Unknown fact: those who were recruited to render polo y servicios were given a daily wage.
2) “land-grabbing” —> The Spaniards were the ones who brought here the concept of land titles in the first place. Pre-Filipino natives didn’t really own land. Most, if not all, didn’t have a permanent settlement. They moved from place to place, from forest to forest, especially when the land didn’t wield much for them anymore.
3) “demonization of local languages” —> On the contrary, the friars studied the local languages and even wrote grammar books to preserve them. There were even prayer books in the native languages.
4) “creating classes between them and us (peninsulares, insulares, indios)” —> These were for taxation purposes. Such classification still exists today: those who have higher salaries are taxed the most compared to those who earn lesser, such as the ordinary rank and file. Essentially, nothing really different then as now.
5) “guardia civil” —> They were the PNP of those days, a peace-keeping force against “tulisanes” (bandits) and other lawbreakers. Note: members of the guardias civiles were indios, not Spaniards.

Lastly, don’t treat José Rizal’s novels as if they’re history books. They aren’t. They’re fiction, written by a very young Freemason who was a huge fan of French satire.

Suggestion: if you really want to argue about Filipino History, learn Spanish and read original Spanish texts. Don’t rely on textbook history. 🙂

Did the Spaniards treat our native languages as garbage?

Last year, my friend and fellow historian José María Bonifacio Escoda (author of best-selling book Warsaw of Asia: The Rape of Manila) became viral after a Facebook post of his was deemed supposedly as anti-LGBT. He was bashed left and right because of this. But I didn’t know anything about it until last night when another friend posted an online article regarding the controversy on her FB timeline. Browsing through the article and comments, I encountered this:

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And yet he writes in Taglish. Makes you wonder who, really, is treating Tagálog like garbage.

Now this is a brash claim. The Spanish friars preserved our native languages by studying them intently and then writing grammar books about them (“Gramática de la Lengua Tagala”, “Arte de la Lengua Iloca”, “Vocabulario de la lengua Bisaya”, etc.). In fact, the real reason why we are still talking about the Baybayin today is because the Spaniards preserved it for posterity. They were the ones who first wrote about our indigenous syllabary. Furthermore, our local epics such as “Biag ni Lam-ang”, “Ibalón”, and “Hinilawod” were handed down from generation to generation only through oral tradition. But to preserve them in print, the Spanish friars wrote them down using the Spanish-alphabet-inspired Abecedario Filipino.

It was our Spanish conquerors who took all the time and trouble in preserving our native languages. It was not even for their sake. If it is true that they treated our languages as garbage, they would not have done all the scholarly investigation to preserve and conserve them, and even publish precious books about them which we now consider as prized items.

Anyway, going back to this brash claim, never in my over two decades of studying our country’s history, culture, and languages, have I encountered any book, historical document, or any other pertinent scholarly article stating that the Spanish conquistadors treated our language (but which language? we have over 170) as garbage, nor did they enforce the teaching of the Spanish language just to control us. The real reason why the Spanish language was taught to us is to inculcate easily in us Spanish culture and religion. The teaching of Spanish was clearly stated in the Law of the Indies (“Leyes de las Indias“) which governed our country, way before republican constitutions entered the scene. The sad fact remains that that law wasn’t even followed properly because of lack of teachers and because many friars refused to do so (a topic fit for another blogpost).

Hispanophobia and historical ignorance are still alive and well in Filipinas. Sadly.