From excited foreword to grateful afterthought

A couple of years back, I excitedly announced in my now defunct Spanish blog that I was chosen to write for a coffee table book about the history of La Laguna Province. After almost two years of sleepless nights writing and doing field research, promoting it on social media, incurring trouble at the office because of several absences and tardiness, and capped by a press release on my accidental discovery of the province’s foundation date as well as defending it from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines’ “board of academic censors”, nothing came out of the said project. The publisher and I had a falling out while the provincial governor who was supposed to fund the project was  unceremoniously booted out from politics. That book was supposed to be my big break to become a well-known writer-historian. But it seems that bad luck is an unwanted twin of mine. Whenever my dreams are within arm’s reach, they start slipping right from my hands and crash down to the floor like fine chandelier.

When publication was nearing, I had my mentor, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, write the book’s foreword. I couldn’t think of nor imagine anyone else to write one for me. He is, after all, the epitome of an authentic Renaissance Man: a journalist, historian, poet, playwright, fictionist, linguist, folklorist, cartoonist, recording artist, and Spanish language teacher as well as instructor of Spanish dances (considered as the only “maestro de flamenco” of Filipinas). Few people may know this, but he is also a polyglot: aside from his mastery of Spanish, Hiligaynón, Quinaráy-a, English, and Tagálog, he also has a working knowledge of Chabacano Zamboangueño, Cavitén (Chabacano Caviteño), French, Hokkien, Cebuano, and Portuguese. In spite of his personal problems and health issues, he still manages to continue the difficult fight for the recognition of our true national identity. A great man like Don Guimò only comes once every one hundred years. That is why I call him as the GREATEST FILIPINO alive today.

La imagen puede contener: Pepe Alas y Guillermo Gómez Rivera, personas sonriendo, selfie

Unfortunately, my coffee table book will no longer see the light of day. So I thought of just publishing here Don Guimo’s foreword for that book. I am not a decorated writer nor historian, but his words for me are worth all the medals of the world.

     Having known José Mario “Pepe” Alas since his college student days at Adamson University, we never expected him to be capable of writing a history book with such serene impartiality and with the taught discipline of a seasoned historian. And more so the complex history of La Laguna, a province that means so much to the development of this country. We always thought that only a Nick Joaquín would be able to do that considering the uniqueness and the vastness of the latter’s accumulated knowledge and profound understanding of Philippine history, the Spanish language, the Filipino national identity, and the Filipino culture that encompasses all these intellectual disciplines.

     But Pepe has somehow been able to acquire the necessary conocimientos which is more than knowledge, to grasp and reproduce what is Filipino. He did take for granted, as is the case of many Filipino college students, his Spanish language subjects at Adamson University, but after he graduated and was faced with the challenges of survival, he accepted the casual job of a typist and was given the assignment to type a whole book in Spanish on the history of the Primera República de Filipinas, a thick compilation of documents, with their respective comments, by Spanish language academician, novelist, historian, and professor, Antonio M. Abad from Barili, Cebú.

     Although we know that this is not the only book in Spanish that he was forced to read, because he had to type it, Pepe must have had read some other books in Spanish on what is Filipino aside from those available in English. To our surprise, Pepe could speak to us in Spanish about Philippine History after going through this old Abad book and the other books, works, and literary pieces in this language that were found in our library.

    As an old teacher of the Spanish language, we know that the student, to acquire this language, needs to master four basic skills: the skill to read it, the skill to understand it, the skill to write in it, and, later, the final skill to speak it. And Pepe Alas from Parañaque City had sufficiently mastered the four enumerated skills. To top it all, he also mastered to a high degree the literary, historical, and cultural content of Spanish in the Philippines which, as a culmination, has formed his firm conviction as a Filipino, free from the current maladies of a colonial mentality vis-à-vis the present colonial master lording it over our country.  In short, Pepe is no longer a stranger in his own country which is expectedly miseducated, therefore ignorant of its true culture and true history. Pepe has freed himself from these maladies and anomalies of the mind and soul, and, because of this newfound freedom of his mind and his soul, he now loves his country in a much deeper way than most other Filipinos of his generation ever did or do.

     As he advanced in the field of employment, he settled in San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna, with his wife and children and immediately identified himself as a native born lagunense interested in the history and prosperity of his adoptive province. From there, he realized that he had a new world to know and write about which is La Laguna. His research on the history of his adoptive province led him to discover the real founding date of La Laguna. He went through all the old and pertinent Spanish documents with great ease and discovered that La Laguna started as a Spanish encomienda under conquistador Martín de Goití in the sixteenth century.

     What is funny, if not something to be highly indignant about, is that the government office that supposedly works on the history of this country flatly denied and rejected this discovery because of an old U.S. WASP induced prejudice against the Spanish encomienda. Some employees in that government office on history had this prejudice against the encomienda because of the falsities taught to them in their history classes by an Americanized history teacher that never learned to see through the 1900 American sectarian propaganda against what is Spanish and Filipino in these islands. These de-Filipinized elements wrongly labeled an encomienda as a system of slavery and oppression when it is in the encomienda that our native Indio forefathers learned not only the predominant religion of Filipinos today but also learned a more advanced system of agriculture, a sophisticated cuisine, basic arts and trade, and all that a people needed to later form a pueblo and a municipio as we know them today.

     But the La Laguna Provincial Board, being open minded, quickly saw that this Alas discovery was logical and, therefore, correct. It eventually approved and recognized the date of the founding of La Laguna as a Spanish encomienda to be also the beginning of the legal entity that is this province today. An Inquirer article called Pepe an achiever who, as a young historian, discovered what others blindly ignored for so long. Kudos to the provincial governor and the La Laguna Provincial Board!

     Reading Pepe’s general history of La Laguna is a pleasure. The language is easy and all that is historical data are neatly interwoven to give an accurate picture of how La Laguna developed and how its people progressed through the years in spite of the vicissitudes that would disturb such advances. Credit is given to whosoever deserves it. As an historian, Pepe will never say, like Teodoro A. Agoncillo says on his “History of the Filipino People”, that it is “difficult, if not impossible, to define what a Filipino is”.  Pepe gives us the sensation that he exactly knows what is Filipino and that it is neither difficult nor impossible to define what it is. Because of his mastery of Spanish, Pepe Alas agrees with Teodoro M. Kálaw’s definition of what is Filipino, a definition that is, evidently, not “politically correct” nowadays, but which is accurate anyway you put it. Wrote Kálaw, and we quote him in his own language to avoid any mistranslation:

“Cuando se discute la capacidad de una raza para la autosuficiencia, todos los elementos y factores que intervinieron en su cultura, todas las generaciones anteriores, se someten a prueba. Y entrelazadas en esa exégesis está la obra de España y la obra de Filipinas indígena, dos civilizaciones que han venido uniéndose en una misma civilización que llamamos filipina sobre este suelo por casi cuatro siglos para luego constituir una vibrante nacionalidad, la que dio espíritu a la revolución y a la primera República de Filipinas.”

     La Laguna is, indeed, one of the oldest provinces of the Philippines because many of its original families have branched out to other places in this country. As a mere example and modesty aside—, this writer’s family, on both the paternal and maternal sides, traces its roots to La Laguna. Gómez comes from a 17th-century Spanish alférez from Pagsanján, Francisco Gómez, who married a Tagala named María Dimaculañgan, while Rivera traces its roots to nearby Pila. Upon a recent visit to the parish church of Pagsanján, this writer saw, from a list of donors, individuals that carried both surnames: Gómez and Rivera. There is always that inclination to come to Pagsanján and upon viewing the old and majestic arch at the beginning of what was Pagsanján’s Calle Real, a sensation of having been there becomes overpowering.  And then, there is the now almost abandoned Gómez mansion near the river while it is also at the rear of the old Church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the advocation of the Virgin Mary that merited the Pontifical titles of “Emperatriz de las Américas, Reina de México, y Patrona de Filipinas”. Aside from the famous Pagsanján Falls, the arch, the old bahay na bató houses, and the parish church are also tourist attractions.

     The attraction of La Laguna in general is great, and tourism is not a new phenomenon for Pagsanján. There is this bilingual sing-song of long ago that attests to what we say:

Muy bienvenidos
Sean ustedes
A nuestro pueblo
De Pagsanján.
Aquí tenemos
La maravilla
De veinte saltos
En un bancal.
Pero seguro
Es el paseo
En un raudal;
Porque las bancas
Son de arbol duro
Y los banqueros
De mucha sal.


Maganda nawâ
Ang ‘yong pagdayo
Dito sa amin
Sa Pagsanján;
Magarang arco,
Magandang bahay
Gawá sa tabla
At sa bató.
Ñgunit ang tunay
Na pañghalina
Ng bayan natin
Ay ang talón
Casama’ng daloy
Ng mananañgcang
Sanáy sa tulin
At sa tinô.

     La Laguna, as a center of Filipino culture, as expressed in song, dance, ritual, poetry, cuisine, and hospitality, is bound to advance. More so with the new crop of leaders it presently has to steer this vision onward.

La imagen puede contener: texto



Mi identidad nacional

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Mi cristianismo (catolicismo) y mi idioma (castellano) completan mi ser filipino. Si quito de la fibra de mi ser uno o dos de estos elementos centrales de mi identidad nacional, entonces me convertirá en un mero “filipino sólo por la ciudadanía”. La identidad filipina verdadera y completa dentro de mí dejará de existir. Es nunca suficiente hablar en castellano ni saber la historia verdadera de Filipinas para hacerse un filipino verdadero. El aspecto religioso del mismo tema no debe ser pasada por alto ni minimizado. No estoy orgulloso de ser Pinoy ni Pilipino — ¡estoy orgulloso de ser FILIPINO!

Publicado originalmente en ALAS FILIPINAS.


Spanish pop songs in Filipinas

After a stressful night shift, I hailed a video-on-board bus on my way home. Not my choice. All air-conditioned buses in EDSA have television sets, and I hate it. Most of the time they’re too loud. Many times have I asked drivers and conductors to tone down the volume, or to just turn them off completely. Nobody really cares about what TV programs or films video-on-board buses play. Whether they shut down their TVs or not, we commuters don’t care (bus owners, take heed). We take buses just to get home safely and comfortably. Especially in the case of us weary employees who usually sleep on the way home.

This morning, I was fortunate to have hailed my favorite bus liner whose seats are reclinable and whose TV sets aren’t usually played out loud compared to its rivals. I usually doze off on my way home, so I prefer this bus liner. The TV was tuned in to ABS-CBN’s Umagang Kay Ganda when I got inside. The morning show’s guest was popular actress and singer Vina Morales. I didn’t care about the program. I just needed to sleep throughout the horrible morning traffic. After reclining my seat to give my aching back a much needed rest, I felt my consciousness fleeting.

I could already hear Vina Morales singing. Live. Thank goodness the volume wasn’t that loud, so no need for me to complain. But as I was nearing the world of sweet sleep, I noticed that Vina’s song sounded like Latin Pop although the lyrics were in Tagálog. Suddenly, I heard her blurt out “Eres Mío” and a bunch of other Spanish phrases. That woke me up completely, of course.

I was able to catch the rest of her performance. I was impressed considering the fact that Vina Morales is not a Spanish-speaker. But with her mestiza looks, she could easily pass for a Spanish half-breed. Or even a fair-skinned Latin American.

Upon arriving home, I immediately surfed the net to check out that Spanish song of hers. I was a bit disappointed to find out that the song wasn’t new. In fact, it was released two years ago as part of her 30th anniversary album. It appears that the song didn’t receive much fanfare considering that it was the first time I ever heard of it.

This song reminded me of Josh Santana, another Filipino music artist who recorded Spanish songs many years ago. I even remember having written something about him. Sadly, he didn’t become as popular as many other recording artists that we have today. He has since disappeared from the music scene to become a full-time doctor.

But even before Vina and Josh hit the music scene, there was already Pilita Corrales, “Asia’s Queen of Songs”. She has been a recording artist since the 1950s and has in fact recorded more than a hundred songs in four languages in which she is fluent: Cebuano, Tagálog, English, and Spanish. One of the Spanish songs she recorded was a Filipino folk song called Cariñosa whose accompanying dance form is considered as one of our country’s national dances.

During colonial times, many of our folk songs were in Spanish. Even folk songs that we thought we knew to have been eternally in Tagálog started out with Spanish lyrics (there’s Paru-Parong Bukid, for instance)!

If we are to make the Spanish language popular in our country once more as it once was, pop songs are a perfect avenue. We just need more musicians, songwriters, and music producers to patronize and market them. Because they really are marketable abroad, especially since there are more than 20 Spanish-speaking countries that are ready to listen to such songs.

El castellano, único idioma nacional

El abogado Tirso de Irureta Goyena vivió en una época cuando el idioma español era el idioma filipino predominante pero fue poco a poco de ser “devorado” por el idioma de los invasores estadounidenses: el inglés. Alarmado por el ataque, escribió varios artículos para defender el estado de la lengua española en Filipinas.

En este blogpost publico uno de sus artículos titulado “El Castellano, Único Idioma Nacional“. Este artículo fue seleccionado de su libro POR EL IDIOMA Y LA CULTURA HISPANOS. Es una colección de ensayos suyos que fue publicada en 1917.

En “El Castellano, Único Idioma Nacional”, Irureta Goyena argumenta por qué el español debe ser el único idioma nacional de Filipinas.

El Señor Don Tirso de Irureta Goyena (con su chófer japónes). Foto cortesía del fotógrafo Alex Waterhouse-Hayward, nieto del Sr. Goyena.

Tirso de Irureta Goyena

Algunos opinan, al parecer, por la dualidad de idiomas en nuestro país, sosteniendo que ambos á dos, el castellano y el inglés, pueden constituir á la vez los idiomas nacionales de Filipinas. El idioma castellano es el idioma de un pasado de tres siglos, el idioma de las tres primeras centurias de civilización europea en el país, el idioma de epopeya y de los patriotas de la época revolucionaria. El inglés es el idioma del presente, de la nueva nación dominadora fuerte y jovén, y es la lengua, al mismo tiempo, más difundida en el Extremo Oriente, con cuyos países sostendrá Filipinas en lo futuro sus más íntimas relaciones comerciales y políticas. Ambos deben, por consiguiente, conservarse; ambos deben ser, en fin, los idiomas nacionales de la futura república filipina.

Somos los primeros en sostener que no laboramos contra el idioma inglés. Somos partidarios, consiguientemente, de la convivencia amistosa en el país de ambos idiomas. Sostenemos que el inglés no solo debe conservarse, sino que su conocimiento debe seguir siendo objeto de difusión. Pero entendemos que el castellano, ha sido, es y deberá ser el único idioma nacional de Filipinas.

Es indudable que si los filipinos pudieran poseer ambos idiomas á la perfección, sería esto lo más ventajoso para sus intereses. Pero el poseer, dominándolos, dos idiomas á la vez, y dos idiomas de léxico tan rico y tan variado como el inglés y el castellano, es cosa imposible para un pueblo en general, para una colectividad compleja y numerosa, como es toda una sociedad nacional, como es en este caso el país filipino. El poseer á la perfección dos idiomas á la vez es privilegio reservado á ciertos y determinados indivíduos dotados de especiales aptitudes filológicas. Y si extremamos las cosas, notaremos que aún aquellas personas que pasan por conocedoras de dos idiomas diferentes, dominan más uno que otro, y que, salvo rarísimas excepciones de inteligencias muy privilegiadas, no obstante poseer dos idiomas, piensan y sienten en uno de ellos exclusivamente, realizando una traducción mental de sus ideas y pensamientos de un idioma á otro.

Y ese idioma en que piensen y sienten las personas poseedoras de dos idiomas distintos, será su verdadero idioma propio, y no aquel en que exprese sus ideas y sentimientos después de haberlos traducido en su interior del idioma que brotó espontáneamente de su corazón ó de su inteligencia. Y ese idioma en que se pinesa ó se siente, cuando se refiere á todo un pueblo, ó á una gran parte del mismo, es su verdadero idioma nacional. Y es indudable que infinidad de filipinos piensan y sienten en castellano, y piensan y sienten de tal manera en este idioma, que mejor expresan en él los estados diversos de su alma que en cualquiera de los idiomas nativos.

La mejor demostración de este aserto la tenemos en nuestro insigne Rizal. En medio de las penalidades y sufrimientos de una cárcel, teniendo de cara á la muerte y bajo la tremenda exaltación patriótica de sus últimos momentos gloriosos, cogió la pluma para entonar un canto de despedida á su patria, es decir, á su madre, á nuestra madre común, su adorada Filipinas, y aquel sublime corazón habló en emocionantes é inspiradísimas estrofas castellanas.

Pero se dirá: ¿no tiene Suiza tres idiomas nacionales? ¿no tienen dos Bélgica, el Canadá y la Confederación sud-africana? ¿Por qué no ha de poder tenerlos Filipinas? Y nosotros contestaremos diciendo que esto es no tener en cuenta en absoluto la forma y las circunstancias bajo las cuales Suiza, Bélgica, el Canadá y la Unión del África del Sur tienen varios idiomas nacionales.

En primer lugar, no existen en ninguno de esos países varios idiomas nacionales, sino que los que existen son varios idiomas oficiales, idiomas á los cuales se les ha dado carácter oficial, por ser los idiomas de nacionalidades distintasexistentes dentro del mismo Estado. En la república de Suiza hay una mayoría de cantones alemanes, esto es, cantones de raza alemana, de costumbres alemanas y de idioma alemán, varios cantones franceses, ó sea, cantones de raza, costumbres é idioma francés; y un cantón de raza, costumbres é idioma italianos. No es, por consiguiente, que en Suiza todos los suizos hablen indistintamente los tres idiomas. Sino que hay suizos que poseen el alemán como único idioma nacional y lo utilizan exclusivamente, otros el francés, y otros el italiano. Claro está que esa proximidad y convivencia hace que muchos suizos alemanes hablen el francés, y muchos franceses alemanes el alemán. Pero lo hablan como uno cualquiera de nosotros hablaría el ruso ó el japonés, esto es, no como un idioma nacional, no como un idioma propio, sino como un idioma extraño adquirido por el estudio y por la práctica continuos.

Lo mismo ocurre en el Canadá. En el Canadá hay un Departamento ó Estado, el de Quebec, cuyos habitantes son, en su mayoría, descendientes de los antiguos colonos franceses, y que hablan consiguientemente el francés como idioma nacional. Y en los restantes Estados del Dominio, puede decirse que su mayoría están constituidos por colonos de raza inglesa, y que tienen, por lo tanto, al inglés por idioma propio. Más, como no podía evitarse que de hecho algunos colonos franceses fuesen á establecerse á Estados de raza inglesa, ni que colonos ingleses fuesen á vivir al Estado de Quebec, por no inferir agravio á ninguno de los dos, se han declarado á ambos idiomas, el francés y el inglés, idiomas oficiales. Pero no puede decirse que ambos á dos, y para todos los canadienses, sean el inglés y el francés los idiomas nacionales.

En Filipinas no ocurre esto. Hay una minoría de filipinos, descendientes e individuos de raza española que tienen al castellano naturalmente como idioma propio y casi por decir único. Hay algunas localidades donde filipinos indígenas, de pura raza nativa, como Cavite, San Roque, Caridad, Zamboanga, y aún muchos de los que en Manila y en otras capitales importantes viven, que no poseen asimismo otro idioma que el castellano más ó menos adulterado. Fuera de estos focos, que si son una excepción, lo son á favor del castellano, tenemos una gran masa de origen homogéneo, el malayo, y no dos ó tres nacionalidades distintas como ocurre en Suiza, Bélgica, Austria ó el Canadá.

No hay que pensar, por consiguiente, que la gran masa de filipinos tenga dos idiomas nacionales, porque no tienen todos ellos más que una tradición, unas costumbres y son de una misma raza. No existen aquí para los efectos del idioma dos nacionalidades distintas, una situada, por ejemplo, en Luzón y otra en Bisayas; y los mestizos americanos son una minoría microscópica, en muchos de cuyos descendientes, se ve el curioso fenómeno de adoptar el castellano ó alguno de los idiomas nativos, dejando por completo el idioma inglés.

Si todo esto es absolutamente cierto, no cabe duda que podrá haber filipinos que hablen los dos idiomas, el inglés y el castellano, pero en uno de ellos solamente pensarán y sentirán, y ese será su verdadero idioma nacional. Y en verdad, quizás existan excepciones individuales, pero de los dos idiomas, aquel en el cual piensan y sienten los filipinos es el idioma castellano. En él pronuncian sus discursos los políticos; en él impresionan y agitan los oradores á las masas populares y proletarias; en él brindan y se expansionan las sociedades de recreo; en él cantan los poetas; en él luchan los periodistas, y en él hablan y escriben los hombres de ciencia del país. Y si el caudal científico y literario de Filipinas, no es, cierta y afortunadamente de hoy, sino que data de ayer, es innegable que la mayor parte de las obras científicas y literarias, y la prensa filipina, son obra de unos pocos de la generación de ayer, y de unos muchos de la generación de hoy, de la generación nueva, que expontáneamente sigue pensando y sintiendo en castellano, que es y deberá ser, por consiguiente, no el único idioma, en absoluto, pero sí el único lenguaje nacional de todos los filipinos.

Este blogpost fue publicado originalmente en ALAS FILIPINAS.

¿Cómo se dice “moneda” en tagalo?

El Diccionario de la Lengua Española define la palabra moneda como “pieza de oro, plata, cobre u otro metal, regularmente en forma de disco y acuñada con los distintivos elegidos por la autoridad emisora para acreditar su legitimidad y valor, y, por ext., billete o papel de curso legal.” Pero aquí en Filipinas, se llama “pera” que se deriva de la palabra “perra” que en inglés traduce como “female dog” o “bitch“.

Había dos tipos: la perra chica y la perra gorda. La perra chica era la moneda de cinco céntimos de peseta…

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Perra chica.

Por otro lado, la perra gorda era la de diez…

Perra gorda.

Antiguamente las llamaban así porque las monedas tenían un león grabado que representaba España (el león hispano). Por lo visto la representación del león no era muy buena y se parecía más bien a una perra y por eso los filipinos acabaron llamando a las monedas como perra chica y perra gorda, o simplemente como perra. Y eso ha sido la práctica desde entonces (con el tiempo, la ortografía se convirtió en “pera”). También, la palabra “baryá” (monedas, cambio) en tagalo viene de “barrillas”, unas monedas de cobre en forma de barritas (rectangulares) acuñadas en la Manila del siglo XVII para transacciones de poco valor. Con ello se evitaba tener que cortar las monedas de cuatro y ocho reales (de plata) en trozos pequeños, practica habitual en esa época.

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Nuevas monedas filipinas lanzadas a finales del año pasado y principios de este año (imagen:

Este artículo fue publicado originalmente en ALAS FILIPINAS, con importantes ediciones.

Where have our heroes taken us?

All writers seek fame, or at the very least, a certain level of attention from a niche audience. Those who deny this are downright liars. For what writer wouldn’t wish for his works to be read? That’s the purpose of writing something in the first place, in order for it to be read.

I might never become a well-known writer anymore for various reasons (or excuses): I’m a full-time, night shift employee; I have a severe case of complex regional pain syndrome, thus debilitating my thought processes, and; I procrastinate too much. My circumstances at home are not what one might consider as conducive for a writer, let alone researching. Then there’s this cute little thing called the Internet taking much of my time. But why shouldn’t I use it? After a stressful night’s work and a horrible commute to and from the office, I’m left with less energy to even lift a book. I’d rather watch Momoland’s mind-boggling choreography just to relax my mood (yes, I am a frustrated dancer, no kidding), or check for updates regarding the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or look for some annoying celebrity to bash on Twitter.

Having been exposed to too much Internet usage through the years, I also noticed that my attention span has gotten short. While researchers are still divided on the issue, I can tell from experience and self-observation that it has really contributed to my reading and writing woes. There were times that whenever I read a book, I couldn’t finish a page without doing something else on the side. And while browsing through pages, my mind compels me to look for links to click whenever I encounter unfamiliar words or terms, or to even scroll down further to hasten my reading, looking for just the juicy parts. It’s gotten that bad.

You might say that at least, I can still blog. Well, yeah, but not as prolific and as capable as I used to when I was still blogging in ALAS FILIPINAS or FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES. So if the skies have dimmed my chances of becoming a writer, what more of becoming a well-known historian? At any rate, whether or not my above-mentioned reasons (excuses!) hamper my researching and writing, I still find it impossible for me to become recognized as a historian, no matter how hard my wife tries to market me as a “young historian” (what the hey, I’m nearing forty, and there are many other historians younger than me who are now rivaling the great Ambeth Ocampo in terms of prominence).

I don’t want to sound like I’m self-pitying or anything like that, but it’s true. I cannot become a recognized historian for three major reasons. Number one, I’m not a good public speaker. Number two, I do not belong to the academe (I’m not a history teacher, just a corporate slave). And lastly, my views on Filipino History are raging against the flow. Like mad, I should add.

If you notice, many popular historians today deliver speeches and give out lectures, seminars, and interviews (that’s why I call them celebrity historians, haha). While I may have done the same a few times in the past, I didn’t sound as good nor as convincing as they are. As I always say, I’m more of a scribbler than a talker. Whenever I receive invites to do speaking engagements, there is always hesitancy from my part. It’s either I find it hard to say no, or my excited wife successfully prods me to accept them. Then there’s the second part: I am not a history professor. Many people online have mistaken me for one, and I find it very flattering, of course. But I am a mere slave to my corporate boss, always cowering down whenever I receive bad grades at work (and I always do, maybe because my heart and mind are somewhere else — treading the cobbled streets of 19th-century Intramuros, haha 😔).

But even if I could talk like a mesmerizing statesman and teach history in a famed university, I still find it highly unlikely that I’d become a well-known and respected historian. As I have mentioned earlier, I go against the flow. I’m not saying that many other historians before me didn’t. Many of them up to now still disagree with each other. But my views regarding popularly accepted history are so unpopular that the National Historical Commission of the Philippines might as well send me to jail. 😂

I don’t consider Andrés Bonifacio and his KKK cohorts as heroes; I brand them as terrorists. I don’t consider Ninoy Aquino, Jr. as a martyr; I brand him as a traitorous opportunist. I don’t consider Juan Luna as a patriot; I consider him only as the greatest painter in our country’s history; I don’t consider Marcelo H. del Pilar as the “Father of True Filipino Masonry”; I’d rather call him as a True Filipino Penitent. I don’t consider the Silang couple of Ilocos as heroes; to my eyes, they were traitors. I don’t consider Lapu-Lapu as the “first Filipino hero”; I brand him as a delicious fish served in Magallanes Square Hotel.

Poor Pedro Paterno has been painted as a villain to the point that we have become convinced to ignore his contributions to scholarship and literature which I believe are still important (El Problema Político de Filipinas; Nínay [the first Filipino novel]; La Antigua Civilización Tagala; etc.).

I refer to my country as Filipinas whether in English or in Spanish; Philippines and Pilipinas are aberrations created by misled/twisted nationalists schooled in an English-only educational system (that’s why I use “Filipino History” instead of “Philippine History”). Unlike many Filipinos, I do not disrespect my national identity by calling myself as Pinoy or even Pilipino. I abhor Taglish. I still use the original orthography whenever I write in Tagálog. And the only national language that I still recognize —as recognized by most national heroes that we enshrine today— is the Spanish language.

I do not and cannot accept that the three centuries of Spanish colonization were generally oppressive and cruel in light of clear documentation to the contrary. I couldn’t for the life of me even call it “colonization”. The polo y servicios were boon, not bane. And the uprising that occurred during the late 1890s was not a revolution but a rebellion.

Today, we again celebrate National Heroes Day to remember the heroism of our forefathers who fought against foreign oppression. But what foreign oppression comes to mind whenever we are called to remember the sacrifices of our patriots? In the introduction to the first book that I wrote (the biography of World War II hero Abelardo “Captain Remo” Remoquillo), I took the opportunity to rant about this.

Perhaps due to either rote memorization or desensitization, or both, Filipino students have somehow become accustomed to the idea that all of our National Heroes existed in the same era. This is understandable because whenever we speak of our country’s past, it would almost always be about our three centuries under the Spanish Empire. But then, there’s always this sinking feeling that most of our heroes existed only during the Spanish Occupation. For instance, the bulk of our National Heroes comes from that bygone era: José Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Emilio Aguinaldo, etc. Only to an interested few will the realization sink in that some of those heroes who we thought were from the Spanish era were in fact more active during our country’s war against the United States of América than they were against the Spaniards. These were Apolinario Mabini, Antonio Luna, and Miguel Malvar to name a few.

But when it comes to the three-year Japanese regime, we could hardly remember names. There’s Josefa Llanes Escoda, José Abad Santos, and Vicente Lim, but they ring a bell only because their faces and names are plastered in one thousand-peso notes. Outside of currency, do we even know what kind of heroism did they display during those fearsome years under the Land of the Rising Sun?

All this doesn’t mean that I refuse to accept historical facts. Of course I do. I simply refuse to accept opinions. Facts and opinions are different from each other. I accept hard data presented by historical research, but not opinions formed by them, especially opinions formed by an English-only education with an agenda that has little to zero understanding of our country’s Spanish past. Take the Katipunan rebellion of 1896, for instance. When government forces discovered the existence of the Katipunan in late 1896, what happened next were bloodshed and the senseless killing and torture of innocent Spanish friars and other individuals who went against the rebels’ way. Did ordinary civilians welcome the “revolution” participated in mostly by Tagálogs? No they didn’t. For most Filipinos living far from where the action was, life went on. While it is a fact that there were Katipunero recruits from all over the country, the truth was that there was no national sentiment that supported the Katipunan rebellion against Spain. Civil society was against it.

It should be noted in the preceding paragraph that the Katipunan was discovered by government authorities. Keep in mind that it was an underground organization. Simply put, the Katipunan was an ILLEGAL ASSOCIATION no matter how hard a Pantayong Pananaw zealot will try to picture it with dainty colors of patriotism and love of country. Such zealots might argue that the Katipunan had lofty ideals of freedom and nationhood, thus excusing it from illegalities. But so do the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Abu Sayyaf who try to picture themselves as the patriots and martyrs of (their fantasy land called) Bangsamoro. Should we consider them heroes too?

Mimicking the Katipunan’s belligerence towards lawful society, Senator Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV and his Magdalo group did the same thing twice in the past against the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Should we, therefore, erect monuments to Trillanes as well and consider his rebellious friends as the new Katipuneros? After all, they rebelled against the Arroyo government to fight corruption and injustice, didn’t they?

The New People’s Army has been waging a “revolution” for decades. If they win, Bonifacio will surely displace Rizal as our country’s leading national hero. That’s why most of the time, I’m tempted to believe in that cynical saying that history is written by the victors.

One man’s hero is another man’s villain, so the saying goes (hello, Apo Marcos!). So after reading this, I entreat you, dear reader, to reflect the significance of today’s celebration. It’s a holiday, anyway. Ualáng pasoc, cayá maraming horas para mag-isíp-isíp. Having said that…

Why are we so obsessed with national heroes? It seems to me that we are the only country in the world with a surfeit of patriots. And we keep on looking for more. Our government has enshrined such heroes as models that we should look up to and emulate. And yet we are still one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Where have our heroes taken us? Or better yet: what has our idolatry for these heroes done for our country?

Oh, and one more thing: Rizal retracted and there’s really NOTHING you can do about it.

¿Bakwit ba?

As one of our city‘s consultants for historical and cultural matters, yours truly was invited last month to a meeting of top city hall officials who were preparing various activities for the month-long Buwan ng Wika (language month) which is celebrated every whole month of August. This year’s theme is “Filipino: Wikang Mapagbago” or Filipino: a language that changes (or causes change).

Image result for "Filipino: Wikang Mapagbago"

Image: DepEd LP’s.

One of the activities that was being prepared was an essay writing contest for city hall employees. Me and my partner Tita Linda Sietereales (the Tagálog translator for my first book “Captain Remo: The Young Hero“) concocted several possible topics related to the language month’s theme as well as formulated the criteria for judging. We then passed it on to the department concerned for review and approval. I came up with three to four topics which Tita Linda then polished, she being an expert writer in Tagálog (she and her famous novelist friend Lualhati Bautista were colleagues in Liwayway magazine many years ago).

While I was conjuring up possible topics for the essay writing contest, the theme for the language month kept playing on my mind. Wikang Mapagbago. A language that causes change. Suddenly, the first word that popped into my head was a novel one which I heard only recently from TV reporters and broadcasters who have been reporting about the Battle of Marawi for the past three months.

I am talking about “bakwit“, a Tagalized form for an evacuee.

Since the terrorist attack on Marawi (or should I say Dansalán) in Lanáo del Sur Province, thousands of residents have evacuated to various parts of Mindanáo and beyond. Reporters speaking in Tagálog keep on referring to them as bakwit instead of evacuees. Perhaps these reporters refuse to use Taglish and found it appropriate to just Tagalize an English word that is often used in times of crisis. Much like the word “suspek” which was derived from “suspect” or a person who is suspected to be guilty of a crime or offense.

However, journalist Asunción David Maramba insisted that bakwit is not new. It is actually an old word that has been used since the end of World War II. In fact, he even used the word in a column that he wrote way back in 1991. This simply shows that the word has been with us all along for years, thus its usage as a Tagálog word should no longer be frowned upon. Besides, words like bakwit, suspek, and the like do not sound English anymore; apologists for Taglish (yes, there are such people) will say that they have become as Filipino as adobo.

Nevertheless, is the usage of such words correct? Are these neologisms even allowed by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) or the Commission on the Filipino Language? It seems like it as this official regulating body of the Filipino language (based on Tagálog, if I may add) hailed last year a new Tagálog word called “fotobam” which is but a new English word form derived from photobomb. However, it can also be argued that while such neologisms can be deemed correct, they are not readily embraced by many who are still conscious and sensitive about deliberate language changes, evolution, and degradation. Many years ago, former Senator Francisco “Kit” Tátad found time to comment about this language phenomenon, nay, problem in his political book “A Nation on Fire: The Unmaking of Joseph Ejército Estrada and the Remaking of Democracy in the Philippines“. In it, he wrote that:

Filipino itself has not grown. On the contrary, it has been bastardized. The result is Taglish — an awkward and artless combination of street Filipino (which is Tagálog-based) and street English, unworthy to sit in the company of other national languages.

The good senator, himself a litterateur during his younger years before he dabbled in politics, had good reason for saying this as such (although consciously he may not have had it in mind). It is because Tagálog is a phonetic language, while English isn’t. For starters, a simple explanation would be this: Tagálog is written as it is pronounced, and vice versa. Cung anó ang sulat ay siyá rin ang bigcás, at cung anó ang bigcás ay siyá rin ang sulat. The same cannot be said for English.

So, mix them up together —a phonetic and unphonetic language— and what do you get? A linguistic abomination called Taglish.

As mentioned, Taglish apologists would be quick to defend this by saying that such a linguistic phenomenon is natural. They have a term for it: code-switching. But there is a flaw. Code-switching occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages, or language varieties. But one has to note why a speaker has to do so. In our case, we were colonized by the United States for almost half a century, and have been neocolonized by them afterwards. This only goes to show that this code-switching called Taglish is a by-product of colonialism and/or neocolonialism. I might not have any problems with code-switching had the U.S. WASP neocolonialist invaders themselves also speak Taglish (or Engalog for that matter) in their own turf. But they don’t. And they won’t.

One might question Tagálog’s purity (or impurity) even without having been invaded by the U.S. After all, there are more than five thousand Spanish root words in Tagálog. And we haven’t even tackled all the other indigenous languages —all of which are phonetic like Tagálog— that were also influenced by the Spanish tongue. In this regard, isn’t this Spanish-influenced Tagálog that we have been using for centuries also a form of code-switching? Not at all. First of all, Tagálog, which is phonetic, is a perfect match for Spanish for the simple reason that the latter is also phonetic. Both, therefore, are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that reveals a beautiful picture upon completion. This is one of the reasons why in the introduction to my defunct Spanish-language blog, I wrote that the meeting between España and Filipinas in 1521 (then later on in 1565) was “una fuerza mayor increíble, una obra milagrosa de Dios.” It seems both nations, at least linguistically, were really destined to meet to fulfill some quirk of history that is beyond human understanding.* Secondly, Spanish words have been entrenched into our linguistic psyche more than English words ever did. That is why Spanish words such as aparador, barrio, Dios, pantalón, and thousands more sound very native to us compared to Taglish or English words. Finally, there is this sub-branch of linguistics called phonaesthetics which deal with the aspects of art and beauty in a language. Chabacano, said to be derided during its early years, cannot be considered as a mere pidgin or another form of code-switching. It is a Spanish-based creole language, another product of our country’s “phonetic identity” which has the blessings of phonaesthetics. Chabacano has produced its own body of literature that is respected and valued through the years. Taglish doesn’t (with the very rare exception of some of Bautista’s socio-political novels). What passes off today as Taglish literature is derided as gayspeak, if not salitáng canto (street language). And it will remain so for good.

Humorously, one should find it odd how some English nouns become Tagálog verbs in Marawi (“ina-armalite“, “sina-sniper“, etc.).

So what now with bakwit? If it is so phonaesthetically inappropriate for a Filipino to use it as a substitute for evacuee, then what should be the linguistically acceptable alternative? This is the rule: if no Tagálog equivalent is readily available, do not invent new ones (remember those awful words “hatinig” and “salipawpaw” of the 1940s?) nor Tagalize unphonetic words. Simply use that word’s Spanish counterpart. For bakwit, see below:

evacuado if the evacuee is male (evacuados for plural)
evacuada if the evacuee is female (evacuadas for plural)

If we aspire for a language that changes, we have to make sure that it changes for the better. And it changes not just for its own sake but for the betterment of the people that uses it. After all, a language is used not merely as a tool for communication but also as a means to elevate a people’s intellect. Language should evolve naturally, not deliberately. We are a phonetic-speaking people. As such, words derived from an unphonetic language (bakwit, suspek, most especially last year’s fotobam, etc.) will never effect any positive change that will augment our intellect.

*It should be noted that before 1521, our country was not yet formed as a state. It was only during the so-called Spanish colonization period beginning on 24 June 1571 that our country began to exist as a political entity. I simply wrote the above in such a way so as to prevent further confusion.