Spanish and the Filipino Identity

The blogpost that I wrote about Andrés Bonifacio received too much backlash (even from a writer friend whom I thought has already freed herself from Hispanophobia). But it was to be expected because the Supremo has been highly revered for many decades as a freedom fighter who went up against “tyrannical Spain”. In the said blogpost, I also took the opportunity to include how Spain virtually created our country, that we were united under one language which is Spanish. That line also triggered another emotional comment from a well-known academic whom I also thought to know better than I do.

No, they’re not united under one language!” he said.

Time and again, I have always contended that the Spanish language is the basis and the foundation of our Filipino National Identity. Why? Because it is the language that united our various ethnolinguistic groups, forming themselves into one “Filipino nation”. To begin with, one must first understand that the term Filipino is merely a concept; there is no such thing as a Filipino race because our country, even up to modern times, is made up of several “races” or “tribes” (anthropologist Jesús Peralta would rather call them ethnolinguistic groups) such as the Tagalog, Cebuano, Bicolano, etc. Secondly, the early history of our country, much of it written in Spanish, serves as basis for my views. In our history under Spanish rule, these tribes became united under one umbrella group which we now call FILIPINO. To make a long story short, our identity was forged during the more than 300 years of Spanish rule, and not before nor after it. There were no Filipinos yet before the Spanish advent. And even if we were not colonized by the US, our identity was already in existence — created, completed. It was already intact. Buó ná ang paguiguing Filipino natin bago pa man tayo sinugod at sinacop ng Estados Unidos de América. There was nothing more to add to it.

La imagen puede contener: 6 personas, personas sentadas

A typical Filipino family during the Spanish times (photo supplied by the Biblioteca Nacional de España to ABC).

But to make it more clear, the Filipino Identity is the product of the Filipino State that began to exist in Spanish on 24 June 1571. The Filipino State was founded together with Manila on that same date, with the government having Spanish as its official language. Since then, the tedious process of cultural amalgamation among the more than 170 tribes / ethnolinguistic groups (particularly those who accepted the King of Spain as their rightful sovereign during the Manila synod of 1599) began. Cultural dissemination (which included Christianization and the Humanities) from the West assisted in this long process.

We Filipinos are essentially Hispanic —have become Hispanic— by virtue of History and Culture. And even Faith. And the Spanish language, more particularly its literature as embodied by the works of Rizal, del Pilar, Mabini, Guerrero, Paterno, Apóstol, Balmori, Bernabé, etc., proved to be the unifying thread in this development. No wonder former Senator Recto wrote that “el español ya es cosa nuestra, propia, sangre de nuestra sangre, y carne de nuestra carne“.

At this point, I should say that realizing the importance of our national identity will give us more dignity and nobility than this so-called “Pinoy Pride” that we have been harping around since the arrival of social media in our country. Let me just add that because of the Spanish language, together with the Culture and Faith it brought with it, I now know where I stand in the midst of the ongoing onslaught of neocolonization/globalization. 😉

It is, therefore, wrong and anachronistic to say that Islam arrived in our country first. What country? As mentioned above, there was no Filipinas yet when the first Muslim scholars, traders, and imams arrived. And they were not scattered all throughout. They were only in limited places such as those very few areas in Mindanáo. Even Manila wasn’t a practicing Muslim enclave (they were to some extent converted, but those who converted them did not stay long enough, unlike the Spanish friars who remained here and died with the natives). Also, and quite obviously, Islam did not unite our disunited tribes (that was one of the greatest errors of the Arab missionaries). Because if they did, then we wouldn’t have those heritage churches and bahay na bató that we marvel at today. Besides (then as now), the Moros were into looting and pillaging towns and kidnapping non-Muslims (most especially the Visayans) for their slave trade.

The foregoing is in no way anti-Islam but simply history. They really did it. And up to now, the Abu Sayyaf is still continuing that “legacy”.

To cap this off: by not using Spanish, by not incorporating it to our daily lives, we are in effect betraying Rizal and those many other great personas from that bygone glorious past who we have either enshrined or accepted as our national heroes. Much of our country’s (true) history is written in that language. Moreover, it is one of the most widely spoken languages all over the globe and is even the second most spoken language in neocolonialist United States of América. Indeed, the Spanish language opens up not just a gateway to appreciate our oft-misunderstood past but also a path towards the opening of new trade horizons with more than a dozen Spanish-speaking countries that will surely enliven our economy.

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Ople on the Spanish language

Having been founded in 1922, the Premio Zóbel is considered as the country’s oldest literary award open to all Filipino writers in the Spanish language. Among those who had won the prestigious prize were poet Manuel Bernabé (1924), diplomat León Mª Guerrero III (1963), and renaissance man Guillermo Gómez Rivera (1975). But in the late 1960s to the early 1970s, it was put to a halt because the number of participants dwindled. In 1974, the Zóbel de Ayala clan changed the rules of the contest so that anyone in Filipinas who promoted the preservation of the Spanish language could become an awardee. Nineteen years later, in 1993, Senator Blas Ople, a non-Spanish speaker, became a consequence of that 1974 decision.

Image result for premio zobel ople

“80 Años del Premio Zóbel”, a compendium of Premio Zóbel’s history, was published in 2000. The book’s author, Lourdes Castrillo Brillantes, was herself an awardee in 1998.

This is not to say that the choosing of the then neophyte senator was nothing short of a scandalous matter among Filipino writers in the Spanish language. He received the award “por sus relevantes méritos en pro de la cultura hispano-filipina” (for his relevant merits in favor of the Spanish language). One such merit was the following essay that he wrote in his column “Windows” which used to appear in Panorama magazine (a supplement of Manila Bulletin’s Sunday issue). The essay was published on 30 August 1992, a year before he was awarded a Premio Zóbel medal.

Image result for blas ople windows panorama

Blas Ople (1927–2003).

Our Spanish past lingers in Iloílo with subtle charm
Blas Ople

Having sat down from the rigors of an obligatory speech on current issues, I thought I would sip my coffee in peace, mentally braced for an evening of pleasant boredom.

This was Iloílo City, and the Lions clubs from all over Panay and some from Negros Occidental had filled the vast hall of the Hotel del Río by the river, for the 42nd anniversary of the Iloílo City Host Lions Club. Then magically, the grace and charm of our Spanish past rose before our eyes.

Dancers in full Spanish costumes, platoon-size formations, materialized on the floor. They called on a vast repertory, not just one, two, or three, but many numbers, turning an otherwise banal dinner into a bewitching hour redolent of history. It was only in Iloílo, I thought, that simple housewives, many of them now grandmothers, could be formed into flamenco dancers of such charm, on demand (I was told later they rehearsed for a month for this show).

I gathered that Iloílo and nearby Bacólod are just about the last places where sizable remnants of an elderly Spanish-speaking generation may be found, though this, too, is slowly fading away. But the rhythms of Spain will probably long outlive the Castilian speech in these parts, judging from the authentic passion of those movements we watched that night.

Compared with these, the rigodón de honor danced by the elite in Tagálog cities and towns has to be judged a pale initiation.

Few Filipinos are of course shedding a tear on the waning of our Spanish past, except as this has been subsumed in native speech and customs. The memories of those early centuries still rankle.

This is the revenge of Rizal and del Pilar, whose works have molded, through generations, our impressions of the era of Spain in the Philippines. But when recently, all the countries of the Iberian world met in México, as though eager to repossess their common heritage from their Spanish past, I felt a certain pain to realize that the Philippines alone was not present, for the reason that we have disinvited ourselves.

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. 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.

But I felt the charms of our Spanish past will linger longest in places like Iloílo, and during that enchanted evening, I was glad for the opportunity to savor them. We may have left the Iberian world of our free choice, but the hold of Spain will never really cease in the Filipino heart.

To those who are unfamiliar with the issue, it was former President Corazón Aquino’s Constitutional Commission of 1986 (the one mentioned by Senator Ople in his column) that decided the fate of the Spanish language in Filipinas. It should be remembered that Spanish had been our country’s official language beginning 24 June 1571. It may had been unceremoniously booted out from the 1973 Constitution by pro-Tagálog politicians during the 1971 Philippine Constitutional Convention under Ferdinand Marcos’s presidency, but the former strongman, realizing its worth, issued Presidential Decree No. 155 two months after the 1973 Constitution was ratified. Believe it or not, this forgotten Marcos decree recognized Spanish (alongside the English language) as one of Filipinas’s official languages. It thus absolves his 1973 Constitution of any culpability when one wishes to point an accusing finger at the “killer” of the Spanish language in our country.

All index fingers will of course lead to the present constitution, the progenitor of the Constitutional Commission of 1986. No wonder Ople was devastated: he was its member, he fought for the Spanish language’s preservation in the present constitution, yet he was blocked by those radicals from doing so (they were probably those whom Hispanistas and non-Tagálogs today derisively call as “Tagalistas“). That is why, out of disillusionment (or anger?), he wrote that painful statement that we Filipinos have expelled ourselves from the Spanish-speaking community of nations.

But that was 1992. It’s 2018 now, and attitudes toward the Spanish language and our country’s past under Spain for that matter have drastically changed. The enlightened Filipino youth of today will surely disagree with the late Senator’s statement that the rift done by the present constitution’s non-inclusion of Spanish was final, and that it will never be healed. Already, we have several groups in social media, particularly in Facebook, that advocate the return of the Spanish language to Filipino mainstream society such as the SPANISH language should be back in the PHILIPPINES!Oficialización del Español en Filipinas (this one has more than eleven thousand members!), and Defensores de la Lengua Española en Filipinas. Outside of Facebook are blogs that extol the virtues and blessings of our country’s Spanish past: we can cite With One’s PastHecho Ayer, and the Hispanic Indio just to name a few. Then there is Jemuel Pilápil who organized the Sociedad Hispano-Filipina together with other Hispanists to safeguard and promote the language, thus inspiring me to label him as the new Isagani (watch out for his group’s website to be launched very soon!). The presence of Instituto Cervantes de Manila with its monthly cultural events is a great boost in the efforts to “reintroduce” the Spanish language and culture to our country. Not too long ago, renowned Spanish-speaking Filipinos launched a documentary citing the importance of the Spanish language as part of our national identity and heritage. Even our country’s premiere historian today, Ambeth Ocampo, already revealed himself as far removed from the usual anti-Spain mold of historians by producing very impartial write-ups about our country’s Hispanic past. Says Ocampo in one of his writings:

The concept of Filipino began not with pre-Hispanic indios but with Spain. Individuals known as Filipinos cannot be traced beyond 1521 when Magellan sailed into the Philippine archipelago. Filipino was mainly a geographic term to begin with, and the notion of Filipinas, a place, a nation, cannot be pushed beyond the first Spanish settlement established by Miguel López de Legazpi in 1565.

I could go on and on, but the point is clear: the rift done by Tita Cory’s flawed constitution is not final. Ople’s fight for the Spanish language’s rightful place in the Filipino cosmos didn’t go for naught. We are healing!

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Filipinas, España: more than friendship

Today, June 30, we celebrate the annual “Día de la Amistad Hispano-Filipina” or Philippine–Spanish Friendship Day. Former Senator Edgardo Angara, a Hispanista, sponsored the bill which later on became known as Republic Act No. 9187 (An Act Declaring June 30 of the Year as Philippine–Spanish Friendship Day) which was approved on 5 February 2003. As stated in section 1 of the said law, the aim of the celebration is to “strengthen the relationship between the Philippines and countries with which it has shared history, values and traditions.” In this case, Spain —the country that, as observed by National Artist Nick Joaquín, gave Filipinos “the basic form, the temper, the physiognomy,”— was a good choice especially since it is that country alone that “did give birth to us — as a nation, as an historical people”.

Continued Joaquín: “This geographical unit of numberless islands called the Philippines — this mystical unit of numberless tongues, bloods and cultures called a Filipino — was begotten of Spain, is a Spanish creation.”

June 30 was chosen since it was a historic event that put that friendship to a test. On that day, then President Emilio Aguinaldo commended the few remaining Spanish soldiers who were holed up for almost a year inside the Iglesia de San Luis Obispo in Baler, Tayabas (now a part of the province of Aurora which used to be a territory of Tayabas) for their loyalty and gallantry in battle. After their defeat, instead of arresting or even executing them, Aguinaldo sent them home. They were accorded safe passage to Manila en route to their return voyage to Spain. To mark this memorable event in our history, Angara thought of a national holiday to give honor to the act of benevolence which has paved the way in bridging better relations between Filipinas and the former mother country.

But I respectfully question the use of the term “friendship” because Filipinas and España were more than friends. They are in fact blood relations by virtue of history, faith, and cultural dissemination of which our country benefited from, not the other way around. Spain never became wealthy at our expense. And throughout Filipino Literature, Spain has been immortalized and personified as our mother. As already shown earlier, no less than Joaquín, the greatest writer and Filipino thinker our country has ever produced, expounded on this subject. “For three and a half centuries we lay within the womb of Spain”, wrote Joaquín.

In his narrative poem Filipinas a España, Manuel Bernabé (1890—1960), a well-known littérateur, academician, Premio Zóbel awardee (he won the prize twice: in 1924 and 1926), and politician from Parañaque (former Mayor Florencio M. Bernabé Jr. is a descendant of his), described the motherly bond that Spain had with our country:

¡La dulce Hija, postrándose de hinojos,
dice a la Madre, a tiempo que sus ojos
leve cendal de lágrimas empaña:
—Dios ha impuesto el término del plazo,
y ya es la hora de romper el lazo
que nos unió tres siglos, Madre España!

 

The sweet daughter (“La dulce Hija“) referred to in this poem is Filipinas; the mother is already conspicuously addressed. Although the poem may have started on a sour note (“ya es la hora de romper el lazo que nos unió tres siglos” refers to the Tagálog rebellion of 1896), Bernabé extolled the deep love between mother and child —Spain and Filipinas— through the centuries, and even longed for that love to return: “En el curso del tiempo desenvuelto, / tú, España, volverás. ¿Qué amor no ha vuelto / presa en la red del propio bien perdido?” Bernabé ended his masterpiece by giving eternal praise to Mother Spain: “¡Gloria a la Madre España en Filipinas! / ¡Loor eterno a ti! Tú, no me olvides.”

Jesús Balmori (1887—1948), famous for his poetic jousts with Bernabé and for his prize-winning poems, including a Premio Zóbel in 1926 in which he was tied with his rival, described an even deeper bond between Mother Spain and her daughter Filipinas in his poem Canto A España: “¡Oh, España! ¡Porque en tu alma nos enlazas, / que te troven su amor todas las razas!

In an effort to rally the campaign for independence from the US imperialists, Rafaél Palma (1874—1939), the fourth President of the University of the Philippines, one of José Rizal’s early biographers, and elder brother of poet José Palma (the one who wrote the immortal poem Filipinas which eventually became the lyrics of our national anthem) wrote an essay that was published in 1900 which underlined the profound influence Spain had in our country in spite of the glaring presence of US troops all over the archipelago. In that essay entitled El Alma De España, Palma went as far as to say that Spain’s blood has been transfused into our veins. We merely took away from her queenly cape so as to metaphorically use for a merry banquet to celebrate of our freedom:

Se nos ha trasvasado en las venas la sangre de aquella España decadente que nosotros despojamos aquí con un supremo de esfuerzo de ira, de su ancho manto de reina para tendernos sobre él a disfrutar del anchorozado festín de la libertad.

Realizing the debt of gratitude that we have towards Spain, the great Fernando Mª Guerrero (1873—1929), “el Príncipe de la poesía lírica filipina” (Prince of Filipino lyric poetry), wrote a laudatory poem entitled A Hispania.

¡Oh, noble Hispania! Este día
es para ti mi canción,
canción que viene de lejos
como eco de antiguo amor,
temblorosa, palpitante
y olorosa a tradición…

Guerrero’s daughters, themselves accomplished poets, also personified Spain as our mother. Like their illustrious father, Evangelina Guerrero de Zacarías (1904—1949) also wrote a laudatory poem to Spain entitled A España (“veinte naciones bravas, en concierto armonioso, / con los brazos del alma tus playas buscarán”) while her sister Nilda Guerrero de Barranco wrote ¡España, Madre Mía! (“Noble España, madre mía Desde estos mis patrias lares brindo a tu santa hidalguía la oración de mis altares.“).

In A España, Emeterio Barcelón y Barceló-Soriano (1897—1978), another internationally acclaimed poet in the Hispanic world, described Filipinas as a confused daughter who taught that she was enslaved by her own mother. But upon departure, Mother Spain made it known to her daughter Filipinas that she was leaving everything behind for her:

La hija se emancipó; sintióse esclava
de su madre que, al irse, le decía:
“Ahí te dejo entera el alma mía”
Y su habla y religión aquí dejaba.

 

When it comes to Rizal, our country’s most acclaimed national hero, there is a different take on how our country was referred to. In the first stanza of José Rizal’s famous A La Juventud Filipina, the word patria alluded to is Filipinas, not Spain:

¡Alza tu tersa frente,
juventud filipina, en este día!
¡Luce resplandeciente
tu rica gallardía,
bella esperanza de la patria mía!

 

It should be noted that during Rizal’s time, the concept of patria meant two things: the patria chica and the patria grande. The patria grande immediately refers to Mother Spain. On the other hand, the patria chica denotes one’s locality: this may refer to the barrio, province, or region of one’s birth. For example: the Basques, the Valencians, the Catalans, etc. all considered their respective provinces/regions as their patria chica. The Mexicans, Peruvians, Filipinos, etc. all considered their respective overseas provinces as their patria chica. But for all of them, there was only one patria grande — Spain.

How then do we know that the patria in this poem referred to Filipinas and not Spain? The answer is in the final line of the fourth stanza:

Ve que en la ardiente zona
do moraron las sombras, el hispano
esplendente corona,
con pía y sabia mano,
ofrece al hijo de este suelo indiano.

 

“Suelo indiano“, or native soil, is self-explanatory. Nevertheless, the fourth line of the same stanza refers to the Spanish friars, those indomitable warriors of Spain, who were in charge not only of the Filipinos’ spiritual matters but also took care of their education and well-being. The “pía y sabia mano” (pious and learned hand) refers to the Spanish friars. And to those with an ear for history, it is easy to catch Rizal’s allusion to the escuelas pías, our country’s first public schools (it is not true that the US introduced public schooling to our shores). One such escuela pía, located within the walled city of Intramuros, even became the forerunner of the Ateneo Municipal, the hero’s alma mater which is now known as the Ateneo de Manila University.

While Rizal’s patria in this poem may point solely to his patria chica, i.e., Filipinas, it should be noted that his patria grande was not left out. In the final stanza of A La Juventud Filipina, Rizal used a common nickname for Spain, particularly its monarchy, during those days — Potente which means powerful. Here Spain was described as sincerely desiring the happiness  and comfort of Filipinas:

¡Día, día felice,
Filipinas gentil, para tu suelo!
Al Potente bendice,
que con amante anhelo
la ventura te envía y el consuelo.

 

And in his homage to Juan Luna and Félix Resurrección Hidalgo for having won international recognition for their paintings, Rizal called Spain point blank as our mother:

“Si la madre enseña al hijo su idioma para comprender sus alegrías, sus necesidades o dolores, España, como madre, enseña también a Filipinas…”

Even our bards in Tagálog were aware of Spain’s status as our mother country, as evidenced by poet Hermenegildo Flores’s Ang Hibic ng Filipinas sa Inang España (Filipinas’ Lament to Mother Spain). In this poem, Filipinas was speaking as an oppressed daughter, complaining and appealing to Mother Spain to get rid of those whom the poet, being a propagandista, believed were the cause of his patria chica’s deprivations: the friars.

España y Filipinas by Juan Luna (oil on canvas, 1886). Even in the visual arts, the deep regard that our forefathers had for Spain as a mother was not wanting.

I could go on and on with several other Filipino greats who all paid their respects to Mother Spain in spite of the Tagálog rebellion of 1896. But the point is this: whatever the results of that rebellion, we have to get rid of this warped view that Spain, or España, was merely a former colonizer, and that España is now just a friend. We were never colonized. Before the Spaniards arrived, there was no Filipinas yet. It was they who made us into becoming the three-stars-and-a-sun-loving people that we are today (Luzón, Visayas, and Mindanáo wouldn’t have been united if not for the Spanish advent). Between España and Filipinas lies a much more deeper bond than international relations, something that is beyond friendship. As has been clearly sung by our time-honored artists (“the antenna of the race”, said Ezra Pound), España is our Mother, not just a friend. Ella es sangre de nuestra sangre y carne de nuestra carne.

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