‘Filipinas’ and ‘Pilipinas’ and the perennial problem of lack of information and discursive engagement


Perhaps the best way to introduce this shy piece about the “Filipinas/Pilipinas” controversy is that I felt somewhat lucky that I have a Professor who is part of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) herself, the government  formation solidly behind this recent, notorious proclamation.

KWF Logo
KWF Logo

She took time some time in our class to clarify the rationale behind this proposition, one that at first appears not very significant but actually reopens, and reopens widely the rarely discussed issues of language and their implications to our country, the way we relate to and perceive it and the way we see ourselves as its citizens.

My Professor’s explanation initially swayed me to be approving of their seemingly unshakeable move. She said that the ‘Filipinas’ decision was made as a way of embracing the other Philippine languages which discredits the old Abakada by proving its insufficiency. The /f/ and /v/ in Ibaloi, the /j/ in most languages in Mindanao among others attest to the insufficiency, if not outright Tagalog-centrism of the old Abakada. Of course, the issue of the name of the national language is inevitably tied to this issue of the name of the country. What I see on the surface is that this ‘Filipinas’ decision is only an effort to do to the country’s name what has long been done to the national language’s name. Ricardo Ma. Duran Nolasco’s article in Philippine Daily Inquirer which was written almost five years ago provides a succinct yet useful account of the change in our national language’s name from ‘Tagalog’ to ‘Filipino.’ In 1959, ‘Tagalog’ was changed to ‘Pilipino’ “to remove the regional bias that the term “Tagalog” evoked” (Nolasco 2008) Then in 1987, ‘Pilipino’ was changed to ‘Filipino’ “to signal its non-exclusivist and multilingual character” (Nolasco 2008)

I believe that this 1987 shift from ‘Pilipino’ to ‘Filipino’ was also done in the spirit behind the shift from ‘Pilipinas’ to ‘Filipinas’ being pushed by the KWF now; this spirit being the embracing of the other Philippine languages such as Ilokano, Ibaloi, Cebuano among others. As such, there is the recognition of the sounds inherent in these languages such as the /f/, /v/ and /j/ which are not included in the Tagalog Abakada alphabet. Moreover, the Filipino language is supposed to include lexicons from other languages aside from the Metro-Manila Tagalog, which have become popular that these lexical items are being used even outside its regional origin. I think “kare-kare,” a non-Tagalog word is a good example here.

If this is the case, then things could be fine. Only that there is a rampant mis(non-)understanding here because KWF is not a very popular government agency and its primary focus, the Philippine language, is neither a very primary concern for the people of a nation grappling with even the barest livelihood. And it is not as if everyone has someone from the KWF as a Professor who can explain this move to her class. Also, there seems to be a serious tinge of grayness in KWF’s own explanation of this controversial change. In their webpage, their explanation includes these words: “Ang resolusyon ng kapulungan ng KWF, na nagdulot ng unti-unti at di sapilitang pagbabalik ng paggamit sa ‘Filipinas’ habang iminumungkahing hindi gamitin ng ‘Pilipinas,’ ay ginawa upang ipalaganap ang ‘opisyal at modernisadong’ pagbabaybay ng pangalan ng bansa na magpapakita ng ‘kasaysayan at pag-unlad ng pagkabansa nito.’”

The quotes within this quote are from Virgilio Almario, National Artist for Literature and President of the KWF, and which I find unparallel not only with what my Professor explained to us but also to my general, unspoken wish to be the most acceptable and desirable rationale behind the “Filipinas’ decision. Almario’s emphasis on the ‘modernizing’ function of this change in the spelling of the country’s name and his tying this up with the ‘history and development of its nationhood’ does not quite square with the idea of encompassing all the Philippine languages. These words by Almario sound like patterned on a very Western idea of progress, one that highlights the (inevitability?) of modernization as its history advances. My earliest, and very premature thought after hearing this ‘Filipinas’ decision was that this again exhibits our being under American thrall, since the F/P pair almost always sounds American versus Filipino to me. Definitely, this is with utter disregard of the fact that the /f/ sound is not totally alien in the Philippine languages.

Sure, that flagrant Manila-centrism should be addressed, at least in terms of the country’s name, but not only that this intention should be made clear, this intention should also be enacted in the other fields of the society, say in education and employment. Persisting still is the urban-rural and the national-regional/local/vernacular divides and while changing the country’s name to ‘Filipinas’ could help, its help can only be nil.

And of course, there is the issue of the expenses that this move will entail although Almario quite convincingly explained how this move will not cost as heftily as people think. But still we can always ask: is this really how people in the government think about spending the people’s money?

Lastly, I feel like this short essay will be all the more lacking if it does not raise the problematic issue of the ‘nation’ since it cannot be extricated from the issue at hand – more than the nation’s ontology, we should ask about its history, its people and how their varying experiences, feelings and ideas disparately construct the nation and how this differs from the popularized (institutional) idea of the ‘nation’ – and how, perhaps even dreamily, we can construct a concrete and collective idea of this ‘nation’. Certainly, language and how we use it to name our country/nation (Filipinas or Pilipinas?) is important in this nation-building, both in conceptual and concrete levels. But this nation-building, in both levels, is not only for the government via some ‘Komisyon’ or some veritable institution like the academy to decide upon; it is for all of us to be concerned about, and all for us to create both in the head and in the heat, in words and in the world. That is the best manner by which we can arrive at a genuinely shared and collective idea of our country, our nation and our relationship to it as its citizens.

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