A Treatise For Spanish

Rosalinda L. Orosa

Spanish is indispensable in unraveling our history, literature, culture and identity, in strengthening our economy through increased trade with Latin America, and in forging ahead for our very survival when Spanish will be a universal language.
Past Philippine presidents fervently espoused the preservation and promotion of Spanish. Here is what they wrote (translation supplied)

Manuel L. Quezon: Spanish is what links us to the Hispanic countries. We should have the prudence and patriotism to conserve it not because we would be good Filipinos if we loved Spain but because to be good Filipinos we should love everything that serves to strengthen the Philippines and assure its independence and tranquility.

Diosdado Macapagal: In my judgement, it is not necessary to stress keeping Spanish alive and fecund for the present and future of our culture and international life, which language forms, in no small measure, an integral part of the sacrosanct legacy of our forbears. The Division of Spanish and Culture and in the Department of Education is sufficient proof of the importance Filipinos give to the language. With it, patricians and peasants gave substance to their patriotic labors toward whose fruition we are working with sustained effort.

Carlos P. Garcia: Fervently convinced of the survival of Spanish in our country, considering it one of the firmer bases of the culture which honors and distinguishes us, and taking into account that our history is written in that same language used by our leaders, by the formulators of Filipino thought, by the heroes and martyrs of our glorious past, I believe it my just and grateful duty to advocate the conservation of Spanish for posterity.

Elpidio Quirino: Spain gave us its rich and harmonious language which was the effective element for bonding and communicating with the culture and civilization beyond our borders, which language filled the pages of our literature in its most exquisite manifestations. Now it is the language we use to pray for God’s grace and help in our undertakings.

President Macapagal Arroyo, an avid hispanista whose language at home was Spanish, advocated its use in her speech before the Academia Filipina.

The highly controversial dictator Ferdinand Marcos had an acute sense of history toward Spanish. Presidential Decree No. 155, signed on March 15, 1973, reads in part:

"Whereas Article XV of the new Constitution stipulates that English and Spanish, until decreed otherwise by law, will continue to be the official languages;

"Whereas a considerable portion of the documents in the government archives are written in Spanish, and are not officially translated into English or Pilipino;

"Whereas it is important to preserve the legal force of the important documents in government archives which are written in Spanish, until they are translated into English or Pilipino;

"Whereas the Spanish language is part of our invaluable national heritage which we share with the great community of hispanic nations,

"Therefore, I, Ferdinand E. Marcos, President of the Philippines, order and decree that Spanish continue to be recognized as one of the official languages as long as the documents in the archives are not translated into English or Pilipino. This decree forms part of the law of the land and will take effect immediately."

The official language of the Revolutionary Government was Spanish. Its magnum opus–the Malolos Constitution–the laws and official decrees, Mabini’s Decalogue which Teodoro Kalaw described as "the golden locket of the Revolution" were in Spanish.

Many Filipinos in the 19th century went to Spain to absorb liberal ideas of governance and to write about the political situation in their own country. Among these were Rizal, Juan and Antonio Luna, Pedro A. Paterno (the architect of the Pact of Biac-na-Bato which instigated the revolution against Spain), the great orator Graciano Lopez-Jaena, Marcelo H. del Pilar who founded La Solidaridad–the newspaper of the Reform Movement in Spain (1889 to 1896)–and authored La Soberania Monacal en Filipinas (Monastic Supremacy in the Philippines)1888. Mabini’s La Revolucion Filipina, 1902, analyzes the rise and fall of the revolution against Spain. But our past history under early American rule was likewise in Spanish as written by Filipinos, among them Mabini whose many essays and manifestoes denounced not only Spanish but also American colonial rule, and Teodoro Kalaw whose classic editorial Aves de Rapiña (Birds of Prey) in El Renacimiento earned him a libel suit from the American officials. Fernando Ma. Guerrero’s Mi Patria (My Country) and Cecilio Apostol’s Al Yankee (To the Yankee), 1899, both highly critical of the US, were written during or shortly after the Phil-Am war. How many of us are able to read the writings alluded to?

Indeed, we can totally comprehend our past, both under Spain and America, and ultimately discover in full our history, literature, culture and identity only by reading Spanish and Filipino writers of the colonial and post-colonial eras.

There are several archives in Spain, and in Sevilla alone, 500-year old manuscripts and documents relate to the Philippines. Yet, only those covering the first century of colonial rule have been transcribed by Filipino translators. Historian Gabriel Fabella laments thus: "We have barely scratched the surface of historical research and writing in the fields of Philippine history. Nothing or almost nothing has been written about the Philippines."

It is imperative to read all the documents in order to derive more insights into our character, traits and inherent talent. The early Spanish chronicler Pedro Chirino SJ noted the natives’ love for music and dances, and described their appearance, mannerisms and social behavior in "The Philippines in 1600"; their love for drinking and gambling did not escape another Jesuit, Francisco Colin. Magellan’s chronicler Antonio Pigafetta, in "The First Voyage Around the World" recorded native dances, music and instruments, and cockfighting, thus suggesting even earlier the natives’ inherent talent in dance and music, and penchant for gambling.

The voluminous centennial book "Discovering Philippine Art in Spain", representing the collaboration of 89 cultural institutions in Spain and the Philippines, unravels certain facets of Christian and non-Christian life in colonial times–clothing, jewelry, houses, weaponry, ethnological and Christian art. For all the tremendous labors the book involved, it is but a modest beginning.

A vital clue to Philippine colonial life and society lies in Rizal’s La Indolencia de los Filipinos (The Indolence of the Filipinos, 1890), Filipinos dentro de Cien Años (The Filipinos Within a Century, 1889), his novels Noli Me Tangere (1887and El Filibusterismo (1891). Several academicians contend that Filipino writing in English has yet to match the Noli and Fili in depth, insight, local color, sharpness of focus and breadth of vision. Further, from Rizal’s works, we can deepen our understanding of Filipino psychology, attitudes, sentiments, superstitions, prejudices, predilections and proclivities.

And then, there are the literary masterpieces of Recto, Apostol, Balmori, Guerrero and Bernabe.

Translations generally lack the cadence, elegant phraseology, inner layers and subtleties of meaning of the original; consequently, readers miss their true impact. As the eminent hispanista Claro Recto, senator, lawyer, dramatist and poet observed: "Those who do not know Spanish have to content themselves with reading the masterpieces of our heroes, writers and poets in ‘bastardized’ translations."

There is no substitute for the original. Further, among foreign languages, Spanish is for us the easiest to learn. Why? Ours was the first country in the Orient to have learned a European language (Spanish), absorbed modern ideas and carried on relations with other countries. Thus, Spanish is the most familiar language to us, its vestiges still remaining. According to the noted Tagalista Lope K. Santos, more than five thousand Tagalog words and expressions are derived from Spanish; e.g., lamesabintana, the common greeting Kumusta? from Como estas? 

To illustrate how much easier it is for us to learn Spanish, my late father, a doctor of medicine, was self-taught in it. (To be sure, Spanish was more widely spoken in his time.) He began reading the Noli with a dictionary beside him. As he went along, he was consulting the dictionary less and less until he finally discarded it. He kept deepening his knowledge of the language by reading literary and historical works in Spanish, then writing in it, and finally receiving the Premio Zobel in 1957 for his essay "El Patriotismo en las Poesias de Rizal". My mother, likewise a doctor of medicine, had scant tutoring in Spanish but in 1983, at the age of 93, she also won the Premio Zobel for translating her Tagalog and English essays and a one-act play into Spanish.

Their personal advantage in knowing Spanish often converged with the country’s gain. When my parents attended the WHO conference in Geneva, they made contacts with Latin-American delegates, thus widening to some extent Philippine sphere of influence.

Also for the country’s gain were the Spanish legacies my mother left: the Revolutionary song Birola, Birola, Birola with its smattering of Tagalog and the song La Bella Filipina which exalts Filipino pulchritude. The international pianist Raul Sunico intends to make musical arrangements of both songs; Jorge Ortoll of May-I, the Philippine Theater Company in New York, has both songs for future use. A local military office asked for a copy of Birola when it was published years ago.

The revolutionary song goes this way: Birola, birola, birola, los Castilas subieron montes (The Spaniards climbed mountains)/Birola, birola, birola, Los Castilas siguieron atras. (The Spaniards moved back.) Se marcharon los cazadores/Se marcharon guardia civiles (The hunters and civil guards marched) Mandaluyong y Sta. Ana, gritaron guardia a formar. (They shouted to form guard.) Makati y Guadalupe, se armaron bayoneta, y al toque de la corneta, ninguno se escapo. (They armed themselves with bayonets, and at the sound of the trumpet, none escaped.) 

Que tiroteo pacbong, que cañonazo, bungbong. 
(They fired and shot with cannons at random.) Los Hispanos no ganaran, no ganaran (The Spaniards won’t win) Y al fin de esto, se marcharan, se marcharan. (And at the end, they will go away.) Viva Emilio y Pio del Pilar, Vivan los soldados, valor singular. (Long live our valiant soldiers.) Y alla Pio donde ataco, fuego derecha e izquierda, Castilay nagtacbo. (And there Pio where they attacked, firing right and left, the Spaniards fled.)

One more Filipino trait is revealed by the song: humor under fire although our soldiers, bare-footed, were armed only with boloes.

(Compare the light-hearted Birola with Apostol’s rousing indictment of Spanish oppression in his poem to Rizal: Si una bala destrozo tu craneo, tambien tu idea destrozo un imperio. If a bullet destroyed your cranium, likewise your idea destroyed an empire.)

Two hispanistas, far more prominent than my parents, might further inspire us to a diligent study of Spanish: Cardinal Sin, the most influential clergyman of this generation–he received the Premio Zobel in the 1990s–and Doña Aurora Aquino, Ninoy’s mother.

Cardinal Sin’s Chinese father spoke not a word of Spanish but his mother, of Spanish ancestry, encouraged him to cultivate the language. Thus, he avidly read Menendez and Pelayo, the speeches of Vazquez and Mella, the words of Fray Luis de Granada, the books of St. John of the Cross, and Cervantes’ novel "Don Quijote de la Mancha". 

The young seminarian conversed in Spanish with his mother who repeatedly assured him: "God speaks and thinks only in Spanish." In this regard, she totally agreed with Doña Aurora Aquino who, as guest speaker at the awarding of the Premio Zobel to Ambassador Juan Rocha in 1988, observed that the Trappist monk Thomas Merton contends praying in Spanish is the best approach to God. Prayer, of course is universal; every prayer is heard, but Merlon believes God lends an ear especially to prayers in Spanish. (Recall President Quirino addressing the Almighty in Spanish.)

Praying in the "right" language is important particularly to us Catholics who borrowed our religion and our language from Spain. But there are equally pressing considerations that should re-kindle our enthusiasm for Spanish. Despite our proven advantageous facility for learning it, other Orientals, to whom Spanish is an alien tongue, are acquiring literacy in it more rapidly than we are. Japan boasts of over a million Spanish-speaking residents, a number steadily increasing, and the Thais and Koreans are not far behind. Coldly pragmatic, they realize that Spanish is the second most widely-spoken language in the world, and communicating in it will open more Latin-American markets to them. The 20 million Spanish-speaking Americans have heeded what Sen. Edward Kennedy said way back in 1968: "No part of the developing world holds as much promise and danger for the future of American civilization as does Latin America."

In an oblique reference to the importance of Spanish, the late Spanish Nobel Prize recipient Camilo Jose Cela told UP students: "In centuries to come, perhaps in a thousand years, the four universal languages will be English, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese." Cela had extensively analyzed world literature and the spoken word.

Since 1985, the Philippines has been a member of the Latin Union whose proceedings are conducted in Spanish. For this reason, our government should send to its conferences officials fluent in Spanish so they can gain attention. The incredibly swift advances in technology, science, air travel and communications have converted the world into a Global Village, and it would be lamentable if our officials, neglecting to cultivate Spanish, would fail to revitalize their dialogue with Latin-American countries which could strengthen our economy through increased trade and commerce.

What APEC started as an economic interaction among regions "sharing" the Pacific Ocean–these include Latin America and Mexico–should end in a dialogue, thus converting a geographic reality into a linguistic one, for quicker access of our officials to the great Hispanic community.

How strongly and effectively Philippine presence was felt in the United Nations through the assistance of this Hispanic community was vividly illustrated by Carlos P. Romulo who, speaking as U.P. president before the Circulo Cervantino in 1966, recounted his personal experience (translation supplied):

"I was ambassador to the UN when the Philippine delegation proposed that Spanish be the fifth language of the UN agencies, the others being English, French, Russian and Chinese. My best friends in the UN were the Hispano-American ambassadors because I spoke Spanish with them. We are in fact brothers and they regard us as such. They comprise 21 solid votes, and to these may be added those of the Asia-African bloc to which we also belong. When I became candidate for president of the UN General Assembly, the Mexican ambassador headed my campaign, and the Arab ambassador was my principal ally–and for their help, the delegates of Asia and Africa, and the Latin-America bloc cast their votes for me."

Romulo was elected president of the UN General Assembly on its fourth session on Sept. 20, 1949. For an update, Max Soliven, reporting on the 33rd session of the UNESCO General Conference in Paris last October of 2005, wrote in his column: "It seemed from the Mexican chairman down to the Latin-American and some other delegates, much of the discussion was in Spanish (by gosh, why did Cory strike out Spanish from the college curriculum?)."

What exactly is the status of Spanish in our schools? The UP requires 15 units for history majors; 42 for Spanish majors. The Ateneo offers five Spanish subjects meant to service the European Studies Program. Basic grammar courses are Spanish I and II; Spanish III consists of readings in current events; Spanish IV deals with popular culture from 1975 to the present, and translation. Spanish V is for business use. The UST requires six units for all under-graduate, four-year courses except engineering and commerce. Graduate students require six units of a foreign language (but not necessarily of Spanish).

Incredibly enough, the Commission on Higher Eduction (CHED) requires a measly six units of Spanish for college students–and only for those majoring in literature! Note that CHED oversees the country’s centers of knowledge consisting of 1,538 colleges and universities, and sets the policies for higher education that affects almost three million students and about 93,000 professors in both private and state run-colleges and universities.

The virtual neglect of Spanish is a fatal blunder in view of the foregoing premises and conclusions. Why don’t Foreign Language Department heads of all educational institutions urge the CHED–in a grand summit meeting–to re-evaluate the vast and vital importance of Spanish in the curriculum? Shall we persist in our muddled and confused state, wondering about our past and uncertain of our future?

For CHED officials, as it is for the rest of us, let me quote further from the stirring defense of Spanish which Romulo, as UP president, delivered before the Circulo Cervantino in 1966 (translation supplied):

"The major part of our history is Spanish. Our grand fortunes are religion and the Spanish language–a strong heritage whose legality or legitimacy cannot be denied. It would be egregious to eschew Christianity because we acquired it from Spain just as it would be egregious to eschew Spanish for the same reason. Other countries conserve acquisitions of the past. We don’t. Has not Spain contributed to our linguistic heritage?

"The greater tragedy in eliminating Spanish is the loss of our prestige outside the country. Even if Spain–God forbid–would cease to exist, her language would continue to exist in Hispano-America as the language of its remarkable culture, brilliant civilization, the sorrows and joys of the present and the hopes and ambitions of the future.

"Hispano-Americans consider us brothers, co-inheritors with them of what Spain has left: her religion and her language. A brother would feel profound resentment toward his brother were he to abandon what is priceless in the world of the spirit.

"Our acquisition of Spanish has cost us, to borrow the words of Winston Churchill, ‘blood, sweat and tears’. What tragedy it would be if, owing to the false sense of pragmatism of those who have not seen the world beyond Corregidor, we should not turn our back to so much blood, sweat and tears."

To recapitulate, Spanish is indispensable in unravelling our history, literature, culture and identity, in strengthening our economy through increased trade with Latin America, and in forging ahead for our very survival in a world where the daunting challenge will be Spanish as a universal language.

Note: This article was originally published at http://bit.ly/2yZ3tXx

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