Manuel L. Quezon and the 20-peso question
MANILA, Philippines – Do you know what is wrong in every P20 banknote printed since 2010?
Take a good look at one and maybe you can recognize the error. (Don't be alarmed. The bills are still legal tender.) This one is going to be a trivial yet surprising detail for most people. (READ: Should we have a national language?)
On the lower left side of the banknote, one can read in capital letters the phrase "Filipino as the national language 1935" in front of what seems to be an artist’s depiction of the 1934-35 Constitutional Convention. Beside it is the prominently displayed face of former president Manuel L. Quezon, known as "Ama ng Wikang Pambansa (Father of the National Language)."
Most people might err into thinking that there already was such a thing as "Filipino" as a national language in 1935; after all, it probably is a misconception taught to most Filipinos even before the new twenty peso bills were circulated.
Setting the record straight
As far as Philippine constitutions are concerned, the country has never had a "national language" until 1987 – save for the short-lived adoption of Tagalog during the Japanese occupation in 1943, and even then as a language still in the process of "development and propagation" as the national language.
There was no such thing as a language called “Filipino” back in 1935. It was not until the 1973 Constitution (Article XV, Section 3) that the idea of "Filipino" as a language ever came into existence, and even then it did so merely as a language provision in the Constitution, which a 2014 Rappler article describes as "...(it) proposes the development that shall be called 'Filipino.'" (READ: 12 reasons to save the national language)
In all 3 drafts of the 1934-35 Constitutional Convention concerning language policy, there is no mention of "Filipino" as a language – national, official, or otherwise. The evidence presents itself quite clearly:
"...the National Assembly shall take steps looking to the development and adoption of a language common to all the people on the basis of the existing native languages."
"... shall take steps toward the development and adoption for a common national language based on the existing native languages, and until otherwise provided by law, English and Spanish shall be the official languages."
"...shall take steps toward the development and adoption of a common national language based on one of the existing languages. Until otherwise provided by law, English and Spanish shall continue as official languages."
Aside from reasons such as a “need” for a national language for mutual intelligibility using a native tongue and the more romanticized, patriotic aspiration of having a language as a source of national pride and cohesion, there may have been another motivation, one that is familiar and perhaps persistent even in the present Philippine state of affairs.
Quezon, a Tagalog, complained of having to use an interpreter when campaigning in non-Tagalog areas. In one of his addresses, the former president recounted how he felt like "a stranger in my own country."
"When I travel through the provinces and talk to my people, I need an interpreter," he said, describing the experience as "humiliating" and "horrible."
If there is anything worth pondering from this, it is of how young we are as a nation, of how easy it still is for us to feel like strangers in our own country. (READ: Policies on use of Filipino language)
The mere misprint or "misinterpretation" seems insignificant at first glance, but it says a lot about the little mistakes that Filipinos as a people turn a blind eye to.
It is most likely that the misprint was just an "honest mistake." Rather than to blame whoever was in charge, may this article serve to enlighten readers and make us Filipinos feel at the least a little less of a stranger, and more rooted and at home in the languages and history of our own country. – Rappler.com
Joshua Justin D. Ramos is a recent graduate of BA Araling Pilipino (Philippine Studies).