Philippine languages

FAQs: Why spell it as ‘Filipinas’?

Virgilio S. Almario

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FAQs: Why spell it as ‘Filipinas’?
When writing in Filipino, how should we spell the name of our country? National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario answers some of the frequently asked questions in this debate.

A few days before the start of August, which is National Language month in the Philippines, the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) announced, through its fairly new chairman Arthur Casanova, that the agency had agreed to spell the country’s name as Pilipinas, and its citizens’ name as Pilipino. They cited the Tagalog translation of the 1987 Constitution, which spells the two words that way. 

This policy reverses the unanimous resolution of the KWF board in 2013 to spell the two words as  Filipinas and Filipino. Then-chairman Virgilio S. Almario said these were in accordance with the country’s original name Filipinas. The spellings, he said, also showed the inclusive nature of the language development they had been promoting – the words used the letter F, which could be found in a multitude of languages across the Philippines but wasn’t in the old Tagalog-based alphabet. 

Almario, National Artist for Literature, answers here some of the frequently asked questions in this debate. This primer was prepared in 2013.– Editor 

Why ‘Filipinas’?

There are three reasons behind the Board of Commissioners Resolution
No. 13-19 (12 April 2012) of the Commission on the Filipino Language
or Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF).

First, history. There are now three forms of the name of our country:

  • “Filipinas,” the name given by Villalobos in 1548 and used officially by Legazpi when he established the Spanish colony beginning 1565, which was used continuously for 300 years until the time of Rizal and Bonifacio, and again used as the name of the First Asian Republic – the “Republica Filipinas” established in Malolos in 1898.
  • “Philippines,” the name used by the Americans when they entered our country in 1898, and officially used by the Constitution of 1935 and up to the current Constiution of 1987.
  • “Pilipinas,” the name used starting around the first decade of the 20th
    century and more consistently around the 1940s when the abakada
    without the F was promoted for general usage, and continued as the
    translation for “Filipinas” and “Philippines” in works and documents
    written in the Pilipino language (which was the name given in 1959 to
    the national language using the abakada).

Second, language change and development. In the 1973 Constitution, it was stated that “Filipino” instead of “Pilipino” should be the name of the national language. This was restated in the 1987 Constitution, together with the proposed modernization and enrichment of the national language by way of the native languages. The first step in this language change was the eschewing of the abakada and the promotion and spread of the alpabeto with the additional letters C, F, J, Ñ, Q, V, X, Z. Now that the national language has an F and is called Filipino, isn’t it simply logical to promote the spelling, “Filipinas,” and gradually discourage the use of “Pilipinas”?

Third, to be consistent with the method of using the eight additional letters in the Ortagrapiyang Pambansa (National Orthography) being promoted by the KWF. This is the first comprehensive examination of the new alphabet and should be read closely by the users of the Filipino language and other native languages. The case of “Filipinas” is an application of the letter F in borrowed proper nouns. According to Rule 4.6 in the said document:

Borrowing with the Use of the 8 New Letters. At present, therefore, all the eight borrowed letters in the new alphabet are used in three instances of borrowing from foreign languages. First, in proper nouns borrowed from foreign languages, such as, Charles, Ceferino, Catherine, Colorado, Fidel, Feliza, San Fernando, Filipinas, Jason, Jennifer, St. Joseph, Jupiter, Beijing, Niñez, Montaño, Santo Niño, Enrique, Quiroga, Quirino, Vicente, Vladimir, Nueva Vizcaya, Vancouver, Xerxes, Maximo, Mexico, Zenaida, Zion, Zobel, Zanzebar. Second, in scientific and technical terms, such as, “carbong dioxide,” “Albizia falcataria,” “jus sanguinis,” “quorum,” “quo warranto,” “valence,” “x-axis,” “oxygen,” “zeitgeist,” “zero,” “zygote.” Third, in words that cannot be respelled easily, such as, cauliflower, flores de mayo, jaywalking, queen, quiz, mix, pizza, zebra.

If that is the case, should words borrowed from the Spanish with the letter F and already respelled with P revert to F?

It is in fact clearly disallowed under Rule 4.2 of Ortgrapiyang Pambansa or OP and considered as a waste of time. Instead, the new letters like F should only be used in words sourced from native languages with such sounds and in new borrowings from foreign languages, such as “fosil” from Spanish or “fern” from English, or scientific and technical words such as “formaldehyde.”

Is it also necessary to respell into ‘Filipinas’ the names of institutions and organizations presently spelled as ‘Pilipinas’?

It is not necessary. It is stated in the third paragraph of the Resolution No. 13-19 of the KWF that the shift for institutions and organizations with “Pilipinas” in their name is not compulsory. Although they will be encouraged to shift, it is their option to maintain their present name and be part of the history of the language as representing the time when the abakada was in use. The implementation of the KWF resolution was expected for new groups to be named and organized in the future.

Should ‘Unibersidad ng Pilipinas” be made into ‘Unibersidad ng Filipinas’?

As in the answer to the previous question, it is not necessary to change the name of “Unibersidad ng Pilipinas.” It will be up to the decision of the UP constituency. The Resolution does not affect, either, the initials “UP” because these are in English and are derived from the English name “University of the Philippines.” That’s why the initials are pronounced “Yoo Pee.” If these were in Pilipino, they would be pronounced “Oo Pah.”

Should ‘Pinas’ be changed into ‘Finas’ and ‘Pinoy’ into ‘Finoy’?

It is not necessary. “Pinas” is derived from the third and fourth syllables, which are “FiliPINAS” and “Pinoy” is in turn only derived from “Pinas.” That’s why this is not affected by the proposed restoration of “Filipinas” from “Pilipinas.”

Isn’t this project too expensive for an impoverished country?

As stated in the KWF resolution, the change will be implemented gradually. For example, the letterheads, books, and other documents with “Pilipinas” on them will change only when supplies run out and new editions and printing become necessary. The country’s currency and banknotes (coins and paper money) will have the word “Filipinas” on them only when the Bangko Sentral issues new money. It is possible that the very first expense on the shift will be incurred for the Seal of the President and it will not cost over P100,000.

Why is the KWF intervening in the way the country’s name is spelled?

It is part of the mandate and function of KWF under Republic Act No. 7104 in pursuit of the provision of the 1987 Constitution that:

“Congress shall create a Commission on the National Language composed of representatives of the different regions and disciplines that shall conduct, coordinate, and support researches for the development, promotion, and maintenance of Filipino and other languages.”

According to RA 7104, it is the function of the KWF to formulate policies and programs to promote and enrich Filipino, as well as the rules in the pursuance of these policies and programs. The case of “Filipinas” is part of the general reform in the use of Filipino as outlined in Ortograpiyang Pambansa. In addition, this case is only one of the many problems that must be addressed in relation to the creation of an Atlas Filipinas—a geographic dictionary that is very necessary and needs to be done soon in order to fix the spelling of the place names, municipalities, provinces, and regions in the whole country.

Isn’t ‘Filipinas’ symbolic of colonial mentality?

Maybe true because it is derived from the name of King Philip of Spain. But it is also a symbol for the linkage and union of the barangay, tribes, and islands of our archipelago. Before “Filipinas,” what Legazpi referred to as Indios were a disjointed, scattered lot. He colonized us but also gave us a first means towards national unity.

On the other hand, it is rather difficult to say that by just calling our country “Pilipinas” is already nationalistic. This happened merely because of the abakada. Did the meaning of “Filipinas” change because the P was made into F? Similarly, did the Spanish forma change meaning because it was spelled as porma? Truth is, “Pilipino” – the name of the language corresponding to “Pilipinas” – was rejected during the 1970s because like the abakada it carried a Tagalog memory. “Pilipino” was replaced with “Filipino” for the latter to symbolize the modern nationalistic aspiration.

The alphabet with the eight additional “Filipino” letters is reflective of the aim to include and involve the native languages of the country which had been deprived of participation in the abakada of “Pilipino” of a country called “Pilipinas.” It is more from such a new nationalist vision of the “Filipino” that the proposal of KWF to recover the spelling of “Filipinas” originates. For KWF, “Filipino” and “Filipinas” symbolize the inclusive nationalist spirit of the 1987 Constitution and is more reminiscent of the revolutionary ideas of Rizal, Plaridel, Bonifacio, and Mabini.

Why won’t the KWF think of a new name for the country?

Why not, indeed? But this is not the function of KWF and is outside the scope of the Ortograpiyang Pambansa. This will need a different and meaningful rationale, which might be more nationalistic, but will definitely need an act of Congress and of the President of the Philippines. KWF will accede to whatever proposal will win as a new name for our Filipinas.

Why must KWF make the name of country a problem in the middle of the bigger problems of poverty and corruption that should instead be the concern of everyone?

First, the problem of the country’s name shouldn’t in fact be a problem although it became the topic of heated debates created by those opposed to the KWF resolution on the Ortograpiyang Pambansa.

Second, the problem of the country’s name is intimately connected with the KWF’s mandate to oversee and guide the use of the Filipino language. On the other hand, all government offices are involved in the problem of poverty and corruption but there are other departments specifically tasked with counteracting them.

National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario is a former chairperson of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino.

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