What the PH constitutions say about the national language

Nigel Tan

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What the PH constitutions say about the national language
Trace the evolution of the ‘national language’ based on past Philippine constitutions leading to the 1987 Charter

MANILA, Philippines – The national language of the Philippines is Filipino – that’s according to the 1987 Constitution, particularly Article XIV, Section 6.

But how about in the previous constitutions? Take note that prior to our current constitution, we’ve had 4 constitutions since the declaration of Philippine independence in 1896. Has the definition of the national language been the same?

On the first week of our celebration of Buwan ng Wika (National Language Month), let’s take a look at all versions of the Philippine Constitution, and see what they had to say regarding the language of the land.

1899 Malolos Constitution

Under the Constitucion Politica de Malolos, the constitution of the short-lived first independent Philippine Republic, no single language was made compulsory in the Philippines except for Spanish but only “in public and judicial affairs.”

The full text of Title IX, Article 93 of the 1899 Constitution goes: “The use of the languages spoken in the Philippines shall not be compulsory. It cannot be regulated except by virtue of law and only for acts of public authority and judicial affairs. On such occasions, the Spanish language shall temporarily be used.”

The use of the Spanish language in the Philippines declined with the United States’ annexation of the Philippines in 1901 and the introduction of the American public education system,

1935 Constitution

Under the Americans, the Philippine Assembly launched numerous attempts to lobby for Philippine independence. Their efforts culminated in 1934 with the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which led to the foundation of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935.

When the constitution of the Commonwealth was being drafted, Camarines Norte Representative Wenceslao Vinzons proposed the inclusion of an article on adopting a national language.

His proposal bore fruit in Article XIII, Section 3 of the 1935 Constitution, which directed the National Assembly to “take steps toward the development and adoption of a common national language based on one of the existing native languages.” It also states that until otherwise provided by law, English and Spanish shall remain as the official languages of the Philippines.

Pursuant to this, Commonwealth Act 184 established the Institute of National Language (INL) in 1936, to study existing Philippine native languages and dialects and select one of them to be the basis of the development of a Filipino national language.

In November 1937, following studies and numerous debates among experts and proponents of various regional languages, the INL recommended Tagalog to be the basis for the national language of the country. This is based on expert opinion that Tagalog was found to be widely used and accepted by the greatest number of Filipinos, and that it already has a large literary tradition.

Based on this recommendation, President Manuel Quezon issued Executive Order 134 in December 1937, which proclaimed that Tagalog shall be the basis of the country’s national language.

In 1959, the Department of Education officially called Tagalog “Pilipino” to appease non-native Tagalog speakers. However, the label stuck to refer to a Tagalog-centric Philippine national language.

Due to the fact that a large majority of the Filipino population spoke other native Philippine languages, the choice of a Tagalog-based national language sparked a still ongoing debate on the basis of the national language of the country.

1943 Constitution

During the Second World War, the Japanese occupied the Philippines and established the Second Philippine Republic.

Part of Japan’s plan for dominance in Asia was to remove western Influence from its occupied Asian countries and to encourage local culture. This is reflected in Article IX, Section 2 of the 1943 Constitution, which removed English and Spanish as official languages and stated: “The government shall take steps toward the development and propagation of Tagalog as the national language.”

Like the Malolos Constitution, the 1943 Constitution was short lived. When Allied Forces liberated the Philippines in 1945, the 1935 Constitution was reinstated. However, with the constitution’s explicit mention of Tagalog, the 1943 Constitution furthered the idea of Tagalog as the basis of the country’s national language.

1973 Constitution

In 1971, a year before President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law, a Constitutional Convention began crafing a new constitution.

One of the contentious issues during the convention was the definition of the national language. Tagalog advocates remained firm on a Tagalog-based national language, while a great majority of delegates voted in favor of scrapping the notion of having a national language altogether.

The arguments came to a point that even the language used for the debates and the language of the 1973 Constitution became points of contention, with many voting for the use of the English language as a compromise.

The 1973 Constitution ended up with a carefully-worded Article XV, Section 3, which states: “(2) The Batasang Pambansa shall take steps towards the development and formal adoption of a common national language to be known as Filipino. (3) Until otherwise provided by law, English and Pilipino shall be the official languages.”

It was a compromise as it did not explicitly mention that Filipino was not to be based on Tagalog, nor did it state that a Tagalog-based national language was to be abandoned. Instead, it proposes the development of a language that shall be called “Filipino.”

Since the 1950s, “Pilipino” referred to the national language based on Tagalog alone. By ordering the Batasang Pambansa (National Assembly) to “take steps to develop” a national language to be known as “Filipino,” the 1973 Constitution introduced the idea that the Filipino national language, though still with Tagalog as its nucleus, is a “work in progress” subject to further development.

The compromise however was met with criticism, as detractors of “Filipino” stated that the eventual language to be developed would be artificial, lacking in both native speakers and literary tradition.

1987 Constitution

The current working definition of the Philippines’ national language is found in Sections 6 and 7 of Article XIV of the 1987 Constitution, which was created following the ouster of Marcos.

Section 6 states: “The national language of the Philippines is Filipino. As it evolves, it shall be further developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages.”

Section 7, says: “For purposes of communication and instruction, the official languages of the Philippines are Filipino and, until otherwise provided by law, English.”

The 1987 Constitution’s definition of the national language takes the notion of Filipino from the 1973 Constitution even further – by explicitly recognizing that the national language is subject to change through influence from local and foreign languages over time.

The definition also gives due consideration to the role of the other Philippine languages in shaping the national language. It also replaced “Pilipino” with “Filipino” as an official language.

In addition, Section 9 orders the establishment of a national language commission, which will enhance the language-formation role of regional languages through the representation of various regions and disciplines in the body. The task of this commission is to undertake, promote, and coordinate researches for the development, propagation, and preservation of Filipino and other languages.

The commission came to be known as the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (Commission on the Filipino Language), which was established in August 14,1991. – Rappler.com

Sources: Malolos Constitution 18991935 Constitution, Commonwealth Act No. 184 1936, National Commission For Culture and the Arts:Filipino Language in the CurriculumNCCA: Balanghay: The Filipino LanguageExecutive Order No. 263, S. 1940, 1943 Constitution, 1973 Constitution, Santiago & Otanes: The Elaboration of a Technical Lexicon of Pilipino, Republic Act 7104

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