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       The emergence of a national language that could unite the whole country is the realization of a dream that goes back to the year 1935. President Manuel L. Quezon of the Commonwealth of the Philippines made this possible through the inclusion of an article in the 1935 Constitution of the Philippines regarding the development of a national language.

       Of the more than a hundred languages being spoken by the different ethnolinguistic groups of dwellers in the more than seven thousand and one hundred islands comprising the Philippines, eight of them are considered major languages. These major languages are Ilocano, Pangasinan, Pampango, Tagalog, Bicol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon and Waray-Samarnon.

       The 1935 Constitution Article XIV, Section 3 states that “…Congress shall make necessary steps towards the development of a national language which will be based on one of the existing native languages…” There are two significant words in the statement, namely existing and native. The initial step made by the national Assembly was the passing of Commonwealth Act No. 184 (1936) that created a national committee and empowered its members to decide on which one of the existing native major languages will the national language be based. The committee members were eminent linguists and each one of them representing a linguistic group or one of the major languages. They were Jaime C. de Veyra (Hiligaynon), Santiago Fonacier (Ilocano), Casimiro Perfecto (Bicol), Felix Salas Rodriguez (Samarnon), Felimon Sotto (Cebuano), Cecilio Lopez (Tagalog), and Hadji Butu (Maranao-Maguindanao). Mr. Jaime de Veyra was the chairman of the said committee. A year later, four more committee members were included. They were Isidro Abad (Cebuano), Zoilo Hilario (Pampango), Jose Zulueta (Pangasinan) and Lope K. Santos (Tagalog).

       After a thorough and earnest effort in studying the case, the committee recommended Tagalog to be the basis of the national language. Hence, the Executive Order No. 134 s. 1937 stating that the national language will be based on Tagalog. Three years after the proclamation of Tagalog as the basis of the national language (officially called “Pilipino” since 1959) it was decided as one of the official languages of the Philippines. It was taught as a subject in the teacher education courses and in the elementary and secondary schools throughout the country. Lope K. Santos who was then appointed director of the Institute of National Language (1939), undertook the preparation of grammar book (Balarila ng Wikang Pambansa) which constitute the bulk of what was taught in school.

       The Tagalog-based national language was taught in school only as one of the subject areas (1940) but was not adapted as the medium of instruction. During World War II, the Japanese encouraged the use of the National Language rather than English in the schools. The Tagalog-based national language was, therefore, propagated not only in education but also in mass media and in official communication. The census for 1948 reported that 7,126,913 people or 37.11% of the population spoke the language, representing an increase of 11.7% from the 1939 figure of 4,068,565. Of these seven million people, 47.7% learned it as a second language (Liamzon).

       Once again, the National Language issue sparked heated discussion during the 1973 Constitutional Convention. A committee on National Language (CNL) was created by the convention delegates to look into the language question and to make recommendations on the policy that should be adapted on the matter. The CNL, after hearing conflicting testimonies from various language experts in the country, recommended to eliminate Pilipino and replace it with a new “common national language to be known as Filipino, based on existing native languages…”. The FILIPINO to be developed pursuant to the 1973 constitution could be a fusion of the different native languages. This CNL recommendation met a great deal of oppositions from various sectors of the community. They pointed out that such an artificial language was not feasible, since it lacked both native speakers and a literary tradition to help propagate it.

       FILIPINO, the national language of the Philippines was finally settled in the 1987 Constitution. Article XIV section 6 states that “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.

       The constitution also provided that subject to provision of law and as the congress may deem appropriate, the Government shall take steps to initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official communication and as language of instruction in the educational system.

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

       The regional languages are the auxilliary official language in the region and shall serve as auxilliary media of instruction therein.”

       It is predicted that by the year 2000, the Philippines will be a Filipino lingua franca speaking nation, which is quite an achievement wrought within a time-frame of around 65 years (1935-2000).

About the Author:
Paz M. Belvez is a retired Professor IV of the Philippine Normal University and has crafted curriculum for the same school and authored textbooks.