Back to Article List


       As mandated in the 1935 Philippine Constitution, a national language was to be adopted and developed based on one of the existing native languages.  In 1937, the Institute of National Language (INL) which was created to direct the selection, propagation and development of the national language, recommended that Tagalog be the basis for the adoption of the national language of the country.  In the same year, then President Manuel Quezon signed Executive Order No. 134 declaring Tagalog as basis of the national language.

       On April 12, 1940, Executive Order No. 263 was issued ordering among others, the teaching of the national language in all public and private schools in the country.

       A Department Order was subsequently issued by the Secretary of Public Instruction on April 8, 1940 to implement the aforementioned Executive Order.  Bureau Education Circular No. 26, s. 1940 provides that “… effective June 19, 1940, the national language shall be taught forty minutes a day as a regular, required two-semester subject “… The national language shall replace an elective in each semester of the second year in normal schools and shall be an additional subject of all secondary schools …”

       The national language, more popularly known as Tagalog, was therefore, first introduced in the fourth year of all public and private high schools and in the second year of all public and private teacher-training institutions.

       The inclusion of Tagalog in the curriculum was viewed as a positive direction towards more effective teaching and learning since, compared with English, Tagalog would be an easier language to use as tool of learning.   This significant move also marked the beginning of the critical process of developing the national language and disseminating it nationwide mainly through the schools.

       Meanwhile, Tagalog was popularized more widely when the Japanese forces invaded the country in 1942.  The Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Imperial Forces ordered the prohibition of the use of English and the Filipino people’s reliance upon Western nations particularly the United States and Great Britain.

       Besides being declared as the official language, Tagalog was to become the medium of instruction in schools during the Japanese regime.  (Teachers who were used to using English, however, were reportedly teaching secretly in English and not in Tagalog.)

       In 1943, President Laurel issued Executive Order No. 10 mandating educational reforms which included, among other things, the teaching of the national language in all elementary schools, public and private, and the training of national language teachers on a massive scale effective at the beginning of the school year 1944-1945.  Major emphasis was given to the development of the national language.  It was during the Japanese regime, then that the teaching of the national language became part of the curriculum at all levels.  It was introduced as a subject in all grades at the elementary and high school levels.  In 1944, non-Tagalog teachers started learning the language through the opening of a Tagalog Institute to enable them to teach and use the language.

       Executive Order No. 44 was issued by President Laurel to lay down educational policies which included the restoration of the University of the Philippines, which was tasked with the promotion of Philippine nationalism, and the development of the national language, among others.  In line with this provision, the curricula of higher education institutions had the national language as one of its compulsory subjects.

       The school system was reorganized when the Americans came to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese invasion.  English, again, became the principal medium of instruction with Tagalog taught as a required subject in the elementary and secondary levels.

       In 1957, a new language policy was adopted in Philippine schools, following a period of intensive research and experimentations on which language to use best as medium of instruction.  In an attempt to make the school system more relevant to the needs of the times, the Board of National Education, a policy-making body in education, decided that the “medium of instruction in the first two grades of the elementary school shall be the local vernacular; that at the same time the national language (named Pilipino in 1959) shall be taught informally beginning in Grade I and given emphasis as a subject in the higher grades; that English shall be taught as a subject in Grades I and II and used as medium of instruction beginning in Grade III”.  The vernacular was used as auxiliary medium in the the primary while Pilipino was used as an auxiliary medium in the intermediate and high school levels.

       This Revised Educational Program of 1957 was criticized strongly due to the observed weakness of the multilingual policy which it promoted.  The use of no less than four languages (English, Pilipino, Spanish and the vernacular) did not prove effective in educating the Filipino child.

       Various surveys and language experiments were undertaken two years after the implementation of the new program in an attempt to formulate more workable and effective policies on language use in schools.  These included the classic Iloilo and Rixal experiments (See Davis, 1967: Philippine Language Teaching Experiments.  PCLS Monograph Series No. 5 for details), and the 1968 Language Policy Survey conducted by the Language Study Center of the Philippine Normal College.

       The outcomes of these researches provided valuable inputs in formulating a new policy on bilingual education which was implemented beginning 1974 following the ratification of the Philippine Constitution in 1973.   The new program was disseminated through DECS Order No. 25, series 1974.

       Bilingual education, as defined in the DECS Order mentioned refers to the separate use of Pilipino and English as media of instruction in specific subject areas from grade I in all schools.  Pilipino was allocated to Social Studies/Social Science, Work Education, Character Education, Music, Health and Physical Education.  All other subjects were taught in English.  As the guidelines provided, Pilipino and English were taught as subjects in elementary and secondary schools to achieve the goals of bilingualism.

       The first phase of implementation provided for a four-year transition period (1974-1978).  This was done to allow schools in non-Tagalog areas to prepare for a gradual shift to Pilipino as medium of instruction by preparing needed teaching materials and training teachers to teach in Pilipino.  The use of Pilipino in the subjects mentioned was to become mandatory in both elementary and secondary schools beginning school year 1978-1979.

       The DECS Order did not give specific guidelines regarding the implementation of the bilingual program at the tertiary level.   The Institute of National Language took notice and recommended to the National Board of Education that implementing guidelines be formulated for the higher education institutions.  Consequently, Department Order No. 50, s. 1975 was issued by the Board prescribing the offering of English and Pilipino courses as part of the curricula of tertiary institutions.  Further, the Order states that by school year 1984, all graduates of tertiary institutions should be able to pass examinations in English and/or Pilipino for the practice of their professions.

       The 1974 Bilingual Education Program was revised in 1987 following the ratification of the 1986 Philippine Constitution.   Article XIV, Sec. 6 of said Constitution resolved all controversies regarding the national language, when it categorically stated that “the national language of the Philippines is Filipino …”  Sec. 7 of the same document further supported the bilingual policy as it stated, ” … 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 mandated as auxiliary official languages and media of instruction in the region.

       In the revised policy on bilingual education (DECS Order No. 52, s. 1987), “Filipino and English shall be used as media of instruction, the use allocated to specific subjects in the curriculum as indicated in DECS Order No. 25, s. 1974”.  The two languages shall also be taught as subjects in all levels to achieve bilingual competence.

       The continuing intellectualization of Filipino to be led by higher education institution is also one of the guidelines articulated by the aforementioned DECS Order.

       Studies conducted on the evaluation of the bilingual education program revealed that the program is not seriously being implemented especially by private schools.  At the tertiary level, it appeared that the policy is not a priority.  Many institutions seemed to have put more premium on the use and teaching of English, the main language aspiration of many Filipinos.  Studies also showed the very low level proficiency in the two languages of both the teachers and students.

       In 1990, a Congressional Commission was created to survey Philippine education.  The Commission, more popularly known as EDCOM, recommended among other things the use of Filipino as language of instruction at all levels by the year 2000.  The language recommendation has not been acted upon by Congress up till now because of strong oppositions raised by various sectors.

       Meanwhile, in 1994, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) was created by virtue of Republic Act No. 7722, otherwise known as the Higher Education Act of 7722, otherwise known as the “Higher Education Act of 1994”.  One of the first things CHED did was to revise the curriculum.

       In 1996, Commission on Higher Education issued a CHED Memorandum Order (CMO) No. 59 titled New General Education Curriculum (GEC) which was implemented, beginning school year 1997-1998 as part of all baccalaureate degree programs in all Higher Education Instructions (HEI’s) in the Philippines.

       The minimum requirements for this mandatory GEC, include 9 units in Filipino, and 9 units in English.  For the first time in so many years, Filipino and English are given equal treatment in the curriculum.  Literature, which used to be studied as language, is now treated as an art form under Humanities and has been allocated 6 units.

       To accommodate the needs of HEI’s offering technology and non-HUSOCOM (humanities, social science and communication) courses, CHED issued Memorandum Number 04, s. 1997), superceding CMO No. 59, s. 1996.  This memo differentiates the Filipino language requirements for HUSOCOM and non-HUSOCOM courses’ i.e., 9 units for the former and 6 for the latter.

       As regards medium/media of instruction, CHED Memo 59 states that:

“Language courses whether Filipino or English should be taught in that language.

At the discretion of the HEI’s, Literature subjects may be taught in Filipino, English  or any other language as long as there are enough instructional materials for the same and both students and instructors/professors are competent in the language.

Courses in the humanities and social sciences should preferably be taught in Filipino. “

About the Author:
Clemencia Espiritu, Ph.D. obtained her Ph. D. in Linguistics at the Philippine Normal University and is the Founding President of Asosasyon ng mga Dalubguro sa Filipino (ADFIL). She is the Director for Language Study Center of the Philippine Normal University and chairs the Technical Committee for Filipino Commission on Higher Education.