“Englishization” of Philippine education and governance

Last week, my preggy wife complained about her enervated condition because of the couple of intensive chores she previously did. She was supposed to be the one attending Martin’s school program in commemoration of “Buwan ng Wika” (Month of Filipino Language). Because she could not, I must oblige if reluctantly. I wanted to report to office early.

We didn’t want to fail Martin who was eager to show us how great he is in a group poem recitation about nationalism. So I went, tagging along Josh, who was kicking to go anywhere away from home.

Good thing I did watch the program, which aside from showcasing kids’ talents, on the one hand, and some half-baked numbers, on the other, made me reflect on the theme of the balagtasan (a form of debate wherein a participant needs to argue in verse). It focused on whether the nation should use multiple languages or just one. The arguments were kind of interesting.

Debaters who pushed for multiple languages claimed that:

  1. Filipinos (with Jose Rizal as a shining example) have a God-given flair for speaking or writing many languages and it should be encouraged.
  2. More investors will come to the Philippines.
  3. Filipinos speaking particular dialects are attracted to participate in any national undertaking.
  4. Bilingualism is already accepted. (One debater said: “Wikang Filipino plus wikang banyaga ay kaunlaran sa ating bansa.)

Those who argued for a single language averred that:

  1. Even Rizal said that those who don’t love their mother language are worse than the smell of a rotten fish (“Ang di marunong magmahal sa sariling wika ay mas masahol pa sa malansa at mabahong isda.”)
  2. It lends itself for easy solving of problems even at the national level. Without it, greater problems will arise typical of what happened in the “Tower of Babel.”
  3. It gives the country an identity in the world.
  4. It is a language of love as sweetly spoken in a family and in communities.

The lakandiwa (debate moderator) ended the debate with a win-win conclusive statement that went something like: “Ang pagbigkas ng sariling wika ay isapuso’t isadiwa habang ang paggamit ng maraming wika ay nakatutulong sa kaunlaran ng bansa.” (Speak the national language with all your heart, but use [speak and write] many languages necessary for the nation’s economic progress.)

I don’t know whether the balagtasan was able to influence the thinking of both the teachers and students. I even am not sure whether they did it just for the sake of commemorating the month of the national language. I assume that universities and colleges had a more meaningful observance of the month. I think that the discourse should be focused on how the lingua franca has been used today, thanks to the conflicting policies of the government.

The Constitutional provisions vs. government’s actions

The Philippine Constitution of 1987 provides that the national language of the Philippines is Filipino. Under Article XIV, Sections 6 to 9, the Constitution further provides that:

  • The Filipino language shall be further developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages.
  • Subject to provisions 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.
  • 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 auxiliary official languages in the regions and shall serve as auxiliary media of instruction therein.
  • The Congress shall establish a national language commission composed of representatives of various regions and disciplines which shall undertake, coordinate, and promote researches for the development, propagation, and preservation of Filipino and other languages.

So what did the government do in accordance with those Constitutional provisions? First, government came up with the Bilingual Education Policy of 1987. It aims to “improve the use of Filipino and English by teaching these languages and by using them in all levels as media of instruction. The country wants its citizens to gain proficiency in Filipino language in order to perform civic duties, and to learn English in order to respond to the needs of the country in the community of nations.” Bilingual education is defined operationally as the separate use of Filipino and English as the media of instruction in specific subject areas. Pilipino (changed to Filipino in 1987) shall be used as medium of instruction in social studies/social sciences, music, arts, physical education, home economics, practical arts and character education. English, on the other hand, is allocated to science, mathematics and technology subjects.

Next, in August 1988, President Cory Aquino promulgated the Executive Order 335 which required all instrumentalities of government to use the Filipino language in official transactions, communications, and correspondence. The order was issued on the belief that the use of Filipino in such functions will “result to a greater understanding and appreciation of government programs, projects and activities throughout the country, thereby serving as an instrument of unity and peace for national progress.”

Then, in 1994, the creation of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) went with it a language policy vis-a-vis medium of instruction, that is:

  1. Language courses, whether Filipino or English, should be taught in that language.
  2. At the discretion of the higher education institution, 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.
  3. Courses in the Humanities and Social Sciences should preferably be taught in Filipino.

Lastly, in 2003, President Arroyo promulgated Executive Order 210, which aims to strengthen the use of the English language as a medium of instruction in the educational system. The policies are:

  1. English shall be taught as a second language, starting with the First Grade.
  2. English shall be used as the medium of instruction for English, Mathematics and Science from at least the Third Grade level.
  3. The English language shall be used as the primary medium of instruction in all public and private institutions of learning in the secondary level, including those established as laboratory and/or experimental schools, and non-formal and vocational or technical educational institutions. As the primary medium of instruction, the percentage of time allotment for learning areas conducted in the English language is expected to be not less than seventy percent (70%) of the total time allotment for all learning areas in the secondary level.

It is interesting to note that the motivation for this law were the views that education is a means to “achieve and maintain an accelerating rate of economic development and social progress” and that there is a need to “develop the aptitude, competence and proficiency of our students in the English language to maintain and improve their competitive edge in emerging and fast-growing local and international industries, particularly in the area of Information and Communications Technology (ICT).”

The Englishization of the national language

So there, the government must have been pressured by the international industries to change its language policies. Just because of the big promise of the huge employment opportunities for call centers, government deemed it necessary to instruct all educational institutions to teach and use English all the way. Even under the disguise as secondary language at Grade 1 level, English is still supreme from that level up.

I believe that the Constitution’s pro-Filipino stance goes with it an opening for government to nuance and eventually change that stance. The bilingual policy of 1987 and the “win-win” policy of CHED have practically been changed by EO 210.

I even think that Cory Aquino’s pro-Filipino policy in governance has failed, either. Respect and love for the Filipino language have just become a lip service. Try to visit http://www.gov.ph. The main page includes a link to the Filipino version of the site. If you click that, what you’ll see are just the Filipinized headings. The main content remains in English. I haven’t seen any agency site that at least provides a fully-Filipinized version.

Even as I blog in English (must I explain why?), I still believe that Filipino must remain the national language of the Philippines and it must be reflected in all spheres of the Filipino’s lives. Likewise, the “auxillary” languages, thus, the regional or ethnic dialects, must be respected, nurtured and protected by allowing institutions to use them.

Except for the English subject, Filipino must be used as a medium of instruction at the elementary and high school levels as well as non-formal courses in Tagalog regions. In non-Tagalog regions, regional dialects must (or may?) be used. Then for tertiary education, the CHED policy of 1992 must be retained, thus, allowing the institutions the choice for either Filipino or English but enjoining the use of Filipino in Humanities and Social Sciences.

In governance, let there be an executive order improving on Cory Aquino’s EO 335. Regional civil servants must be trained in the Filipino language to catch up on the Filipinized communications and transactions. Government’s web sites must have complete versions in Filipino and localized languages. I don’t care if that will be costly, if that will contribute to the protection and nurturing of Filipino languages, which are symbols of our culture.

Good thing the Philippine mass media (broadcast news, tabloids, etc.) remain practically un-Englishized. If government wants to be as close to the Filipinos as these media are, then it must change its ways of communicating with them. (I have this inkling that English has been used by the State versus the masses who the former thinks should not understand the real state of things in governance.)

Our Asian neighbors–Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, to name a few–have developed as they are today without Englishizing their mother languages. Indeed, culture and economic progress go hand in hand.

(Note: To know more about the issue, please visit Sawikaan.)


  1. Good blog. Linking to you on Philippine Commentary. But some caveats on this post:

    At least you are aware of the irony involved in arguing for Filipino aka Pilipino aka Tagalog as the national language using the most eloquent English. I would argue for English because every single constitution after Malolos has been written in English. Every Law is written, debated, promulgated in English; every Supreme Court decision is done in English. What the activists used to call “the superstructure” of the society for which we are preparing our kids is English for the most part. Our OFWs need English in a practical sense to survive in the global economy. Let’s face it, all attempts to teach math and science in Pilipino or other vernacular tongues are spectacular failures. The Medium must be able to deliver the Message. The Message needs to be expressible both in written and spoken forms.

    So either we give up on useless sentimentalism or we are gonna create a lot more Tagalog speaking tricycle drivers and GROs.

  2. PS: It turns out that Jose Rizal never said or wrote the famous quote you used about smelling like fish if you didn’t know your “native” language. Where did you actually get it? Do you have any reference for it? When and where did he say it? Or was it, like so much of our history invented by nationalsits for nationalists?

  3. I guess using English in the Philippines may no longer an issue in terms of nationalism. In the past people think that using the English language is a form of mother tongue displacement however, at present it is no longer an issue. I can say that English has become the language of the Filipinos. If an individual speaks or writes in English it does not make him or her less Filipino and most of all it does not make him or her less nationalistic.
    People must learn this time that the emergence of World Englishes specifically the varieties of English, Philippine English (PE) has been recognized as a new emerging variety of English. PE has developed its own lexical, structural and prosodic features.
    Based from my personal experience Filippinos working overseas can easily be recognized based on their chocie of words, sentence structure and most particularly the pronunciation. In fact, people from other countries can easily identify a Filipino who speaks English. Therefore, we can say that English reveals the Filipino identity.
    On the other hand, using the English language does not mean forgetting the national language. The use of both languages and other languages must be used appropraitely. In short communicative competence must be developed. The ability to use an appropraite language in a specific domain of communication becomes necessary.

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