Education and Spanish in the Philippines (by Pío Andrade)
1. The Black Legend on the state of Education
Filipinos in the 20th Century were repeatedly taught or told in schools and in the press, that Spain always kept their ancestors uneducated to have them ignorant and the always docile subjects of Spain. The blame was, in particular, thrown upon the friars, "who, from motives of their own, discouraged the learning of Spanish by the natives, in order that they may always act as intermediaries between the people and the civil authorities, and thus, retain their influences over their charges". The most common proof cited for the alleged uneducatedness and ignorance supposedly reigning in Hispanic Philippines is the incontrovertible fact that only the Philippines, among all the other former Spanish colonies, is not Spanish-speaking today. But was this really so?
The 1896 revolution, the first revolution in Asia by a colonized people for independence from the colonizer, refutes the charge that Spain did not educate the Filipinos, for revolutions are not made by the ignoramuses but by the educated folks. Indeed, most of the leading lights and leaders of the 1896 Revolution were Ilustrados, or educated folks. The propaganda literature and the communications coming from the Revolutionaries were mostly in Spanish; and, the Malolos Constitution was debated and drafted in Spanish. The revolution was made possible by the widespread knowledge of Spanish. Thus, Spanish was the language of the 1896 Revolution and Philippine nationhood. The1896 Revolution is but one of the many proofs against the oft-repeated assertion that Spain deliberately did not educate the Filipinos, specially in the Spanish language. This assertion is nothing but a big lie. This lie is another black legend, and black propaganda, concocted by anti-Spain and anti-church zealots, xenophobic nationalists, leftists ideologues, the American controlled Philippine Public school system, and the American missionary societies of the early days of American rule. This black legend and propaganda, which has caused severe negative effects upon many facets of Philippine life, must be exposed as nothing else but a destructive historical distortion. And that is the object of this article.
King Philip II's Law of the Indies (Leyes de Indias) mandated Spanish authorities in the Philippines to educate the natives, to teach them how to read and write and to learn Spanish. However, the latter objective was well-nigh impossible given the realities of the time. First, there were very few Spaniards in the Archipelago to teach Spanish at that time. Second, the Philippines, at the coming of Spain was inhabited by diverse tribes with different languages, customs, and religion. Third, the geographical barriers - the seas, the mountain ranges, lush virgin forest and the absence of enough roads made travel and communication difficult during those years. Thus, the friars, the vanguard of evangelization and education, opted instead to learn the native languages first and in order to use them as tools to evangelize and teach the natives in the missionary schools. But Spanish was also taught to those who wished to learn the language. Among these were the native principalía and the Chinese traders who only began to come in greater numbers after the coming of Spain to the Philippines. Spain introduced the first movable printing press in the country and with it Tomas Pinpin, the Prince of Filipino printers, publish a book on how to learn Spanish. In the UST Archives are three extant Spanish-Chinese dictionaries published during Spanish era.
Another proof that Spain's language education was taking place in the first years of Hispanization in this Country was the Galleon Trade. This is the longest and the most hazardous of sea-borne trade in history which largely benefited the Philippines, China and Mexico more than it ever benefit Peninsular Spain. The Galleon Trade would not have been possible if the Filipinos, Spaniards and Chinese could not communicate with each other in Spanish.
In 1863, with the passage of the Education Reform Act in the Spanish Cortes, the Philippine public school system was born. Separate schools for boys and girls were established in every pueblo for the compulsory education of Filipino children. The law also established the Escuela Normal to train male and female teachers. This was ten years before Japan had a compulsory form of education and forty years before the American government started a so-called public school system in the country. It is important to cite here two scholarly studies made on the state of education in Asia, including the Philippines, by two non-Spanish and non-Catholic writers during the nineteenth century. The first of these non-Spanish writers is the eminent Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal.
In his monumental 3-volume book on ASIAN DRAMA, Myrdal wrote of Philippine education under Spain, in the following terms:" The earliest colonial intruders in Europe in South Asia were the two Catholic imperialist powers, unlike Spain and Portugal, the Netherlands and Britain, who arrived later, they had a planned educational policy from the beginning. One of their missions, in addition to economic exploitation, was to convert the pagans to the Christian faith. What is important is that this duty was interpreted as requiring the education of the people to read and write - a policy that would hardly have appeared warranted had political power of commercial and fiscal exploitation been the chief and only purpose." "This had the most far-reaching effect in the Philippines, which was under Spanish rule continuously for more than three and a half centuries. By the early part of the seventeenth century, the ground had been laid for a system of even a secondary and tertiary education that was not directed merely toward religious teaching. And the priest and monks, who worked closely with the civil authorities, began creating a network of elementary schools, in which both religious and secular subjects were taught. By 1863 the Spanish colonial government had adopted a program of compulsory elementary education that was to be free to all children between the ages of seven and thirteen. When Spanish left a generation later, this ambitious program was far from being fulfilled. Nevertheless, the Philippines was already ahead of most other South Asian colonies in popular education." (underscoringdone by the author).
Another reference worth citing on education in the Philippines under Spain is British author H.A. Wyndham's 1898 book NATIVE EDUCATION IN CEYLON, JAVA, FORMOSA, THE PHILIPPINES, FRENCH INDO-CHINA AND BRITISH MALAYA. Wyndham concluded that the Filipinos were the most educated of the colonials he studied. One of the most vociferous voices claiming that Spain did not educate the Filipinos was UP historian emeritus Teodoro Agoncillo who wrote in THE REVOLT OF THE MASSES that "When the Americans took over the Philippines, only 2.5% of the Filipinos spoke and wrote in Spanish". This figure was taken from the 1880 book of Cavada Mendez de Vigo. Later, in his history textbook , THE HISTORY OF THE FILIPINO PEOPLE, Agoncillo also claimed that "it is safe to say that the literacy rate of the native population was somewhere between 5% and 8%". These Agoncillo claims are wrong for these two statements on the Philippine literacy can not be sustained by factual evidence. Agoncillo failed to see that since 1811 with the publication of DEL SUPERIOR GOBIERNO, the Philippines had a popular press which further disseminated the Spanish language in the country. The Philippines was the first country in Asia to have a popular press in Spanish and, by the coming of Dewey, there were many more popular newspapers and books published in Spanish. The several newspapers in the native languages most always carried Spanish language sections. Manila, itself, (then with about half a million people) had three Spanish language dailies in the morning and three other dailies, also in Spanish, in the afternoon. These dailies in Spanish had no equal counterparts in other Oriental countries. Since 1863, with the passage of the Education Reform Law in the Spanish Cortes, the Philippines was given by Spain a public school system with Spanish as the sole medium of instruction. This is another big push for the increased learning and use of the Spanish language by Filipinos.
Another factor for increased Spanish literacy was the Chinese population. The Chinese community obligates Chinese cabecillas or Chinese barangay captains to teach rudimentary Spanish to new Chinese immigrants. After a month in these Chinese-owned schools, the Chinese immigrants spoke kastilang tindahan, or Caló Chino Español, a kind of Spanish Chabacano, that later become fluent albeit accented Spanish. When these Chinese immigrants intermarried, they brought forth Spanish-speaking mestizos. The 100,000 Chinese population at the turn of the century were all conversant in Spanish though in varying proficiency, from the kastilang tindahan of the new Chinese immigrants to the fluent Spanish of Chinese old timers.
The growth of the popular press, the public school system and the Chinese population increased Spanish literacy in the Philippines by the time of Dewey's advent. Joseph Earl Stevens, an American who resided in Manila from 1893-1894 had this to say about Spanish in the country in his book YESTERDAYS IN THE PHILIPPINES: "Spanish, of course, is the court and commercial language and, except among uneducated natives who have a lingo of their own or among the few members of the Anglo-Saxon colony, it has a monopoly everywhere. No one can really get on without it, and even the Chinese come in with their peculiar pidgin variety".
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