ENGLISH IS YOUR MOTHER TONGUE,
Or, Ang Ingles ay Tongue Ina Mo
"The Philippines were to us a terra incognita. No ship of our service had been there for years. When, after my appointment as commander of the Asiatic Squadron, I sought information on the subject in Washington, I found that the latest official report relative to the Philippines on file in the office of naval intelligence bore the date of 1876." (1)
That was what Commodore George Dewey, the hero of the Battle of Manila Bay, had to say about the Philippines. More than a century later, the age of the Internet may have made information on the Philippines more readily available, but it remains a fact that most Americans know no more about their former colony than Dewey did in 1898. Few Americans are aware of the history of the United States in the Philippines, a history that was kept secret from their own people for many reasons. This history was also largely unknown to many Filipinos who grew up during and after the Second World War -- grew up, that is, with the belief that the Unites States was a savior twice over, saving them first from the Spanish and later from the Japanese.
The image of savior and redeemer was something the United States exploited since 1899, when it invaded the archipelago. Since then, there have been two major deities in the pantheon of the Filipino psyche: God and America.
Those of us who grew up in Manila in the 60s and 70s know this only too well. We learned English the moment we were ready for school -- around the age of five, if not earlier, when we learned it at home. We were taught that A was for Apple and we learned to sing America the Beautiful and we were aware that in December there was snow and Santa Claus came down chimneys, never mind if no Filipino home had any. We watched I Love Lucy and Flash Gordon and listened to Top 40 radio and adored Hollywood movies and read all the great Anglo-Saxon authors and knew all the 50 states (well, some of us did). And most important, most of us had some next of kin in the States, whose balikbayan boxes regularly arrived like manna from heaven.
How strange to discover that in the United States, people would ask questions like, Where did you learn to speak English, and, Do Filipinos live in trees. How disappointing to learn that while we knew everything about America -- knew possibly more about America than the average American did -- the average American knew next to nothing about us. The effect may be something like praying for a hundred years to God, and finding out that God never really knew we existed.
But that's the way it is, and that is indicative of the one-way traffic of commerce and information that has existed between the United States and the Philippines since 1899.
This relationship applies to the way we use the English language, and the way English is used upon us. To understand that, we have to go back to 1901, three years after the wakening American Empire had just defeated Spain. The United States was about to embark on one of its most ambitious missions: to transform the inhabitants of the 7,100 islands of the Philippines into an English-speaking people. That year, a shipload of teachers on the SS Thomas sailed from San Francisco to the Philippines. These "Thomasites," as they called themselves, were selected from the best universities in the United States. Their task was to give basic education to as many Filipinos as possible, and to teach them to speak in the language of the civilized world -- English.
The 1901 log of the Thomas, a souvenir publication printed on board by the Thomasites, said: "Our nation has found herself confronted by a great problem dealing with a people who neither know nor understand the underlying principles of our civilization, yet who, for our mutual happiness and liberty, must be brought into accord with us. Between them and us is a chasm which must be bridged by a common knowledge and sympathy; fellowship must be made possible." (2)
The chasm they spoke of meant many things. They were coming into a territory in an era in which the balance of power in Asia had just tilted in favor of the United States. But this power did not come peacefully. Two years earlier, the race to exploit the Orient, in particular the great market that was China, intensified political and economic rivalries among Great Britain on one hand, and France, Germany, Russia and Japan on the other. Russian and German competition was jeopardizing Great Britain's trade centers in Asia. France was no help: Britain was disputing its control over African territories. Germany was becoming more blatant about its ambition to dominate the region.
Only the United States remained as Britain's possible ally, and for a now evident reason: the United States, only a generation after the Civil War and the last Indian Wars, was becoming aware of its future role as the world's next great power.
"Since the Civil War and the Reconstruction, national developments in the United States had been directed by the industrial revolution in the capitalistic economy,” wrote Lucila Hosillos in Philippine American Literary Relations 1898-1941. “Technology and economic progress had complicated the democratic ideals of independence, equality, individual rights, and social welfare. By the end of the nineteenth century, capitalistic development had engendered the feeling of power and its philosophy of force and political recognition of racial superiority on one hand and the spirit of humanitarianism and the concept of 'manifest destiny' on the other." (3)
Manila was a strategic base from which to launch America's commerce with China. This motive becomes clear when we recall that as soon as the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, the United States sent Commodore George Dewey to the Philippines, purportedly to aid the Filipinos who were then fighting a war of independence against the Spanish government. Even before it defeated Spain, the United States had already decided to colonize the archipelago, "largely in an eclectic effort to construct a system of coaling, cable, and naval stations for an integrated trade route which could help realize America's overriding ambition in the Pacific -- the penetration and ultimate domination of the fabled China market." (4)
It must be noted that the United States’ intentions were hardly a secret; there were broad hints even in media, such as the rhapsodic essay on Manila by John Barrett, Minister-Resident to Siam, in Harper’s Weekly: “Were Manila permanently in our possession, or that of some enterprising European power, it could be made one of the most beautiful cities of the world, as well as a splendid commercial entrepot and great seaport.” (5)
After the mock battle at Manila Bay and the Spanish government’s acquiescence to sell the Philippines to the United States along with Puerto Rico, Commodore Dewey triumphantly recalled: "Hitherto the United States had been considered a second-class power, whose foreign policy was an unimportant factor beyond the three-mile limit of the American hemisphere." (6)
Because of the temper of the times, the invasion of the Philippines would initially find overwhelming support among the American public. But although the United States anticipated some recalcitrance from Filipinos, it never imagined the acrimony of the independence movement that the Filipinos would carry over from their war against Spain. The Philippine-American War would eventually become one of the bloodiest and costliest in American history.
"The fact is that the atmosphere of the late nineteenth century was so thoroughly permeated with racist thought (reinforced by Darwinism) that few men managed to escape it," wrote Christopher Lasch in The Anti-Imperialist as Racist. "The idea that certain cultures and races were naturally inferior to others was almost universally held by educated, middle-class, respectable Americans -- in other words, by the dominant majority." (7)
Why did the Filipinos continue to fight such an obviously invincible opponent?
In a letter written on August 31, 1900 to General J.F. Bell of the American cavalry, Apolinario Mabini, reputed to be the theorist of the Philippine revolution, wrote: "The Filipinos know only too well that by force, they can expect nothing from the United States. They fight to show the United States that they possess sufficient culture to know their rights even when there is a pretense to hide them by means of clever sophisms."
American victory over the Philippine Republic -- just over three months old when the war began -- was all that the United States needed to become a global empire at the turn of the twentieth century. Later, the United States would strengthen colonial ties to make sure the Philippines remained dependent in many ways. In 1946, the United States would finally grant independence, but would also make sure the colonial ties would be tightened with the passage of several acts that guaranteed economic subservience. The United States passed the Philippine Rehabilitation Act only on the condition that the Philippines would accept the Bell Trade Act, which ensured the unrestricted flow of American goods to the Philippines and granted "parity" rights allowing U.S. citizens equal rights to exploit Philippine natural resources. Manila, being the second most devastated city in the world after the Second World War, had no choice but to accept the terms. The Military Assistance Pact gave the U.S., through military aid, control over the military forces of the Philippines. Furthermore, the Military Bases Act allowed the United States free use of 23 base sites. This act expired in 1992 and today has been replaced by the Visiting Forces Agreement. Signed in February 1998, the VFA was opposed by many individuals and organizations, among them the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, which said that "the VFA was signed without public consultation." Among the VFA's provisions include: "Philippine authorities' waiver of primary right to exercise jurisdiction when requested by US authorities," and "unhampered and unrestricted movement of (American) vessels and aircrafts."
The United States also strengthened colonial ties through the practice of tutelage. Ignoring the fact that the constitution of the Philippine Republic of 1898 was patterned after those of France and America, the United States had to convince its public -- and the Filipinos themselves -- that Filipinos were inept in the art of self-government. In order to justify its invasion of an independent republic, the United States had to create not only its own image as redeemer, but of the Filipinos as a people in need of redemption.
That redemption came in the form of public education, and education was to be conducted in English. Philippine Governor General of 1932 Theodore Roosevelt, the son of the President, reported in Colonial Policies of the United States: "English was adopted as the basic language, and rightly so, for the Philippines were not like Puerto Rico, which had already a single language that had been used for years. What was necessary in the Philippines, if there were to be a united people, was a single language, at least for official use. Spanish was reasonably widely spoken when we took them, but it had not reached the back country or the smaller towns to any great extent. Probably because of the logic of this action there never has been the resistance to English encountered in Puerto Rico."
The imposition of English was not as simple as that. It involved a calculated program to discredit Spanish and the existing native languages, to convince the Filipinos of their inferiority and therefore their need for enlightenment, and to glorify the material and intellectual progress the English language promised.
One proof of the Filipinos' inferiority was the alleged fact that they had not been able to produce a national literature. "The languages have produced little or nothing which can claim to be literature in the sense of elegant and artistic writing," wrote Frank R. Blake in American Anthropologist in 1911. "The literature of the Philippine languages is literature only in the broader sense of written speech." (8)
Had he actually learned to read the native languages, though, he would have said otherwise. As Governor General Roosevelt would assert some years later: "The average individual has an entirely wrong impression of the Filipinos. He thinks of them as savages. They are not savages any more than the citizens of the United States are savages. Even before the Spaniards came they had their own civilization. They in no fashion resembled the Indians of America. They had a literature and a written language. What is more, this was recognized by the people who came in contact with them. La Perouse, the French explorer, said in 1787 that the Filipinos were ‘in no way inferior' to the people of Europe." (9)
La Perouse was not the only one to make that observation. As early as the seventeenth century, missionary grammarians already recognized the maturity of Filipino (Tagalog) poetics. A century later, in 1744, the friar Juan Francisco de San Antonio wrote in his Cronicas: "The natives are fond of verses and representations. They are indefatigable where verses are concerned, and will act them out as they read them. When they write, they heighten their style with so many rhetorical phrases, metaphors, and pictures, that many who think themselves poets would be glad to do as much; and yet this is only in prose. For when it comes to poesy, he who would understand it must be very learned in their language even among his compatriots."
Moreover, many epics were written in the native languages, some of which were already translated into Spanish by the late nineteenth century. Among these were the Ilokano epic Lam-ang, first recorded in 1889; the Bicolano Ibalon, first recorded in W.R. Retana's Archivo del Bibliofilo in Madrid in 1895; the Bagobo Tuwaang, discovered by E. Arsenio Manuel in 1956; the Ifugao Hudhud and Alim; Hinilawod, the epic of the Sulod people of Panay; the Maguindanao Indarapatra and Sulayman; the Tausug Parang Sabil; the Bantugan of the Maranaw, and the Baybayan of Bukidnon. In a study in 1962, Manuel found 13 epics from pagan Filipinos, two from Christians, and four from Moslems.
But there would be more proofs of the Filipinos' supposed intellectual inferiority. For instance, after three centuries under Spain, Filipinos allegedly never produced any significant literature in Spanish. Again this wasn't true. It ignored the reality of censorship, the fact that Spanish friars deliberately withheld the language from the Filipinos, believing that knowledge of the language would incite Filipinos to rebel against ecclesiastical control. Harley Harris Bartlett, in a study called "Vernacular Literature in the Philippines," published in Michigan Alumnus Quarterly Review in 1936, reported: "Nothing could be printed without permission, and permission was seldom granted, except for a religious book of which it could be certified by the censor aparece que nada contiene contrario a la fe.” All too prevalent among the clerics was the attitude of the Franciscan friar, Miguel Lucio Bustamante, who, writing in Tagalog, told Filipinos that they “ought not to understand Spanish, for the moment they could speak Spanish they would become enemies of the King and God. They ought to learn only to say their prayers and to spend the rest of their time on their carabaos."
The clergy's paranoia was not unfounded. By the late nineteenth century, the Philippines was opened to international trade, creating a new Filipino middle class who sent their children to be educated in Europe. This new generation of Filipinos brought home radical ideas and created what is now referred to as El Siglo Oro, the golden age of Hispanic Filipino literature. Among the writers of this age were Jose Rizal, Jose Burgos, Marcelo del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, and other intellectuals of the Reform Movement.
Only later would the American regime take advantage of Rizal's anti-clerical rhetoric to cut Filipinos from their Spanish past. But to curtail the infestation of nationalist ideas, and because most anti-colonial literature was still being written in Spanish, the United States passed the Sedition Law on November 4, 1901, limiting writing in that language and imposing the death penalty or prolonged imprisonment for anyone who spoke, wrote or published "scurrilous libels" against the American colonial government. Unintentionally, the act stimulated writing in the Philippine languages (led by the growing lingua franca that was Tagalog) which were not understood by the censors, and which they had already decided was not worthy of producing "artistic writing." But by censoring the use of Spanish, the U.S. made sure anything written in it would remain inaccessible, and therefore non-existent.
"The ability to read means little in a society where people had nothing to read worthy of being called a literature," wrote James Le Roy in The Americans in the Philippines in 1914. Perhaps unaware of, say, Rizal’s prescient analysis of the future global role of America, he continues: "It was felt that the Philippines had not produced a body of writings which would serve to either acquaint its people with world movements and thought or to bring to them a rich native culture." (10)
It was all very clear: The fact that Spanish never became the common language despite three centuries of Spanish rule, that no significant literature in Spanish was ever produced by the Filipinos, and their native languages were not sophisticated enough to produce art, were all proofs that the Filipinos were backward and incapable of self-rule, and that colonization was justified and necessary. By having them go through the pains of learning a new language, the United States reinforced the mentor-pupil relationship, as well as its superiority over what Rudyard Kipling described in his famous poem as America's "new-caught sullen peoples, half-devil and half-child."
Filipino author Nick Joaquin, writing in The Sunday Times Magazine in 1957, described it this way: "A people that had got as far as Baudelaire in one language was being returned to the ABC's of another and taught to read 'Humpty-Dumpty' and 'The Little Red Hen' instead of Cervantes, Calderon de la Barca, Lope de Vega, and Ruben Dario." (11)
The terms used to refer to Filipinos in several reports and letters from that period reveal what the current attitude was: they were "savages," "injuns," "niggers," and "gooks." "The political and economic background of Philippine American relations colored the Filipino image in the United States," wrote Hosillos. "Biased reportage and partisan writing, playing up the defects of the Filipino character and ignoring Filipino achievements, distorted the Filipino image. Organized business interests, both in the United States and in the Philippines, lauded works distorting the Filipino image as part of the campaign for racial prejudice and anti-independence." By proving beyond doubt that Filipinos were inferior, President McKinley's divine mission to carry out the United States' "manifest destiny" in the Pacific was now justified.
Part 2 continues here.