SINCE we all call ourselves Filipinos—or to be more gender-specific about it, Filipinas, when referring to our women—isn’t it more proper to spell the country’s name, which is Pilipinas, with an F instead of a P?
Well, the jury is still out. But the controversy that led me to ask this question again made it to the news last week when Civil Service Commission (CSC) Chair Francisco Duque III branded the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (KWF), and by extension its chair, writer and National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario, “pasaway” (stubborn).
In a news report that came out in the Philippine Daily Inquirer last Friday, Duque hit Almario for tampering with the official messages of the CSC and several other government departments and commissions during last month’s celebration of National Language Week.
The messages, including those from the Department of Tourism, Department of National Defense and National Commission on Culture and the Arts, were published in the 96-page souvenir program titled “Wika Natin ang Daang Matuwid,” said the report.
KWF, which is attached to the Office of the President, was responsible for hosting the event and publishing the souvenir program.
Almario’s supposed sin was changing the spelling of Pilipinas to Filipinas. Duque insisted the he never used the word “Filipinas” in the message he sent earlier to KWF.
It wasn’t the first time Almario found himself in hot water. Last month, the report added, Malacañang Palace took Almario to task for “tampering with Mr. Aquino’s official message on the recent 225th birth anniversary of the poet Francisco Balagtas.”
Almario, also known by his pen name Rio Alma, was unavailable to air his side. But in an earlier news report about the Malacañang controversy that also came out in PDI, he was quoted to have said that “Malacañang had yet to give the agency the go-ahead to change the Filipino translation of the Philippines from Pilipinas to Filipinas. He acknowledged that such a change would require the passage of a law.
“But he asserted the necessity of promoting the ‘P to F’ campaign to explain the wisdom of adopting Filipinas as the country’s international name.”
Foreign to foreigners
This may sound foreign to foreigners, so a brief backgrounder is in order. If we are to refer to the country’s name during the Spanish colonial times, the rest of the world knew it then as Las Islas Filipinas or Filipinas.
When the Americans booted out the Spaniards at the turn of the last century, they came up with a more Anglicized version: Philippine Islands or P.I. (not to be confused, of course, with the initials of the Filipino’s favorite cuss words that heap scorn on his enemy’s’ innocent mother).
After the country gained independence from the Americans, Philippine Islands eventually morphed into Philippines, Filipinas and/or Pilipinas.
Although the country is known internationally as Philippines today, take note that it’s still widely known as (and called) Filipinas by millions of people in the Spanish-speaking world. I told you it’s complicated.
But when a wave of (pseudo?) nationalism swept the country in the 1970s, induced in no small part by then President Ferdinand Marcos’ insistence that Pilipino (referring to a national language based mainly on Tagalog) be used side by side with English as official languages of correspondence between various government agencies and departments, Filipinas was eventually edged out by Pilipinas as far as Filipinos were concerned.
Are you still with me? The reason for using P instead of F stemmed from the fact that the Tagalog language didn’t have an F in its alphabet back then. But that all changed several decades later when local language experts added F and several other letters to the still evolving national language.
“Almario pointed out that Filipinas, as corrected spelling of Pilipinas, was an ‘application of the national orthography,’ or the standardized system for writing words using letters according to established usage,” the report said.
But “established usage” can be quite tricky, as I pointed out above. To Filipinos belonging to my late grandparents’ generation, Filipinas with an F was as natural as spelling such words as “cumusta ca” (how are you) and “cami” (we) with a C and not with a K. The problem is, most of these people are already dead.
To Filipinos who came of age in the 70s, 80s and even 90s, Pilipinas with a P has become sort of a default mode. You certainly can’t discard or unlearn something that has been hammered into your consciousness for decades by the mere stroke of a fen, er pen, or tap on the keyboard.
No quick, easy answers
Still, it makes me wonder how we ended up calling ourselves Filipinos when all these years we’ve been referring to our country as the Republic of the Philippines or, its Tagalog version, Republika ng Pilipinas. Shouldn’t Pilipinos or even Philippinos be more apt?
Alas, like most things in this country, there are no quick and easy answers. If anything, it again shows how divided and confused we are about our identity as a people, down to the very spelling of our country’s name.
It reminds me of the times when I hand my business cards to foreigners abroad who’ve heard of Manila but are totally clueless about the National Capital Region’s make up. The fun begins once they start examining my card.
“Alex,” they’d ask me with seemingly genuine interest, “didn’t you say your newspaper is based in Manila? How come it says here that your office is in Makati? Where’s Makati? Is it part of Manila?”
No relation to Sofia
There was even a time when a Spaniard told me that my family name Vergara originated from Spain’s Basque region, which we all know is the heart of the country’s separatist movement. That was a pleasant surprise.
He came short of asking me, though, if I’m related to Sofia. I could have told him she’s a cousin of mine 43 times removed. Why do you look so incredulous? Can’t you see my Colombian extraction?
I found myself going into another lengthy explanation when a Mexican asked me rather innocently why I didn’t speak a word of Spanish when I told her that the Philippines and Mexico once had close ties because of centuries of galleon trade between Manila and Acapulco.
“So, the Philippines like Mexico was under Spanish rule for several centuries, but why can’t you speak Spanish like the rest of the people from the former colonies,” she asked.
Such questions can be ideal icebreakers between us and our foreign friends, but asked repeatedly, it can be quite tiring on the part of the Filipino. I just try my best to answer them as briefly and as clearly as I can.
As if they weren’t enough, now comes another question that would probably stump even the most glib and knowledgeable Filipino. Filipinas or Pilipinas?
“Ah…eh, could you just fass me the flate of past poods, flease?”