The national language | Evolution through revolution

(FILE PHOTO: An NPA unit in Cordillera during a celebration in 2010. By Artemio Dumlao/Bulatlat)

The national democratic movement is uniting the country toward a national language, as it advances radical, societal changes.


They don’t call it Filipino, but Pilipino. That is the national language as defined by the national democratic movement. Just like Filipino – the national language set by the 1987 Philippine Constitution – the movement’s Pilipino is largely based on Tagalog, the language spoken in Luzon, but enriched with words from regional as well as foreign languages.

The big difference is that this Pilipino language has the trademark that has evolved from decades of revolutionary practice of the underground movement.

A document of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) entitled “Hinggil sa Wika (On Language),” shows how the underground revolutionary movement sees the evolution of a national language as a long process, just like the protracted people’s war that it has been waging in the past 46 years.

Hinggil sa Wika,” believed to be written in the 80s, was one of the references used by the late Monico Atienza, founding member of the CPP and University of the Philippines professor, when he wrote his masteral thesis. The thesis was later published as a book in 1992, entitled “Kilusang Pambansa Demokratiko sa Wika (The national democratic movement in language).”

There are lots of challenges to hurdle in unifying the Filipino people, given that there are at least 170 Philippine languages, and a population of 100 million scattered in 7,100 islands. But these are all taken into account, ever since the CPP laid down its analysis of the Philippine society as semi-colonial and semi-feudal because of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism.

Dialectical and historical materialism

The party, being Marxist-Leninist-Maoist, understands language from a dialectical, historical materialist perspective, and from there, made its policy, according to the CPP document.

“Ang kasaysayan ng pag-unlad ng pambansang wika sa Pilipinas ay kasaysayan ng mahabang pakikibaka ng sambayanang Pilipino tungo sa kasarinlan. (The history of the development of the national language in the Philippines is the history of the protracted struggle of the Filipino people for sovereignty),” the document said.

The CPP document said that in spite of almost 300 years of Spanish colonialism, the people never claimed Spanish as their own language. From the start, it was the Spanish clergy who tried to learn the local languages in order to spread the Catholic faith, and subjugate the people. The contradictions between the natives and the Spanish colonizers reached its peak in the 1896 “bourgeois democratic revolution” which was the first time that the people of Luzon, Visayas and parts of Mindanao became united against a common enemy.

It was then that Andres Bonifacio used Tagalog in laying down the aspirations of the Katipunan, the most advanced detachment of the movement then. This decision is “without a doubt, proof of how this language advanced, eventually becoming the base of the national language.” Uniting on one language was necessary for the revolutionaries to unify themselves and defend the motherland, the document said.

During the American colonial era, American linguists began to study the different Philippine languages, with the vested political interest for the US to continue its rule. Nationalist Filipinos grabbed this chance to assert a native language, and declared that Tagalog was the language that fulfilled the need for communication. The document said that the problem with this assertion was “it did not give importance to the resolve and role of the masses in pursuing the destiny of the Filipino nation.”

When Manuel Luis Quezon became president of the Commonwealth government, he proclaimed the national language as based on Tagalog. But the CPP document called this a “two-faced stand on language” because at the same time, Quezon declared the continued use of English throughout the archipelago, specially in schools. The document said Quezon expected that the Americans would continue to rule the country for a long time.

Succeeding leaders followed suit, such as President Ramon Magsaysay who proclaimed the annual celebration of “Linggo ng Wika” (Language week) coinciding with Quezon’s birthday on August 19. This later became a month-long celebration, as August became the National Language month under President Fidel Ramos’ presidential Proclamation 1041. Even the dictator Ferdinand Marcos bragged about being fluent in Filipino, and came out with an executive order to translate to Filipino the names of all agencies of government.

The CPP document called these “bogus nationalism,” to cover up bigger economic policies and laws that catered to foreign interests.

Two kinds of languages

There are two kinds of contradicting languages in a class society, said the CPP document: the language of the ruling class and the language of the oppressed majority. Language should be used as a weapon to destroy whatever is hiding the truth, it added.

As an example, the document said the ruling class promotes the use of vague words such as “underdeveloped country” to describe the Philippines. This hides the truth, because for the revolutionary movement, it is “an oppressed and exploited country.”

International bodies and media now use the term “developing” country to refer to the Philippines. Other terms such as “Third World” as opposed to “First World” were also used before. By the CPP document’s logic, the term “developing” does not reflect the situation of the impoverished majority of the Filipinos.

Another example: before the death of Flor Contemplacion – the domestic helper who was executed on false accusation of murder in 1995 – migrant workers were called “Overseas Contractual Workers” or OCWs, which aptly describes their job status, that is, contractual.

Contemplacion’s execution exposed government neglect in job creation, as well as in protecting migrant workers. And so, government started popularizing the term “Overseas Filipino Workers” or OFWs, packaging them as “the country’s modern heroes.” The new term, however, failed to hide the horrific stories of abuse by employers and government neglect of migrant workers.

Language as weapon

Although written at least 30 years ago, the document still rings true when it said that “the sad truth is that anarchy and conflict prevails in the national language issue.”

There are still arguments that Cebuano, not Tagalog, should be the base of the national language, because more Filipinos speak Cebuano. There are also those who view the promotion of the national language as a rigid application of grammar rules, while some even want to change the spelling of names and words to make them consistent with the modern Filipino alphabet.

The revolutionary movement, however, makes no fuss about promoting and developing Pilipino. They carry Pilipino with prestige into the remote corners of the archipelago, as they bring revolutionary aspirations to the masses. Indeed, the movement is wielding language as a weapon.

Atienza wrote in his book “Kilusang Pambansa Demokratiko sa Wika” that the movement is developing Pilipino as it spreads its ideological, political and organizational principles.

The book was published by the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa-UP. Atienza called himself a “kalahok na tagamasid” (participant-observer) in writing the thesis.

Atienza’s thesis referred to the “national democratic movement” as encompassing also the legal, progressive organizations, and not just the underground organizations.

Ang wika ay instrumento ng ideolohiya, behikulo ng linyang pampulitika, at mabisang tagapagbuo ng organisasyong rebolusyonaryo (Language is a tool of ideology, a vehicle of political line, and an effective unifying force of a revolutionary organization),” he said.
The revolutionary movement wields language as a sharp weapon by ensuring that it is “nationalist, scientific and mass-oriented,” Atienza quoted passages from the document.

“It is nationalist because it is a native language, and thus, has the characteristic that is natural in the country, meaning that it is a tool in laying down our nationalist consciousness. In using it, we also assert our country’s sovereignty and our independence,” the document said in Pilipino.

“It is scientific because it is based on the objective reality. It expresses the objective situation, unlike the language used by the bourgeois that defends the existing conditions and uses twisted words to hide the truth from the masses,” it added.

Language should also be “from the masses, to the masses,” as the Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong said.

Ang wika, kung ito’y papapaglingkurin sa malawak na masa ng sambayanan, ay nararapat maging wikang nauunawaan at inaangkin nila bilang sarili nilang wika. Ang wikang ito’y wikang laban sa wikang ginagamit ng mga reaksyunaryong uri; ang wikang ito’y tunay na nagsasaad ng adhikain at mithiin ng malawak na masa ng sambayanang Pilipino,” said the document.
(Language, for it to serve the majority of the people, should be one that they understand and claim as their own. This language is against that which is used by the reactionary class; this language truly expresses the causes and aspirations of the broad Filipino masses.)

Because there is a similarity in the structure of the Philippine languages, a Tagalog-speaking cadre from Luzon who was assigned to Samar could easily learn the language to be able to organize Waray-speaking peasants in far-flung villages. But what is more important is the message of revolution that the cadre brings to the peasants who, impoverished and oppressed, long to be part of a nationwide, radical, transformation of Philippine society.

Just use it

“Ang wika ay praktika (Language is practice),” Atienza said. We can see how the national democratic movement promotes and develops Pilipino by looking at how it uses language in its everyday work, he said.

Through democratic centralism, the revolutionary movement’s organizational line, he said, it implements its policies and decisions in promoting and developing Pilipino.

“The organs of political power, mass organizations, militia and regular NPA units are the ones who promote and develop the national language in various areas in the archipelago,” Atienza said. “The higher party organs down to the regional organs regularly use (Pilipino) in their communications and meetings. Their documents and formal reports are also written in this language,” he added.

Atienza noted that volumes of books, pamphlets, publications and magazines have been produced in Pilipino by the movement.

Today, one can surf the internet and visit the Philippine Revolutionary Web Central to read official CPP statements, and see images of revolution in different parts of the country, in pictures and even in multimedia. Posts are written in English, Pilipino and the regional languages.

Every issue of Ang Bayan, the official publication of the Communist Party of the Philippines would have versions in English, Pilipino, and Cebuano – which they call “Bisaya.” Press releases from the different commands of the New People’s Army would have a version in its local language, whether it is Bicolano, Hiligaynon, Waray, Ilocano, even Masbatenyo.

Atienza pointed out that the movement’s cultural work also promotes Pilipino, whether in the people’s theatre, in revolutionary songs, stories and poems that are composed, performed and patronized in the guerrilla zones. Or it could be shouted as slogans, written in leaflets, placards and streamers, and delivered in speeches in rallies and mass actions.

As they speak in Pilipino in the guerrilla zones and urban centers, they also communicate to the masses in the local language. At an educational discussion in Northern Luzon, the lead instructor could use visual materials in Pilipino or read from a Pilipino reference, but will expound on the topic and discuss with students in Ilocano or in Ibanag. Students acquire new words in Pilipino, as they understand their meaning, because it was explained in their own tongue.

This practice, Atienza said, promotes and enriches both Pilipino and the local languages.
“Ang wikang ito nga ay yumayaman sa palagiang paggamit at pakikipaglakipan sa iba’t ibang wika at wikain (This language is truly enriched by being regularly used, and combined along with other languages and dialects),” he said.

Found in translation

Atienza cited the role of two CPP staff units, the Pambansang Komisyon sa Edukasyon at Propaganda (Komedprop) and the Kawanihan sa Pagsasalin (Kawsa), in the “elaboration, standardization and intellectualization of Pilipino.” The Komedprop and Kawsa were eventually reorganized into the Pambansang Kagawaran sa Edukasyon (Paked). Paked is tasked with the standardization of the curriculum and materials for Party and mass education. The Kawsa, which is under the Paked, is tasked with the translation of Party documents, as well as standardization of translation work by other organs, and the promotion and development of Pilipino. Kawsa was also later reorganized into the Pambansang Kawanihan sa Salin.

From the early years of the national democratic movement, translation work was crucial in studying and spreading the great works of Marx, Lenin, Engels, Stalin and Mao, which are available only in English. Some of the basic CPP documents were also first written in English, such as the Philippine Society and Revolution, which had to be translated to Pilipino.

To standardize, these units came out with guidelines cum stylebook in vocabulary, spelling, and grammar of Pilipino, as well as guide to translation in the early 80s.

Another CPP document, “Gabay sa pagsasalin (Guide to Translation),”described translation as the “small but unforgettable contribution” of Kawsa to the revolution.

The Gabay said “Pilipino translators must be able to do two things: they must acquire expertise in a foreign language, while also trying to give life once more to the national consciousness. They have to learn linguistics to have a scientific understanding of language, and literature for its artistic use. But most importantly, they go to the ‘source of language’ – the masses – to listen and ask questions, to gather their sayings, riddles, songs, poems and other forms of literature of the people.”

“Because we are revolutionaries, our efforts, patience and creativity is dedicated to serving the people. We study hard and develop the language of the people, and we turn it into a vehicle that will bring to them the liberating knowledge from the theory and practice of the revolutionary proletariat of the world,” the Gabay said.

Attack on Filipino

Meanwhile, the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (KWF), the government agency in charge of the promotion and development of the national language Filipino, pointed out that the agency is making efforts “meant to increasingly cement the role of Filipino as the language of education, government, and national unity.”

“For the first time, the KWF is making sure that the Buwan ng Wika celebrations are not mere lip service to the national language, fizzling off and forgotten after August,” said KWF chairman and national artist for literature Virgilio Almario in a press release. The KWF has set the theme for the celebration of National Language Month as “Filipino: the language of unity”.

Among the activities of the KWF this August were the National Translation Congress held in Iloilo City in the Visayas, the launch of the 18 publications featuring Philippine literature, research and manuals, and the recognition of 45 teachers in its Gawad Ulirang Guro sa Filipino (Model Teachers in Filipino award).

But aside from the efforts by KWF, several government policies seem to undermine Filipino as national language.

In 2003, Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order 210, establishing English as the medium of instruction in the educational system.

This year, linguists, academicians and students are up in arms against Memorandum no. 20 series 2013 issued by the Commission on Higher Education (Ched), which removes Filipino subjects in the college curriculum. The policy is part of the implementation of the K+12 law, and in preparation for the ASEAN integration.

Tanggol Wika (Defend Language), and other groups of linguists and academicians condemned the Ched Memo as an attack on the national language. These groups, and even the KWF had submitted counterproposals to Ched, and appealed for the retention of several units of Filipino at the college level.

Some linguists say that there is actually a dire need to study Filipino in the tertiary level, because many Filipino words are losing their meaning because of consistent wrong usage, specially by those who have influence on people – public personalities, mass media and of course, teachers. More than ignorance of grammar rules, it means people are losing their Filipino consciousness, with the increasing influence of foreign language and culture in the time of the internet.

The University of the Philippines – Manila University Student Council called the Ched memo “a slap in the face of the heroes who laid down their lives for freedom.” In a statement in Filipino, the UP Manila USC said the removal of the national language from higher education “is a manifestion of the neo-colonial system existing in the country.”

“It is part of globalization that the government and the US carry out to manufacture cheap labor in our country. Because of low nationalist consciousness, aggravated by the absence of job opportunities, there is a big chance that students would just go abroad instead of working in the country,” the council statement said in Filipino.


Some linguists say that it was only after the 1896 revolution, that the word katarungan, which means “justice” in Tagalog, Pampango, Cebuano, and Hiligaynon languages was added to the Filipino vocabulary. Before, there was only “hustisya” from the Spanish “justicia.”

Interestingly, it was said to have the root word tarong, which means “according to what is right.” A check with the “UP Diksyunaryong Filipino” showed only the word tarrang, which is Tausug for “according to the law, legitimate.”

The national democratic movement, for its part, popularized “aktibista, rali, piketlayn, imperyalismo, pyudalismo, burukrata kapitalismo,” among many others.

It shows that as the people achieves a new level of awareness, the spoken language also develops. But when can a national language – one that is accepted by the majority of the population – be achieved?

The CPP quoted Russian revolutionary leader Lenin, who said: “National unity in economy and politics will ensure the advent of a genuine national language.”

After the triumph of the Russian revolution, Lenin and its leaders were faced with a national language problem, with some sectors insisting that an “official language” be imposed as an expression of “cultural unity” and “statehood.” Lenin, responded with the article “Is a compulsory official language needed?” in which he said that making an official language compulsory would mean “coercion” which could lead to conflict.

“People whose conditions of life and work make it necessary for them to know the Russian language will learn it without being forced to do so,” Lenin said, pointing out that this was already happening as the country continues to develop.

The CPP has much optimism in the future of the people’s democratic revolution, and along with it, the resolution of the national language issue, as it stated in Hinggil sa Wika:
Ang pagsapit ng tagumpay ng demokratikong rebolusyon ng bayan ay ang pagsapit na rin ng wikang pambansa sa tunay na kahahantungan nito, ang panahon na ang sambayanang Pilipino ay nagkakaisa at nagsasarili na, ang imperyalismo, pyudalismo at burukratang kapitalismo ay napawi na, at ang lahat na mamamayan ay nagpupunyagi sa pagtatayo ng lipunang sosyalista.” (The victory of the people’s democratic revolution will be the advent of the national language, in an era of unity and independence for the Filipino people, as imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalist are defeated, and all the citizens are engaged in founding a socialist society.) (

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  1. Napakaganda at napapanahon ng artikulong ito

    Sinasabi ni Tagapangulong Mao na dapat tayong ”mag-aral ng wika mula sa masa” subalit, binabanggit ni Stalin sa Marxism and Problems of LInguistics, na maling isipin na magkaiba ang wikang ginagamit ng naghaharing uri at ng malawak na masa ng sambayanan. Kung susuriin nang mabuti hindi magkabangga ang dalawang ideyang ito at parehong wasto. Ang Ilokano na sinasalita nga mga Ilokanong nabibilang sa naghaharing uri at pareho ng sinasalita ng mga Ilokanong nabibilang sa uring magsasaka at manggawa. Kung halimbawa’y bumagsak ang katuyuang pang-ekonomya ng isang pambansang burgesya at naging panggitnang petiburgesya, o di kaya nama’y umangat ang kabuhayan ng mayamang magsasaka tungo sa pagiging isang panginoong maylupa, bigla na lamang bang magbabago ang kanyang wikang sinasalita, na tila ba’y kakambal ng pagbabago ng estadong pang-ekonomya at panlipunan ang pagpapalit ng wikang ginagamit sa pakikipagtalastasan sa ibang tao?

    Kung susundan naman ang sipi mula kay Tagapangulong Mao, ipinahihiwatig nitong iba ang wika ng naghaharing uri sa wika ng pinaghahariang uri at kung gayo’y may makauring katangian. Ang pinapatungkulan sa pahayag na ito ni Tagapangulong Mao, ay kung paano ginagamit ng mga uri ang iba’t ibang aspeto ng kultura, kabilang ang wika upang paglingkurin sa kanilang interes. Pansinin kung paano gamitin ng naghaharing uri ang parehong wika na ginagamit ng sambayanang Pilipino upang pagtakpan at lituhin ang masang anakpawis. Magandang halimbawa nga rito, ang paggamit ng “developing country” o “underdeveloped country” para ilarawan ang Pilipinas.

    sana’y nakaambag kami sa malalim na pagpapahalaga sa wikang PIlipino.

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