By Florangel Rosario Braid
Published in Manila Bulletin
August 17, 2013
With the problems facing our society today, some may say a controversy emerging from a proposal to change the name of the country should not elicit much of our attention. It is merely a change in name. Further, it involves only a change in one letter, the proponents would say. But this is not just an ordinary change in name of a person or a place. It involves the law and could have negative consequences if ignored – like a constitutional crisis, perhaps. This was how it all started. Last April, the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (KWF) issued a resolution to use “Filipinas” instead of “Pilipinas”. In rationalizing the change, KWF through its president, National Artist Virgilio Almario said the new name (one which he had thought about for several years now), could help the citizenry reflect on the history and progress of the nation Those who did not agree with the proposal argued that any change should be based on studies and extensive consultations with the public.
Even as many recognize the merits of this change, there however exists a legal constraint. It is found in Article XVI, Section 2 of the Constitution which states, “The Congress may, by law, adopt a new name for the country, a national anthem, or a national seal, which shall all be reflective and symbolic of the ideals, history, and traditions of the people. Such law shall take effect only upon its ratification by the people in a national referendum”. KWF President Virgilio Almario assures us that the change will be gradual. Nonetheless, it appears that it is only Congress and a national referendum that can mandate a change in either the name or seal of the republic.
The arguments in favor of multilingualism and debates on possible change in the country’s name must however continue just as long as we are aware of the legal limitations. As Rep. Magtanggol T. Gunigundo, in his privilege speech last week in commemoration of Buwan ng Wika, noted, even as our people have embraced Filipino as our common language, they have done so without repudiating their own native languages” Filipino is still evolving into its ideal multilingual character as it is still predominantly based on Tagalog/Pilipino. In the evolution, Gunigundo expressed a principle that must always guide the process – that change must come from the people who use and sustain languages and not from those who study them.
The change to “Filipinas” is one way of embracing the other Philippine languages which have shown the insufficiency of the old Abakada (the f and v in Ibaloi, Ilokano and Cebuano, and j in most languages of Mindanao. The change further indicates the “non-exclusivist” and multilingual character of the evolution of our language. There is also Republic Act No.10533 or the K-12 law recently signed by President Aquino which provides that basic education shall be conducted in the learner’s native languages throughout kindergarten and the elementary grades. This policy is based on studies which show that creativity and critical thinking are greatly enhanced when a child learns in his/her mother tongue.
These trends, according to Gunigundo clearly indicate that the country has shifted from a “one nation, one language” mindset to one that recognizes our linguistic and cultural pluralism – a “kambyo sa pananaw”. It reaffirms Pres. Aquino’s vision – which is to use English to connect with the world, the national language to connect with our country, and the native language to connect with our heritage”.