Education and Spanish in RP

June 19, 2013

By Pio Andrade, Jr.
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.
The 1896 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.” (underscoring done 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 these 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”.

By Pio Andrade

A more enlightening view was that of Carlos Palanca, the most prominent Chinese in the last two decades of Spanish rule. He submitted a memorandum to the Schurman Commission about the main products and languages in the different provinces, Palanca listed 18 provinces as Spanish-speaking with 5 provinces as speaking little Spanish. The rest of the provinces speak the regional language. The Spanish-speaking provinces, the most prosperous provinces, were deeply influenced by the friars and had a significant concentration of Spanish-speaking, Chinese and their mestizos. Yet, in the other provinces not classified either as Spanish-speaking or speaking little Spanish, one could find several headmen who spoke fluent Spanish, according to Stephen Bonsal, an American war correspondent who traveled widely in the Philippines.

Still another revealing source on the widespread use of Spanish at the time of the American invasion was the fact that American soldiers had to speak crude Spanish, dubbed “bamboo Spanish”, to make themselves understood by the native Filipinos.

An important reference on the widespread literacy and, by inference, the wide use of Spanish in the Country, is the 1903 Philippine census. The Census, although deliberately— it seems— not answering Spanish-speaking and writing inhabitants in the country at that time, stated that the literacy rate of the Philippines at 20.2% including those who can read and write in any Philippine language. However if the figure that includes those who could read but could not write, the same figure jumps to 44.5%. Surely this literacy rate has little to do with the Americans who came to the Philippines only in 1898 and did not start their public school system until 1900.

Agoncillo’s statements downplaying the extent of education and the widespread use of Spanish during the end of the Spanish era is debunked by contemporary historical accounts on the subject matter and by even the 1903 Philippine census. Philippine history textbooks give the impression that the transition of the medium of instruction in the public school system from Spanish to English occurred smoothly. By the first decade, American bureaucrats in the Philippines were informing the American authorities in the USA that the Filipinos by the middle of the first decade were already English-speaking. Actually, Spanish grew even more during the 1900-1920 period. Professor Henry Jones Ford of Princeton University in his 1913 secret report on his six months travel and research about the Philippine situation to President Woodrow Wilson, had this to say on the use of Spanish in the country at that time: “There is however, another aspect of the case that should be considered. I had this forcibly presented to me as I traveled through the Islands, using the ordinary conveyances and mixing with all sorts and conditions of people. Although on the basis of School statistics the statement is made that more Filipinos now speak English than any other language, no one would think of the testimony of one’s own ears. Everywhere Spanish is the speech of business and social intercourse. For one to receive prompt attention, Spanish is always more useful than English and outside of Manila, is almost indispensable. Americans travelling about the Islands, use it habitually. What is more, they discourage the use of English. This was a development that took me by surprise. I asked an American I met on an inter-island steamboat why he always spoke Spanish to the stewards and waiters, and whether they could not understand him in English. He said that probably many of them could but one would not be treated with as much respect using English and not Spanish; that Filipinos seem to loose their manners using English, becoming rude, familiar and insolent.”

Professor Ford further underscored the widespread use of Spanish in the country by writing about the existing press thus: “There is unmistakable significance in the fact that there is not in all the Islands one Filipino newspaper published in English. All of the many native newspaper are published in Spanish and in the dialect. The Vanguardia, the Manila newspaper of largest circulation, has a Spanish section and a dialect section, and most of the native papers throughout the Islands follow this practice. The Philippine “Free Press”, the periodical of largest circulation under American control, is published in English and Spanish, and all the American newspapers use Spanish to some extent in conjunction with English. The only purely Filipino paper that uses English at all is the Revolutionary Organ, “The Philippine Republic”, published at Hong Kong. It is in Spanish and English. The avowed purpose being to reach American readers in the interest of Philippine Independence.”

It is relevant to mention here that as late as 1930, the Spanish dailies had a much bigger circulation than either Tagalog or English dailies. Noteworthy also is the fact that in the 1930’s there were a few Chinese periodicals in both Chinese and Spanish. Another big proof for the prevalence in Spanish over English in 1913 Philippines cited by Professor Ford is the failure of Act No. 190 enacted by the Philippine Commission mandating English as the sole official language of the courts and their records by January 1, 1906. The law was amended several times to accommodate Spanish as co-official language of the courts with English till January 1,1920. And Filipino legislators and Constitutional delegates made Spanish still an official language in the Commonwealth.

Spanish was also heavily used by American and Chinese businessman. Pacific Commercial Company, the largest American trading corporation in the country had the best Spanish teacher under their employ to teach Spanish to new American employees from the beginning to the time when the Japanese came. Meanwhile, the minutes of the Philippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce was in Spanish from their inception in 1904 to 1924, after which Hokien was used.

Truly, Spanish was already deeply widespread at the time of the coming of the Americans. Had it been used together with English in the American-controlled Philippine public school system, Filipinos would be like the Puerto Ricans today, speaking both English and Spanish.

Modesto Reyes Lim in a 1924 issue of the Rizalian Magazine ISAGANI vehemently criticized the imposition of English upon the Filipinos. He wrote: “¿No es acaso de sentido común, que hubiera sido muy fácil propagar más el castellano, que ya se usaba como lengua oficial y se hablada ya por muchísimas familias filipinas dentro y fuera de sus hogares, y del cual contaba entonces el país con muchos literatos, poetas y escritores distinguidos?” (Is it not of plain common sense to know that it would have been far easier to further propagate Spanish, which was already the official language and the mother tongue of so many pure Filipino families, in and out of their homes, and from whom where born so many writers, poets and distinguished men of letters?) “Indudablemente, como dice un ilustre filipno miembro actual prominente de la administración de justicia, que con el mismo tiempo y dinero gastado, sistema y otros medios modernos de instrucción empleados en la enseña del inglés, si en lugar de éste se hubiera propagado en mucha mayor proporción que se haya hoy propagado el inglés.” (There is absolutely no doubt, says a Filipino jurist of today, that if the same time and money, and the same teaching system and methods, now employed in the teaching of English were instead dedicated to the teaching of Spanish, the latter would have been propagated in a much larger proportion in which English has been propagated.)

Modesto Reyes Lim’s criticism of the teaching of English to the exclusion Spanish in the Philippines looks overly biased in favor of Español, but the view is the same view of Edgar Bellairs, an Associated Press was correspondent, who covered the Philippine-American War and traveled widely in the Philippines. Bellairs, in his book AS IT WAS IN THE PHILIPPINES, criticized the teaching of English over Spanish in Philippine public schools thus: “I lay it down as a proposition that if you start today and teach thousands of children in the Spanish language, in a period of two years, at the expiration of that time, you will have done more good for these people and this country and the masses of them will have a wider knowledge of their worlds’ history and be more capable of assessing this government than they will ever be at the expiration of 5 years under the present English language system”.

It was a mistake to exclude the teaching of Spanish and its use as a medium of instruction in the Philippine public schools system under the Americans. The exclusion led to the ignorance of Spanish by Filipinos, specially historians and journalists, who could, and should, shed better lights on the distorted Philippine past.
The present ignorance of Spanish by Filipino historians and writers perpetrates the ignorance by Filipinos of many positive and beneficial aspects of Spanish rule in the formation of the Filipino Nation. This ignorance is behind the lack of appreciation for our Spanish heritage and the loss of that precious capital of human hope. It is the task of historians and writers — a task admirably and effectively played by the late Nick Joaquin — to disseminate the need of learning the Spanish language to correct the heavily distorted history of our Hispanic past and to destroy the black legend that falsely says that Spanish rule in the Philippines was mostly evil when the contrary was true.

Notes from Arnaldo:

I’m collating some of the articles of Pio Andrade Jr. and posting them here believing that they present an important element in the study of Filipino historiography–an unbiased and genuine study on what has been twisted and distorted history. It’s unfortunate that historians like him are relegated to the sidelines because he doesn;t conform with the establishment historians and scholars who for the most part has contributed nothing but confusion, exaggeration and lies.

I would also be re-posting some old newspapers articles from other writers who wrote along the same line as Andrade. Since these involves a lot of typing, it’s taking sometime but with out a doubt worth all the tiring manual trouble!

I’m in the process of creating a new page in this site to house all these articles.

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Benedict Eugene AbieraJustThislang_consultant Recent comment authors
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Hi De Anda, very illuminating post. I would like to cite Andrade’s essay above (The Black Legend on State of Education; Education and Spanish in RP) in a report that I’m writing, but I can only find it here on your blog. Could you kindly direct me to its original publication so that I may cite it correctly?


Ramon Roces first created Photo News, a trilingual magazine. The magazine did not sell very well because common people (the majority) thought it a waste of money to buy a magazine that included languages they could not understand. Sure people could read, but even under the Americans just a few years in the elementary school was enough. Roces closed the publication and then came up with a less expensive magazine that was purely Tagalog, Liwayway. It sold so well, then he published magazines in other languages spoken in the Philippines. Spain had the noble intention of educating the Natives. La… Read more »

Benedict Eugene Abiera
Benedict Eugene Abiera

Is this page still active?
How can i contact the admin (arnold)?
Im from paracale and doing some research related to the works of andrade jr.