We Must Have a National Language
By President Manuel L. Quezon
Source: Kabayan On Line
WE are reprinting this speech before the Philippine Writer's League, Philippine Columbian Club on February 25, 1940 not only because President Quezon expounds his position on the need for a Philippine national language but also
because the speech puts on record that he too had his brush with the gadfly that is the press. His reaction may suggest a lesson to later Presidents on this matter.
I Don't belong to this group. Not very long ago, a writer came to my office in connection with some matter relating to literature. After a remark that I made, this person asked, "What do you know about literature?" Hence my statement that I don't belong to this group. I am very happy to be here, however, if only to give public testimony to my determination to give every support to the purposes for which the Philippine Writers' League has been organized.
I have not been "a friend of the writers," despite the statement to the contrary of my friend, Mr. Mangahas, for I have nothing to thank them for. I think I am one of the few pubic men in the Philippines who have achieved success in spite of writers. I started public life fighting a newspaper editor. I have been libeled time and again. A book which was published recently by two members of the Philippine Writers' League, Concepcion and Caballero, contains a chapter for which these two men should have been in jail long ago, I sent for them, as well as for the publisher of the book after it came out, and asked them a few pointed questions concerning the facts upon which they had arrived at some of their conclusions. On of them simply told me that he thought he was presenting me in the best possible light he knew. They had no facts to substantiate what they had said about me. They heard rumors, and you know that the rumors about me, published and unpublished, would constitute
excellent biographies of three different and contradictory personalities.
I have listened with interest to the speech just made by Doctor Romulo on the subject: "Will Filipino Literature in English Endure?" (see following article) and I must say that he is truly a literary man. What he said about the future of English literature in the Philippines is very well taken and worth considering. It is true that, as he said, the answer to that question will depend greatly upon how the Government of the Philippines carries out the policy of giving our people a national language, I am
going, therefore, to tell you tonight what, as far as I am concerned, I intend to do in this respect. Before I do that, however, I would like to tell you how the Constitution of the Philippines happened to have a provision on the national language.
I dare say that very few, if any, among the members of the Constitutional Convention actually believed, at the tine they voted for that provision in the Constitution regarding the national language, that the Government would take it seriously. No member of the committee which finally drafted the constitution believed in the need to have a national language based upon one of ht Filipino dialects. If the issue had been presented before the Constitutional convention that Tagalog should be the
National Language in the Philippines, I have no doubt that it would have been defeated.
Do you know how this provision of the Constitution happened to be there? The members of the
Constitutional Convention from Manila, using it as one of their political issues, had been advocating
the Tagalog language as the Official National Language of the Philippines. Many of the members of
the Constitutional Convention were candidates to the National Assembly and were friends of Tagalog
writers, and they knew that they were going to get votes by advocating that plan. The National
Assembly and the Philippine Legislature never took seriously the noise made by these candidates in
Manila, but it happened that when the Constitutional Convention was called, the delegates from
Manila were the same persons who had been making Tagalog as one of their issues. So, when they
tried to bring before the convention the question of Tagalog as the national language, the "Pro" (those
for the Hare Hawes Cutting Act led by Sergio Osmeņa) leaders in the Convention, many of whom
were against it, did not dare go against them. Osias would have fought that proposition tooth and nail,
for Osias believed in making English the language of the Philippines. I, however, supported it because
I believed in it. And when I supported it I already had the idea that, if I were elected President of the
Philippine, I would carry out the provision of the Constitution not because I am a Tagalog, but
because I believe we should have this national language rather than English or Spanish, and because
I know that we can never make English or Spanish -- certainly not Spanish --the national language of
the Philippines. We have been engaged in this effort for forty years now, and while we have English
writers who would compare favorably with English writers in America or in England, we have made
very little progress as far as making English the language of the common man is concerned. When
English is spoken in our barrios, it is almost as bad as my own English.
I once told some writers of an incident that happened to me in Baguio, I was having a few months'
rest there because I had tuberculosis. One day, while I was taking my siesta, my nurse came in and
told me, "Mr. President, the press wants to see you," I answered, "Tell the press to go to hell." That
expressed my feelings towards the press. The nurse turned around and -- I suppose she was too
much of a lady to repeat exactly what I had told her -- must have said something to the visitor which
indicated that I did not want to see the press. In the afternoon I discovered that it Father Tamayo of
the University of Santo Tomas who had come to see me, and that what the nurse meant to say when
she mentioned the "press" was the "priest," I leave to your imagination what Father Tamayo would
have thought if this nurse had not been well-breed and had repeatedly my very words "Go to hell" to
I am convinced that the English language can never be our national language; if it could be, then it
would be some kind of English language. This is bound to happen, unless we are willing or able to
spend millions and millions of peso. If we had American teachers in every school to teach English,
and if the children that went to school remained there for a least seven years, certainly we could
make English the national language. They would learn it very easily because they would speak
English in their own home. But we cannot do that. We cannot pay the salaries of American teachers
and we do not have enough Filipino teachers who can teach English well. On the contrary, many of
our teachers in the barrios will call the priest the "press."