The importance of preserving Spanish in the Philippines
Father Gilbert is a strong advocate of preserving the Spanish language in the Philippines as an integral part of the curriculum in all school levels. Over the years, Spanish has fallen victim to a false sense of nationalism on the part of some misguided elements in that country's educational system. Their shortsightedness led to the abolition of the teaching of Spanish in schools by the 1987 Philippine Constitution.
Even as a student back in the Philippines, Father Gilbert was already writing poetry in castellano, influenced by his association with Filipino poet Federico Licsi Espino Jr., who published poetry books in Spanish, and with Guillermo Gómez Rivera, perhaps the most prolific Filipino writer in Spanish today. Poet and academic Edmundo Farolan has cited Father Gilbert as among the vanguards of Filipino literature in Spanish.
He recently published Diptych/Díptico, his first bilingual poetry collection, consisting of over one hundred poems in both English and Spanish. It is his contribution to the resurgent efforts to promote and revive the Spanish language as a lengua franca in the Philippines.
The first permanent Spanish settlement in the Philippines was founded in Cebu in 1565. Since then much of the country's history was written in Spanish until the end of Spanish colonial rule in 1898. Father Gilbert believes that the cultural and historical insights hidden in this treasure trove holds the key to Philippine national identity.
The founding fathers of the Philippine independence movement wrote their masterpieces in Spanish, including José Rizal, the country's national hero whose two novels against Spanish abuses during colonial times, especially those committed by the friars, kindled the fire of nationalism.
The importance of Spanish as the second most widely spoken language in the world cannot be ignored, especially in this day and age of globalization.
Knowledge of the language is a vital tool in providing employment to the young Filipino work force. Spain today is a magnet for Filipino overseas workers.There will come a time that knowledge of this language will come handy when developing nations in Latin America will also need the expertise of Filipino professionals, as can already be seen by a growing number of Filipino overseas workers hired by multinational corporations and deployed to Mexico, where they have offices and manufacturing facilities. It does not make any sense for the Philippines to give up Spanish for the sake of false nationalism.
But more important, the Spanish language forms part of the Filipino soul because it is a repository of great Filipino writings that led to Philippine independence. These writings are important in understanding and defining Filipino identity. Not knowing the Spanish language robs the Filipino nation of its very soul, which is both Hispanic and Asiatic, and much cultural and intellectual treasure will remain hidden from view if the trend is not reversed.
While the Department of Education --- thanks to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo --- has taken steps to reintroduce Spanish in Philippines schools, much heavy lifting remains to be done. Without a doubt, years of its banishment by philistines in and out of government has taken its toll. It is now incumbent upon educators, cultural warriors and anyone who cares about the future of the Philippine nation to encourage the younger generation to carry on the lonely fight led by such Filipino literary giants in Spanish as Guillermo Gómez Rivera.
The struggle to preserve Spanish and to keep it alive among the youth will remain difficult as long as some Filipino historians continue to demonize Spain in textbooks for its shortcomings as a colonial ruler. To them, nationalism means hatred for others, including aversion to anything associated with Spain. Sadly, the Spanish language becomes a collateral damage in their counterproductive efforts which achieve nothing but limit the horizon of the Filipino nation.