GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 1 May) – Early last week, House Bill No. 1022 was approved by House Committee on Basic Education and Culture (philstar.com) – April 23, 2018). “It is all sounds and fury barely signifying anything”, to paraphrase Shakespeare.
It has a glowing Explanatory Note with citations from a 16th-17th Century Spanish writer on the prevalence of Baybayin among the Filipinos¸ obviously the Tagalogs, and from scholars on the importance of writing. Without relating the citations to the rationale of the bill, the Note abruptly ends, “Thus, the approval of this measure is earnestly sought”.
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Entitled “National Writing System Act” and authored by Pangasinan Rep. Leopoldo N. Bataoil, a retired police general turned politician, it seeks to install Baybayin, an ancient Tagalog script, “as the National Writing System of the Philippines” – declaring it so and “providing for its promotion, protection, preservation and conservation”.
This declaration, consonant with the declared “policy of the state to inculcate, propagate and preserve the cultural heritage and treasures of the Philippines…” is necessary to make Baybayin “a tool for cultural and economic development to create consciousness, respect and pride for the legacies of Filipino cultural history, heritage and our authentic identity” (Section 2).
In Section 3, this declaration is reiterated: “To generate greater awareness of the plight of ‘Baybayin’ and foster wider appreciation on its importance and beauty.” What does “plight of ‘Baybayin’” mean?
In the Explanatory Note, Baybayin is identified as an ancient Tagalog script. Section 3 modifies it: “In this Act, ‘Baybayin’ shall refer to all existing and discovered ancient and traditional scripts of the Philippine indigenous people”. There are, indeed, other ancient scripts; these and others that might yet to be discovered, have distinct names. Why refer to them as “Baybayin”? We see no point in this except confusion.
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The long title of HB 1022, by placing “promotion” ahead of “protection, preservation and conservation” in its “purpose-clause” shows the primary objective of the bill – to promote the use of Baybayin. This is detailed in Section 4.
Following are the four ways to promote Baybayin, quoted in full:
- By requiring all manufacturers of locally produced processed produced (sic) food products to inscribe “Baybayin” scripts and their translation on the containers or labels.
- By mandating the local government units (LGUs) to include the appropriate “Baybayin” script in their signage for street names, public facilities, public buildings, and other necessary signage for other public service establishments such as hospitals, fire and police stations, community centers and government halls.
- By requiring newspaper and magazine publishers to include a “Baybayin” translation of their official name, and
- By directing the appropriate government agency to disseminate knowledge and information about “Baybayin” script by distributing reading materials in all levels of public and private education institution and in all government and private agencies and offices to instill awareness of the declaration of “Baybayin” as the national writing system and to conduct staff trainings for the proper handling of these important documents.
While the LGUs, other government agencies and offices, private companies and other private institutions are mandated to promote Baybayin, in Section 5, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) is mandated to protect, preserve and conserve Baybayin.
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Can HB No. 1022 be passed into law by the 17th Congress? If it can hurdle the “BIG IF”, Baybayin will create curiosity starting the last months of 2018. The law will “take effect fifteen (15) days after its publication in at least two (2) national newspapers of general circulation” (Section 9).
“Within sixty (60) days after the approval” of HB 1022 into law, the implementing rules and regulations will be promulgated by the NCCA “in coordination with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG), the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED” (Section 6).
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As descried by The Manila Times, in its April 26 editorial: “Baybayin, the ancient script of the Tagalogs, is a mixture of an alphabet and a syllabary (a table of syllables). It is not a language, but a manner of writing.” x x x “It is characterized by its wide letters, whose pronunciations varied, depending on accents above or below them”. In comparison, each letter in Baybayin represents a syllable; in the Roman alphabet, syllables are formed by combining consonants and vowels.
Dr. Joselito de los Reyes, creative writing and literary researcher at the University of Santo Tomas, has a long comment in his article “Much ado about Baybayin” written in Tagalog and published by Rappler.com (April 27, 2018) perhaps in response to an opinion on HB 1022 published earlier also in Rappler. It is briefly summarized: “Bakit inuuna natin ang pagpapasulat ng mga pangalan na parang kumikislot na bulate? Bigyan muna ng prayoridad ang iba pang mas mahalaga.” (Why give priority to a system of writing wriggling like an earthworm? There are other matters more important.)
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Culture and History writer, Dom Balmes, in an article in Claire Delfin Media (April 24, 2018), said: “There are 56 scripts for consonants and 3 scripts for vowels, making the pre-Hispanic syllabary a total of 59 scripts”. The three scripts for vowels are for “a”, “e/i” and “o/u”.
An article by Jeremiah Capacillo, “Yay or Nay: Congress Wants Us to Revert to Pre-Colonial Baybayin”, posted in Twitter through Spot.ph, has two sets of specimens:
- The first is that of 15 consonant scripts (B K D G H L M N NG P R S T W Y) and three big vowel scripts (A E/I O/U). These correspond to the present Pilipino alphabet in capital letters and appear to be the basic scripts.
- The second is that of a table of 70 syllables of consonant scripts. These are in small letters corresponding to the combination of 14 basic scripts (excluding “R”) with each of the three (five-in-three) vowels. The basic scripts as capital letters are standing erect; the consonant scripts slanting with “+” below each as small letter. The consonant scripts in combination with “e” or “i” have the inverted (‘) mark on top; in combination with “o” or “u”, the inverted (‘) is below.
Obviously, ABAKADA, the Pilipino alphabet, with 15 consonants and five vowels, is derived from Baybayin. In Pilipino, “e” and “i” are separate letters – the first “soft” and the second “hard” e-sounds; and so are “o” and “u”, the first “soft” and the second “hard” o-sounds; and, “baybay”, a noun, means “spelling”; “baybayin”, a verb, means “spell”.
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Media sources most familiar with Baybayin are divided in their opinion about HB 1022. They commend it for seeking to protect, preserve and conserve Filipino cultural heritage; but, they are wary of the primary objective to promote it.
Of the first, however, they resent that the measure is only about Baybayin, the Tagalog ancient script. Cultural heritage advocates point out that there are ancient scripts of other Filipino language groups like kulitan (Kapampangan), kurditan (Ilocano), badlit (Visayan), surat (Mangyan) and also surat (Bicolnon) (Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 27: Protect all PH writing systems, heritage advocates urge Congress).
That Section 2 of HB No. 1022 provides that “…‘Baybayin’ shall refer to all existing and discovered ancient and traditional scripts of the Philippine indigenous people” does not remedy the Tagalog-bias of the bill.
Of the second, reviving Baybayin which fell into disuse by the mid-1700s and promoting it as our national writing system as provided in Section 4 is impracticable, inappropriate and a waste of resources. It will be as strange as ETs (extra-terrestrial beings). Using it as sub-text of signage, street signs, commercial labels and names, and masthead of newspapers is useless. Adding Baybayin to the school curricular program is a no-no.
How a 3-century-long abandoned script, no longer understood, can be resurrected and re-learned to become “a tool for cultural and economic development” is a puzzle without a clue. It’s re-setting the clock back to 1700 and using stone implements in a fast-changing hi-tech world.
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By all means, protect, preserve and conserve Baybayin and other ancient scripts. But keep them where they should be – in the museum, in postage stamps, in peso bills, and in the circles of cultural heritage advocates. But for the Congress to legislate the revival and promotion of Baybayin to revert our national writing system to pre-colonial times is crazy and ridiculous.
That is like the Congress passing a law mandating g-string or bahag as the daily national wear for men. That’s promoting Filipino cultural heritage at the expense of sanity.
While crazy and ridiculous, it at the same time is practical economics. If male members of the Congress would wear bahag – worn with business suits, barong and expensive shoes – the savings would be huge, considering the present cost of pants. And, more if 50 million Filipino males will do the same as mandated.
To be blunt, Baybayin? Binuang (Crazy)! Bahag na lang.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Patriicio P. Diaz was editor in chief of the Mindanao Cross in Cotabato City and later the Mindanao Kris. He is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his ‘commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator, and Peace Advocate.’ You may e-mail your comments to [email protected])