Language-in-Education Policy Making in the Philippine

By Magtanggol T. Gunigundo
Congressman, 2nd District of Valenzuela

(Presented at the 1st Philippine Conference-Workshop on Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education held at the Capitol University, Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines, on Feb. 18-20, 2010.)

M. Gunigundo

There is a need for Congress to formulate a 21st Century Philippine language-in-education policy that elicits the best educational outcome for Filipinos to become life-long learners and critical thinkers who can collaborate with one another to address the problems of national development.

Leadership will and administrative space, capacity building, and monitoring and evaluation are essential to ensure success of this language policy in education.

Our present language policy is flawed as it rejects the use in school of the first language of children which is a chronic source of weakness plaguing Philippine Education. Students fail to understand their teacher and their school lesson because the language in school is one they can hardly speak or understand.

International and local research studies on the use of languages in education are conclusive:  when the mother tongue is the medium in primary instruction, learners end up being better thinkers and better learners in both their first AND second language(s).

The state’s constitutional mandate to provide quality education remains a dream in the Philippines. Our linguistic diversity has been considered a major roadblock. This attitude must change. We must embrace and celebrate our multilingual society that represents our rich culture and traditions. We must think of the greater majority of Filipinos (almost 20 million enrolled in public schools) who are forced to study in a language that is not their own. We want a society that values their 1st language and can work together under a common language to address the issues of national development, and be conversant in a language of wider communication in the global stage.

The Philippines is a multilingual nation with more than 170 languages. According to the 2000 Philippines census, the biggest Philippine languages based on the number of native speakers are:

  • Tagalog 21.5 million
  • Cebuano 18.5 million
  • Ilokano 7.7 million
  • Hiligaynon 6.9 million
  • Bicol 4.5 million
  • Waray 3.1 million
  • Kapampangan 2.3 million
  • Pangasinan 1.5 million
  • Kinaray-a 1.3 million
  • Tausug 1 million
  • Meranao 1 million
  • Maguindanao 1 million

We completely agree with Dr. Bonifacio Sibayan who said that “We forget, (or do not know, and if we know, we ignore the fact) that most of the rest of the world that we have to compete with teach and educate their children in ONE LANGUAGE, their NATIVE LANGUAGE (Japanese, South Koreans, Americans, British, French, German, Russians, Malaysians, Thai, Indonesians, and others.)”

Bro. Andrew Gonzales was emphatic in stating that “We cannot gear an entire education system for the intellectual and economic elite. There has to be maximum flexibility in MOI and curriculum. Not everything in Philippine Education has to be uniform, in fact, even if we have policies toward uniformity; we never accomplish enough to be able to attain uniformity in results.”

We must realize that our neighboring countries have 12 years or more basic education as preparation for university/college education while we only have ten years.  Probably, we believe that Filipino children are so bright, they can learn in 10 years in a foreign language and 2 other languages what the people we have to compete with learn in 12 – 14 years in only one language, their native language. We are expecting too much from the Filipino child. It is unjust and unfair to the forsaken majority in the economic pyramid.

The 21st Century Philippine language of instruction policy must be aligned with the provisions of the 1987 Constitution and our commitment to International Conventions (UN Convention on the Rights of a Child and UNESCO Education for All).

The 1987 Constitution, under Article XIV, provides:

“Sec. 6. The National language of the Philippines is Filipino. As it evolves, it shall be further developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages.

Subject to provisions of law and as the Congress may deem appropriate, the Government shall take steps to initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official communication and as language of instruction in the educational system.

Sec. 7. For purposes of communication and instruction, the official languages of the Philippines are Filipino and, until otherwise provided by law, English.

The regional languages are the auxiliary official languages in the regions and shall serve as auxiliary media of instruction therein.

Spanish and Arabic shall be promoted on a voluntary and optional basis.

Other Relevant Constitutional Provisions:

Sec. 13, Article II, 1987 Constitution: The state recognizes the vital role of the youth in nation-building and shall promote and protect their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual and social well-being.

Sec. 4, Article III, 1987 Constitution: No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

Sec. 1, Article XIV, 1987 Constitution: The state shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.

Par. 1 Sec. 2, Article XIV: (1) Establish, maintain and support a complete, adequate, and integrated system of education relevant to the needs of the people and society.

According to the 1990 UN Convention On The Rights Of The Child,

  • The child has the right to an education and to learn and use the language of his family (Articles 28, 30)
  • When a child receives an education in a language that he or she does not understand, this violates the child’s right to be literate and be educated.

UNESCO (2003) Education in a Multilingual World position paper supports

1. Mother tongue instruction as a means of improving educational quality

2. Multilingual education at all levels of education as a means of promoting both social and gender equality and as a key element of linguistically diverse societies.

3. Language as an essential component of inter-cultural education in order to encourage understanding between different population groups and ensure respect for fundamental rights.

There are two contending bills, namely (a) the GUNIGUNDO MULTILINGUAL BILL and (b) the GULLAS, et al ENGLISH-ONLY BILL proposing a new language of instruction policy in the 14th Congress.  Here’s a comparison:

House Bill 3719 (Gunigundo)


To promote literacy and learning by making the native tongue as MOI during the formative years of basic education.

House Bill 5619 Bill  (Gullas, et al bill)


To “strengthen” English as the medium of instruction in all levels of education, from preschool to the tertiary level.

Gunigundo HB 3719    Multilingual Bill

Strategy for Learning:

  • Develop literacy and learning in L1 first.
  • Strong teaching of English and Filipino.
  • Transfer L1 skills to Filipino and English.
Gullas, et al HB 5619  “English Only” Bill

Strategy for learning:

  • Increase time for English by making it as primary MOI.
  • Ban on L1 and Filipino as MOI.
Gunigundo HB 3719    Multilingual Bill

Use of L1

  • L1 as primary MOI from pre-school to Grade 6.
  • Separate subject in elementary.
  • Separate subject and auxiliary MOI in secondary.
  • Additive
  • Pluralistic
Gullas, et al HB 5619 “English-Only” Bill

Use of L1

  • Optional use as MOI up to Grade 3.
  • Ban on L1 use thereafter.
  • Subtractive
  • Assimilationist
Gunigundo HB 3719    Multilingual Bill

Use of English

  • Strong teaching of English as a subject in elementary.
  • MOI and separate subject in secondary together with Filipino.
Gullas, et al HB 5619 “English-Only Bill”

Use of English

  • Preferred MOI from pre-school to Grade 3.
  • Exclusive MOI thereafter
Gunigundo HB 3719    Multilingual Bill

Use of Filipino

  • Strong teaching of Filipino in elementary.
  • MOI and separate subject in high school together with English.
Gullas, et al HB 5619 “English-Only” Bill

Use of Filipino

  • Optional use of Filipino as MOI up to grade 3.
  • Ban on Filipino as MOI thereafter except in Filipino as subject.
Gunigundo HB 3719   Multilingual Bill

Transition to Fil and Eng

  • From Grades 4-6, English and Filipino are used as MOI in some parts of the elementary curriculum
Gullas, et al HB 5619 “English-Only” Bill

Transition to Fil and Eng

  • No transition.
  • Introduce English immediately as MOI.
Gunigundo HB 3719    Multilingual Bill

Development of Teaching Materials and Teacher Training

Yes, in L1, L2 and L3.

Gullas, et al HB 5619 “English-Only” Bill

Development of Teaching Materials and Teacher Training

No in L1 and L2.  Yes, only in L3 (English).

Once Congress enacts HB 3719 into law, the economic pyramid is expected to undergo a dramatic transformation in 15 years where we shall see an expanding middle class and a diminishing hoi polloi. This is the way to move our nation forward.

Implication of the Thomas and Collier’s study into the workplace as computed by Dr. Steve Walter

Career Options If educated in L2 Only If educated In L1 Percentage Increase / Decrease

Researchers, scientists, top writers, top intellectuals, medical doctors

5 228 4,460%

Professors, business leaders, professionals, journalists

120 1,359 1,032%

Teachers, mid-level managers, engineers, programmers, bureaucrats

950 3,413 259.15%

Skilled factory workers, equipment operators, clerical, service workers

2,977 3,413 14.65%

Blue collar workers, manual laborers

3,712 1,359 – 63.40%

Hard to employ, domestics, menial labor

2,236 228 – 89.80%

10,000 10,000


Although DepEd deserves praise for coming up with DepEd Order No. 74, July 14, 2009 that gives the green light for MLE to proceed in public schools, we believe that a congressional act carries more permanency. But it will be a difficult and complicated process to craft a congressional act on language of instruction considering past language debates fueled by regionalism and over-reliance on personal anecdotes and gut feel exacerbated by a twisted belief that using a second language as medium of instruction for non-native speakers will make them better speakers.

We firmly believe that Congress will be able to rise to the challenge of educators rallying solidly behind Multilingual Education. If Congress was able to pass RA 8371 (NCIP) that authorizes indigenous people to establish educational systems in their own language, RA 9155 that provides teachers with flexibility to serve the needs of learners, and RA 8047 that encourages the publication of books in other Philippine languages, we believe that we can also enact a Multilingual Education and Literacy Act of the 21st Century.

In this day and age of computers and advanced technology in communications that has made the world a lot smaller, we submit that educational outcome is sublime and therefore must tower above ideological objections and up-front costs in crafting our 21st century Philippine language policy.

On May 10, 2010 we shall be electing a new President and a 15th Congress composed of 230 regular and 57 partylist Representatives and 12 new Senators. Let us seize this opportunity to elect men and women that possess intellectual breadth and a deep grasp of the issues on language policy that is central to education reforms. This is the only way to stop the further deterioration of our ailing educational system. Then and only then can our nation move forward.


Apilado, Digna B. A History of Paradox: Some notes on Philippine Public Education in the 20th Century. 2008 The Paradox of Philippine Education and Education Reform: social science perspectives/Allan B.I. Bernardo, Editor-Quezon City: Philippine Social Science Council

Bautista, Ma. Lourdes S. An outline: The national language and the language of instruction (1995). Readings in Philippine Sociolinguistics. 2nd Edition 1996

Bernabe, Emma J.Fonacier. Language Policy Formulation, Programming, Implementation and Evaluation in Philippine Education (1565-1974) 1987. Linguistic Society of the Philippines Monograph No. 25

Gonzales, Andrew, FSC. Philippine Bilingual Education Revisited, 1999. The Filipino Bilingual: A Multidisciplinary Perspective, Linguistic Society of the Philippines.

Nolasco, Ricardo Ma. 21 Reasons why Filipino children learn better while using their Mother Tongue.1st edition January 2009. Guro Formation Forum, University of the Philippines PO Box 279

_______________. The Prospects of multi-lingual education and literacy in the Philippines. 2008 The Paradox of Philippine Education and Education Reform: Social Science Perspective / Allan Bernardo, Editor – Quezon City: Philippine Social Science Council.

Sibayan, Bonifacio P. Difficult Tasks in Teaching Filipino Children in Two or Three Languages: Some Suggested Solutions, 1999. The Filipino Bilingual: A Multidisciplinary Perspective, Linguistic Society of the Philippines.

UNESCO. The Use of Vernacular Languages in Education. 1953

Walter, Stephen L. Does Language of Instruction Matter in Education? GIAL

5 thoughts on “Language-in-Education Policy Making in the Philippine

  1. Pero ¿no se volvió a introducir en la enseñanza el aprendizaje del español? Sin él, los filipinos sólo conocerán de 2ª mano y en traducciones al tagalo etc… su historia y cultura.

  2. Sigue habiendo muchos hispanohablantes esparcidos por todo el archipiélago filipino. Hay que recordar que la élite habla castellano. Lo raro es lo siguiente: Si la élite sabe hablar español y lo usa a diario ¿por qué no lo introdujeron en el sistema educativo? Muchos mandatarios saben comunicarse en la lengua cervantina.

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  4. El problema es que los filipinos no son nativos de habla inglesa. Aunque el gobierno filipino quiera que sea así el inglés nunca será la lengua franca del archipiélago. Nunca debieron borrar del programa de estudios la enseñanza del español que servía para unir a´l pueblo pero allá ellos. Los políticos filipinos seguirán siendo esclavos de Estados Unidos mientras éste les siga dando millones. ¡Mira qué pena!

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