HOW did Tagalog become the basis of the national language?
I went home and looked the history up. Just out of curiosity.
During the Spanish time government bureaucracy was conducted mostly in Spanish.
However, given the persistently low level of knowledge of Spanish among the commoners (partly due to the lack of universal education until very late in the Spanish era), many of the Spanish authorities—especially the religious sector—learned Philippine languages. Around their main settlement, Manila, this was Tagalog. But in other parts of the archipelago, they learned the other languages too, which is why families of Spanish descent, like the Ortegas of La Union, can speak Ilokano today.
Towards the end of the Spanish era, and again after the Americans left, Filipino leaders were anxious to create a strong national identity, and looked to create symbols of nationality in almost everything—which is why the Philippines now has a national flower, fish, hero, tree, and even a language. But what are the origins of this national language?
The first time Tagalog was elevated to the status of a national language—or was attempted to be so—was in 1897. The Revolutionary Constitution of 1897 was drafted in defiance of the Spanish, and although this constitution was never enacted, it listed Tagalog as the national language. Interestingly, all the revolutionary leaders who drafted this constitution were native Tagalog speakers. People from other ethnolinguistic groups—like Warays, Ilokanos, Pangasinenses, etc—were not represented in the assembly.
The Malolos Constitution of 1898 was more equitable in making the use of all Philippine languages optional, alongside Spanish for “public authorities and judicial affairs.” No Philippine language, like Tagalog, was considered to be any more important than any other. Unfortunately, the Americans arrived shortly thereafter and only recognized English and Spanish. In 1935, the idea of an indigenous national language reemerged. The Constitution of the First Republic instructed the National Assembly to adopt a common national language based on one of the existing ones. The Constitution did not specify which one, but President Quezon had Tagalog in mind.
It was not until the Japanese Occupation that the Constitution specifically mentioned Tagalog, and demanded that steps toward the “development and propagation of Tagalog as the national language” be taken. Before the Japanese, Tagalog was only taught in the fourth year of high school, but the Japanese incorporated it into all grade levels. Future constitutions inherited this Tagalog bias (and English), largely to the exclusion of all other languages of the Philippines. The Constitutions of 1946, 1959, 1973, and 1987 made minor changes, such as changing the name from Tagalog to Pilipino to Filipino. But even though the name was changed to make it seem as if the national language were somehow representative of all people, the fact of the matter has not changed: Filipino is merely a politically motivated name for a variation of Tagalog. Nobody can deny that they share the same grammatical rules and vastly similar vocabularies.
So, the next time someone tells me, “Oh, but Tagalog-based Filipino is our National Language”, I’ll remind them that it was the Japanese that first made this a reality. And why would it have been in their interest to make it so? Because a population is much easier to influence and control if they all speak the same language. Furthermore, it helped dissociate the Philippines from the United States, who were Japan’s bitter enemies at the time.
Many governments in history have sung praises of “unity,” but this is often just a euphemism for “Let’s all think and talk the way we do in the seat of power (Manila).” Those countries that continue to shy away from preserving their linguistic diversity are still stuck in the World War mentality of “one country, one language.” Diversity was seen as inconvenient at best, and a recipe for mutiny at worst. Nations felt it necessary to present unified fronts. As countries today are not as vulnerable to invasion and outright war as last century, they have begun to look inward and notice that: a) Diversity is valuable; b) Trying to make everyone the same makes people less happy, not more; c) We don’t all have to think the same way or speak the same language in order to be a strong, proud country. We can preserve the national language alongside the local languages. Some countries even have multiple national languages.
Unfortunately, with its lack of government support for non-Tagalog languages and dialects, the Philippines is still stuck in World War II paranoia, when symbolism and uniformity was considered necessary for nation building. It may give lip service to diversity, but the government has yet to truly embrace it.