His Excellency Carlos P. Garcia
President of the Philippines
Before the Philippine Center of International Pen Conference
[Delivered at Pines Hotel, Baguio, December 27, 1958]
I AM highly honored by your invitation to address this brilliant group of Filipino writers who are meeting today in this mountain city. A more suitable site for your conference could not have been chosen, for here in this romantic spot, with its enchanting scenery and its invigorating climate, one can hardly resist the urge to be in an expansive mood and to give expression to the emotions that surge in one’s being. It is the kind of atmosphere that would tempt a poet to strike his lyre.
The theme of your conference warms my heart because it evinces a desire on your part not to be mere passive onlookers but to be active participants in the building of our national structure, and the statement of your objective shows that you are alive to the forces that operate in our contemporary society. I am, therefore, confident that this conference will prove stimulating and, therefore, helpful and beneficial not only to yourselves but also for our country.
I am happy to note the rise in our country of a generation of writers in English, the lingua franca of the world of these times. It is as yet not a big group, it is true, but considering the size of our population and the fact that English has been with us for only about half a century, this accomplishment of our people may be considered as noteworthy. It is a tribute to the literary genius of your young writers that some of their works have gained recognition in the United States and in the English-speaking world. I suggest that they continue to develop their art and thus add luster to our country’s name. It is my considered view, in which I am certain the forward-looking statesmen and realistic thinkers of Filipinos agree, that if we must elevate our international position, prestige, and influence in a world that has in fact adopted English as the lingua franca and if we must keep abreast with the wings of cultural and material progress, our writing in English should be given positive encouragement. I am convinced that meetings like this one will provide the incentive for this development.
I, therefore, congratulate you heartily on the bright idea of holding this conference at this time so that you can discuss your common problems and receive mutual inspiration from your association with your peers and comrades.
It is also heartening to see that among those attending this conference are writers in the leading vernaculars in the country, for in our desire to push forward culturally, we must not be guilty of neglecting what is our own. We need to encourage our vernacular writers in order to keep our native languages alive and growing. It would be tragic, if not sheer folly on our part, if we are to allow our vernaculars and especially the national language to perish for want of encouragement. After all, the national soul can truly express its deepest sentiments and emotions, its most beautiful conceptions in art and culture and its deathless thoughts only through the vehicle of its autochthonous language. I mean here the people as a whole. I do not mean that individual Filipino writers cannot express their most patriotic thoughts in a foreign language.
Because it is a historical fact that Rizal’s immortal masterpieces, even his dying testament, the last farewell, were written in Spanish; Palma, who wrote the lyrics of our national anthem, did it in Spanish; Quezon’s and Osmeña’s orations were in both Spanish and English, and the constellation of Filipino writers who fought for our freedom and independence in the 19th and 20th centuries wrote in Spanish and/or English and yet they all expressed the national soul.
But it is also another historical fact that all these great writers and orators, when appealing to the masses of our people, had to use the vernacular. If I may be allowed to cite a personal case, I can vouch that my humble poetic contributions to Philippine literature were all in the vernacular. If they were written in English, I doubt if the popular response in the Visayan-speaking region that they got could be as warm, as deep, and as lasting.
In this connection, let me say a few things about our national language. We should never overlook the fact that in the development of languages they borrow from one another; the English and Spanish and French and Italian from Latin. The Latin from the Greek and Sanskrit and so on down the line.
The Castillian tongue merged with the Basque, the Catalan, the Sevillan, and other vernaculars in Spain to become the Spanish language. The English had the same development consolidated out of the vernacular of the Saxons, Angles, Welsh, Scotch, Irish, etc. The technical terms in art and science are mostly coined out of Greek or Latin deviations. If the inter-borrowing of words by modern languages is freely indulged in, why should our national language develop differently? We have a vast, number of vernaculars like, the Tagalog, Visayan, Ilocano, Bicolano, Hiligaynon, to name a few. Could all these not be welded into a rich and beautiful national language further enriching if with, the coinage of words for science and art? I endorse these ideas to this conference, of writers.
There is hardly any doubt that writers the-world over can contribute and have contributed in the past to the growth and development of their respective countries. The pages of history are replete with instances of this significant fact. In every country, the beautiful thoughts and lofty ideals that have been recorded through the ages on stone, papyrus, parchment, or paper have served as rich nourishment for the minds of the people who read them. In fact, men and women of letters play the role of silent mentors, shaping the thinking and attitudes of those who read their writings. If education is the foundation of every State, as an ancient sage once said, then the writers who provide the materials of education must receive high credit for their part in laying that foundation.
Moreover, popular movements that have led to far-reaching changes and upheavals in the social and political situation of different countries have been linked with the activities of literary men and women. I do not mean by this statement that it was the writers that caused those movements. Rather, it would be more accurate to say that it was through the pens of these literary men and women that the grievances, fears, hopes, and longings of the people were made articulate. “In some instances, the emotions were aroused to such a high pitch that by degrees an irresistible force developed like heat in the bossom of the mountain which finally went off in a terrific explosion.
Who does not recall the part that Voltaire and Rousseau played in fanning the popular discontent of the French people which finally led to that social cataclysm recorded in history as the French Revolution? Living at a time when the middle classes and the peasantry of France were groaning under the tyranny and oppression of the feudal aristocracy, these two men of letters became the powerful spokesmen of the people who were seeking enfranchisement from virtual economic bondage. Voltaire, with his pungent criticism of the existing economic and political order, and Rousseau, with his bitter censure of the social inequality of mankind as elaborated in his theory of the social contract, brought the passions of the populace to a white heat that eventually burst into a conflagration which shock the feudalists system to its very foundation. No one realized this fact more fully than Louis XVI himself, who, upon seeing the books of Rousseau and Voltaire in the prison of Temple fortress where he had been incarcerated, remarked that those two men had destroyed France, meaning of course the Bourbon Dynasty.
Similarly, the writers of the colonial period in the United States did much to galvanize the sentiments of the colonists in favor of separation from England as a result of which the war of the revolution broke; out and finally “ended “in the: independence of the thirteen colonies in 1776. Later, another writer, Harriet Beecher Howe, by “writing- Uncle Tom’s Cabin voiced the aversion of many people “to the inhumanity of the institution of slavery, thus paving the way for the emancipation of the American Negro by the immortal Abraham Lincoln. It can, therefore, be said with much truth that she helped greatly the cause of personal freedom in the United States. In England the trend towards more democracy and greater interest in social welfare during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were reflected in the works of such writers as Paine, Gray, Burns, and Carlyle to mention only the most prominent.
Thomas Paine pointed out the need of creating peasant proprietorship, of paying old age pensions, and of spending liberally for the education of the children. Thomas Gray sang of the short and simple annals of the poor and Robert Burns minimized the significance of rank, wealth, or blood and stressed the importance of individual worth. Thomas Carlyle glorified the honest worker and denounced the industrial revolution which he believed was responsible for the sufferings of the laboring class.
Coming now to our own country, we recall how the writers of the different periods of our history have contributed to the building of our nation when our country was fighting for reforms. During the Spanish regime we had a group of writers working in Spain led by such famous men as Marcelo del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, and Dr. Jose Rizal, who not only pictured before the Spanish authorities and the Spanish people the deplorable conditions then obtaining in our country but also worked for the institution of reforms. And that is not all they did, for they also aroused the patriotic sentiments of the Filipinos and made them conscious of their common ideals, hopes, and aspirations. In other words, they united the Filipino people in a common cause, namely, the amelioration of conditions in their native country.
During the American administration, the longings of the Filipino people for political independence, for a desire to determine their own destiny, found able champions in such writers as Sergio Osmeña, Rafael Palma, Teodoro Kalaw, and the dynamic leader, the late President Manuel L. Quezon. These leaders presented our case before the American people so vigorously that the American Congress saw the justice of our cause and passed first the Jones Law and later the Tydings-Mcduffie Independence Act which definitely granted the Philippines her independence after a transition period of ten years. And so, on July 4, 1946, the Philippine Republic was born. We have been enjoying our independence for more than twelve years but the fight is not over. For while we have won our- political freedom, yet we can hardly say that we are now economically free. Therefore, we must now bend our efforts toward this new objective of full economic freedom without which political freedom would be empty. And so, just as our writers in the past have used their energy and talents in the effort to secure our political independence, I now charge our present day writers to apply their energies to the new problem before our people—that of securing our economic security, stability, and independence.
Lastly, I would ask you to delve into our culture and glorify it. There is no dearth of subjects to write about the blending of three main cultural streams—the Malay, the Latin, and the Anglo-Saxon. Right here our country provides an inexhaustible well-spring for our writers to draw upon. We have our folkways, our legends, and our epic poems which have been handed down by word of mouth from father to son. These must be recorded if we wish to preserve them for all time.
Ladies and Gentlemen: As wielders of the pen, you have the signal opportunity as well as the grave responsibility to help in the unending task of nation building. This is a difficult task and needs the undivided support and the wholehearted cooperation of all our citizens in order to endure. This edifice must rest on a strong and solid foundation but certain dark forces, if not overcome, may weaken this foundation; namely, cupidity, selfishness, inordinate ambition, dishonesty on one hand, and defeatism, negative thinking, and Godless materialism on the other. If the pen is mightier than the sword, as Bulwer Lytton once said, then I urge you to use the power that is yours to fight and crush those forces of evil in order that we may insure the security of our Republic, the performance of our democratic institutions, and the welfare and prosperity of our people. To me, the writers’ slogan should be “Keep and Develop English and Spanish for our International Front and the National Language for our National Front.”
Source: University of the Philippines, College of Law Library
Garcia, C. P. (1958). Speech of President Garcia before the Philippine Center of International Pen Conference. Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, 55(1), 5-9.