Baybayin and its Place in Modern Philippines
by Kieran Suna (@pinagsalita)
Baybayin was a system of writing used by Filipinos during the pre-hispanic era. Its origins were not certain, but most scholars hold that baybayin was an offshoot of the written script of the people from Indonesia, and it arrived in the Philippines in the 13th or 14th century. While early Spanish records state that the Filipinos communicated orally, inscriptions in baybayin have been found in bamboo, leaves, copper plates, and rocks, containing prayers for gods or letters for loved ones. The Spanish colonization of the Philippines in the 16th century made way for the Latin alphabet and a new language, but Filipinos still used baybayin during this time.
The clamor for baybayin to be used as a mode of writing has steadily been growing over the years. However, for a system of writing that could not withstand the test of time, is it practical to reintroduce it into modern society?
Baybayin is undoubtedly a part of Filipino culture. It serves as a proof of the capability of pre-colonial Filipinos to read and write. However, recognition of these facts does not mean that baybayin should be integrated into the national writing system once more.
Here lies the issue of resources and practicality — of whether the government is willing to disburse funds to teach a writing system that has been abandoned for centuries. The Philippines boasts a very high literacy rate of about 97%, per the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), however, such is not an accurate reflection of the status of our educational system. Taking into consideration the fact that public schools, its teachers and students are already at a disadvantage with the current online setup, an additional form of writing isn’t the greatest idea, especially since it is no longer used in common practice. There is no need to release resources and elicit effort from government bodies, teachers, and students in order to pressure them into learning a writing system that has fallen into disuse.
Further, baybayin isn’t the only indigenous writing script in the Philippines. Baybayin was mostly used in Luzon and Visayas, and each area had modifications to the script, depending on the language they used to speak and write with. Other than baybayin, these are some of the indigenous writing systems our ancestors have come up with: Hanunó’o and Buhid of the Mangyans, Tagbanwa by the Tagbanwas, and Kulitan by the Kapampangans, among others. To declare baybayin as the sole national writing system of the Philippines, requiring it to be integrated into our education, would undermine the other indigenous scripts which have existed alongside the baybayin.
Today, House Bill №1022 or the National Writing System Act, proposing the use of baybayin in signages, labels, and translations has been substituted by House Bill №8785, or the Philippine Indigenous or Traditional Writing Systems Act, which seeks to promote the conservation of all the indigenous writing systems, not just baybayin. The act encourages “activities that promote the awareness of traditional writing systems during Buwan ng Wika, and other similar occasions shall be created.” Further, “seminars, conferences, conventions, symposia and other relevant activities on the study of writing systems” may be initiated, depending on the indigenous writing system per region.
Language, and in relation, orthography, is dynamic. We cannot expect the two to stay fixed as they will always be affected by external forces such as colonization and globalization. It is truly unfortunate that the use of baybayin has declined over time, but the answer to this problem is not to make it the conduct of business again, as learning it is too immense of a task for the people who have not used it for centuries. However, this does not mean that we should forget about it. We must look at baybayin and the rest of our indigenous writing systems as part of our history and take part in keeping it alive in art, tradition, and culture.
Kieran Suna is an editorial writer for LAGABLAB. You may contact him at @pinagsalita