Dia de la Hispanidad: A time for remembering

By Jose ‘Pepe’ Rodriguez

It is a little over a hundred years since 1898 and it has come to this. 
Filipinos have to be reminded that Spain is not only a memory but very much 
part of the nation’s present.

I have spent the most fruitful years of my life, 25 years in fact, in this 
country as journalist, husband to a Filipina and father of two children whom 
I have raised as Filipinos. I have, in many respects, become Filipino. And 
yes, I consider the Philippines my other homeland.

It is from this engagement with Filipinos, across the nation and from all 
walks of life, that I have seen the estrangement widen, the dimming of the 
collective memory of what once was. I have sensed the presence of a 
psychological barrier that continues to hamper efforts at rediscovery and 

Most Filipinos hardly know about today’s Spain. Whatever little they know of 
Spain are taken from, I submit, textual material that date to the days of 
the Propaganda.

While I do not wish to be drawn into a debate about how history should be 
taught in schools which my children themselves attended, it is clear that 
for generations of Filipinos, the stereotypes are the ones remembered, the 
caricatures used by the propagandists to demonize the enemy and further the 
revolutionary cause.

And because of this, most Filipinos carry with them portraits of the "black 
Spain." Noli’s Padre Dámaso, Sisa, and the brutal Guardia Civil. And to 
think that imperial Spain only had a handful of Spaniards who governed most 
of Luzon, the Visayas and parts of Mindanao.

How they did so, of course, is another story.

In the post-colonial period, it did not help that the required teaching of 
Spanish was taken out of the school curriculum. The proposition then, if I 
recall right, was learning Spanish no longer had any value. That, for me, 
was the final break with the colonial past and the victory of the parochial 
mind. Today, Spanish is, as everyone knows, the spoken language of more than 
400 million people and is considered as the second language in the United 

By the time I arrived in the country in 1977, the estrangement had grown two 
oceans wide, and today most Filipinos really do not know, or care to know, 
about Spain. Except, of course, for some 50,000 Filipino migrants, their 
families and relatives, working in dear Spain.

Of course, there are pockets of Hispanistas alive and well in the country, 
undertaking valiant efforts at staving off forgetting and sparking a 
revival. And I have been privileged to be part of these rearguard actions.

The most noteworthy, of course, is the continued existence of the Academia 
Filipina de la Lengua Española, the Philippine branch of the Royal Academy 
of the Spanish Language founded in 1924. Its founding members included Don 
Epifanio de los Santos, yes EDSA, and Don Enrique Zobel de Ayala. Its 
present members include the President herself, Her Excellency Gloria 
Macapagal-Arroyo and His Eminence, Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin. 
Also we still have the much coveted Premio Zóbel yearly awarded to a 
distinguished Hispanista.

There was, of course, the short-lived Spanish section, Crónica de Manila, in 
the Manila Chronicle, which a group of Hispanistas and I, with the late 
Foreign Affairs Secretary Raul Manglapus co-founded and edited.

Still and all, these and other efforts have, in the main, not lit the fire. 
There continues to be disinterest among the many. Again, this may be because 
of the obstacle I pointed out earlier, which has prevented most Filipinos 
from moving on, welcoming an encounter with today’s Spain.

This is the inanimate but real obstacle which, I think, must be hurdled 
before our two countries can wholeheartedly "embrace the past," as the 1998 
Centennial Commission aptly put it, and move on, in full stride, as equal 
partners in the present.

Spain has acknowledged the mistakes committed during the days of Empire. It 
has even paid tribute to the great Filipino hero, José Rizal, by allowing 
the erection of his statue at very heart of Madrid, at the Avenida Islas 

No less than the Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González himself expressed 
this during his visit to the country in 1988. In a speech at a dinner in his 
honor hosted by then President Corazón Aquino, González said: La relación 
histórica entre Filipinas y España ha sido larga y no siempre fácil. Se 
deben reconocer, y asi lo hacen ahora la mayoria do los españoles de hoy, 
los errores cometidos en los años de la liquidación de la situacion colonial 
hispano-filipina, en las últimas decadas del siglo XIX (…)".

(The historic relationship between the Philippines and Spain was long and 
not always easy. We must acknowledge, as it is now realized by the majority 
of the Spaniards, the mistakes committed in the years of the liquidation of 
the colonial Spanish-Philippine situation, in the last decades of the XIX 
century (…)".

The unprecedented visit of the King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofía of Spain 
in 1995, which was the first ever by a Spanish monarch since Magellan came, 
was clearly aimed at closure.

Allow me to quote a portion of his speech at the State Dinner given by then 
President Fidel V. Ramos:

"Mr. President. The past persists into the present, and offers all the 
possibilities now open to us – both peoples and individuals – for acting (…) 
This visit is the clearest proof of Spain’s renewed interest in 
strengthening our relations and provides confirmation of the affection and 
friendship that the Spanish people feel for the Philippines."

There is no doubt that a "common future" can be forged using our "common 
past" as a foundation for working together in our "common present."

The ongoing cultural cooperation project and between our two countries, 
whose slogans I lifted these from, shows that current efforts at rediscovery 
and renewal are moving towards the direction which we all aspire for.

For apart from the paella, the chorizo de Bilbao, the pasodoble, the mantón 
de Manila, the abanicos, the bullfights, the flamenco, the walls of 
Intramuros, the old Spanish-built churches, and the Sto. Niño, there is so 
much to be gained from a renewing of ties on the basis of friendship and 

Spain can very well be the Philippine’s door to Europe, to Latin America. 
And vice-versa, the Philippines should be Spain’s bridge to Asia. This is 
nothing new. For our shared history began in this manner. Spain’s search for 
the fabled Spice Islands led it to the Philippines.

The opportunity for rediscovering each other is there for the taking. We 
only have to be bold enough to cross the line and embrace each other.

Indeed, as we celebrate the National Day of Spain, it´s time Filipinos began 
to learn more about the ties that continue to bind rather than divide us. It 
is time to act, as the King of Spain has said, on the "possibilities now 
open to us."

Perhaps, when President Arroyo, whose father also visited Spain as 
President, is able to travel to Spain in the near future, she shall 
inaugurate a new beginning in our journey toward a common and prosperous 
future and relive with more intensity our long-lasting "historia de un amor" 
Mabuhay ang Pilipinas! Viva España!

(José "Pepe" Rodríguez is a veteran Manila-based journalist and writer. He 
is president of the Philippine branch of the Royal Academy of the Spanish 
Language. He was former president of the Foreign Correspondents Association 
of the Philippines and the Manila Overseas Press Club)

Source: Philstar, October 12, 2002

Hispano-Filipino articles main web page