Spanish goodbye
() - February 6, 2011 - 12:00am

In many gatherings many Filipinos have a tendency to linger on, still chatting long after they have already said they are leaving or “going ahead.” This kind of prolonged farewell has come to be known as the Spanish goodbye — something perhaps which we inherited from the Spaniards. This in fact is the case with outgoing Spanish Ambassador to the Philippines Luis Arias and his amiable wife Sol. The Spanish goodbyes are taking even longer, with the popular and well-liked couple having to do the rounds of endless despedida parties, dinners and cocktails hosted by their numerous friends and colleagues. Just recently, Ambassador Arias said his goodbyes to President Noynoy Aquino. The Spanish Ambassador was one of the first to congratulate P-Noy for his victory in the 2010 presidential elections.

Perhaps of all the Spanish envoys posted here in the country, Ambassador Arias is considered the most popular ever despite his low key personality. People may not have seen the Spanish Ambassador in too many photo ops hugging babies or taking the limelight in handing over emergency kits to people in need — but El Señor Don Luis Arias has done quite a bit in helping the Philippines especially during our time of need.

In fact, Spain was one of those countries that quickly responded when Typhoon Ondoy devastated the country in September 2009, sending planeloads of donations worth more than P240 million through the representation of the Ambassador — which is one of the many reasons why our People Asia magazine saw fit to bestow on him a Special Award during our “People of the Year” awards in January 2010. Aside from emergency donations, several evacuation centers in Bicol were also constructed with assistance from Spain. Classrooms and a regional hospital in Bicol were also rehabilitated with help from “Madre España.”

But more than financial and material assistance, perhaps the most significant achievement during the tenure of Ambassador Arias is a rekindling of interest for the Spanish language. To the credit of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, she recognized the importance for Filipinos to learn Spanish when she issued a Memorandum Order directing the DepEd and the Commission on Higher Education to reintroduce Spanish in the school curriculum as an elective. It was precisely for this reason — promoting the language through educational initiatives — that then President Arroyo received the Don Quixote de la Mancha institutional award in Madrid from King Juan Carlos last year.

While people normally perceive Spanish as a romance language, it has in reality become an important language of business in this globalized world, with over 450 million speaking the language across many nations including the United States. Today, Spanish is no longer regarded as an outdated or elitist language but as an important component in trade relations with Latin America and other member countries of the European Union. By 2050, it is estimated that there will be more than 100 million Spanish-speaking Americans, practically making Español the second language in the US. For those who wish to work in the US and Europe and even for those who want to be employed as call center agents, speaking fluent Spanish will give you an added advantage.

Some people were lucky enough to still catch Spanish as an elective subject in college before the 1987 Constitution abolished it as one of our official languages. After all, if there’s one thing that sets Filipinos apart from other Asians, it’s the fact that we are not purely Asians but are considered Latin-Asians with our temperament similar to the Latinos. And considering that some 20 to 30 percent of Tagalog words trace their roots to Spanish, it goes without saying that Filipinos may have a natural flair when it comes to learning the language.

The problem today however is that we don’t have enough teachers to effectively teach the Spanish language. But thanks to the initiative of former Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, the first steps have been taken to revive the language through 15 pilot schools nationwide. Our hermano, Don Pepito Rodriguez of the Instituto Cervantes, told us that they have already conducted the training for 30 secondary school teachers from 17 regions in the countryside to equip them for the DepEd’s pilot program. The Instituto Cervantes has been largely instrumental in promoting the “Spanish connection” in the Philippines by promoting the language and culture of Spain and other Latin-American countries. It is currently working with schools like De La Salle, Colegio San Agustin and other educational institutions that offer Spanish language courses to its students.

Unfortunately, there are still a few narrow minded people who resist the idea of bringing back the Spanish language into the country, judging from inane stories coming out about Spain re-conquering the Philippines or something to that effect when the Education Department and the Spanish Embassy announced sometime in November 2008 that optional Spanish language classes will be offered to secondary schools in the country. The bad perception can obviously be traced to the centuries-old negative feelings some Filipinos continue to harbor against the Spaniards dating back to the colonial days.

But whether people like it or not, things have considerably changed since then and the relations between Spain and the Philippines have become inevitably even stronger through the years, with Madre España having become by far our biggest emergency donor in all of Europe. The future is clear — if the next generation of Filipinos can become trilingual and speak Tagalog, English and Spanish, then half the battle for being globally and economically competitive would have been won.

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