The Philippines Wants to Go Back to a Prehistoric Writing System

ABS-CBN News in the Philippines reports, "The House Commitee on Basic Education and Culture has approved a bill seeking to declare Baybayin, a pre-Hispanic writing system in the Philippines, as the country's national writing system." The bill will require products manufactured in the Philippines to inscribe "Baybayin" scripts on their containers and labels. It also mandates local governments to include "Baybayin" scripts in street signs and public buildings. Newspapers and magazine should also include a "Baybayin" translation of their official names. Lastly, it directs government agencies which include the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education to disseminate knowledge and information of the "Baybayin" script in all levels of education, public and private.

Bonifacio Comandante wrote an article on the "Baybayin" script in the Esquire magazine of the Philippines. The article, The Life, Death and Resurgence of Baybayin, provides illustrations by Jasrelle Serrano that show the characters used by this prehistoric writing system:

It has three vowels,


and fourteen consonants.



The writing system has its own numerals, and it is surprisingly based on a decimal system, and bears some resemblance to the Latin script:



There is no question that the "Baybayin" system is a cultural gem for the Philippines. The presence of this script demonstrates the literacy of Philippine natives before the Spaniards came to the islands. The script is still used by several indigenous groups. Thus, it is important that the system is preserved for generations to come. It is certainly a fertile area for Philippine anthropology research.

Establishing a prehistoric script as a country's national writing system, however, is way overboard. A country needs a writing system that everyone can understand. The Philippines has this advantage over its neighbors since its current writing system is based on the Latin script, making it compatible with Western nations. Learning to write the alphabet in the various Philippine languages requires more or less the same as learning to write in English. Changing signages and product labels both come with costs. And, of course, teaching a writing system completely alien to children, their parents, and their teachers is not going to be cheap. This will require a tremendous amount of money, time and effort. The Philippine Congress is not really known for introducing good reforms to Philippine basic education. With this new bill, it once again shows how out of touch representatives are. There are obviously much more important issues lawmakers must address yet they choose to return the country's educational system to prehistoric times.


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