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Base-Maps of the Philippines & Linguistic/Regional Controversies in the Archipelago

Submitted by on January 27, 2016 – 9:31 am 10 Comments |  
Philippines Provinces MapGeoCurrents is continuing its distribution of customizable base-maps, constructed in easy-to-use presentation software. (The files are found at the bottom of this post, in both PowerPoint and Keynote [preferred] formats.) Today’s contribution is a province-level map of the Philippines. This map is available in several versions (with province names and without them, in color and in grey, aggregated into regions, and so on). A forthcoming GeoCurrents post will feature several thematic maps of the Philippines that were made with these base-maps.

Several complications of the provincial structure of the Philippines merit discussion. The first is the fact that the National Capital Region (Metro Manila, essentially) does not belong to any province. To a significant degree, the same thing is true in regard to the country’s 38 “independent Philippines Regions Mapcities,” but the situation here is complicated, and as a result this distinction is generally ignored on the GeoCurrents customizable maps. Deeper issues arise, however, when the provinces of the Philippines are aggregated into the country’s 18 regions, divisions that “serve primarily to organize the provinces of the country for administrative convenience.” In the case of the Philippine’s only autonomous region—The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao—the independent cities of Cotabato and Isabella occupy particularly ambiguous positions. Consider, for example, the Wikipedia’s description of Cotabato City:

Cotabato City is the regional center of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) but the city is administratively part of the SOCCSKSARGEN [region]… . For geographical purposes, it is grouped with Maguindanao [province], or for statistical reasons sometimes grouped with the Cotabato province, and does not belong to the ARMM. Cotabato City is distinct from and should not be confused with the province of Cotabato.  https://

Owing to these complications, I have mapped Cotabato City as if it were a province.

Isabella City on the island of Basilan is another special case. As again summarized in Wikipedia:

Isabela … is a 4th class city and the capital of the province of Basilan, Philippines. …While administratively the island province of Basilan is part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Isabela City itself is in not part of this region and is placed under the Zamboanga Peninsula region.

Owing to these complications, I have mapped Isabela City as part of Basilan on the province-level map, but I have separated it from this province on the region-level map, appending it instead to the Zamboanga Peninsula region.

Additional complexities arise from the frequently shifting roster of Philippine provinces and regions. As a result of such changes, the maps that I have made will almost certainly become outdated quickly. Consider, for example, the adjustments that were made in the provincial structure of the Philippines just from 2006 to 2013:

October 28, 2006: Plebiscite approves the separation of Shariff Kabunsuan from Maguindanao by virtue of Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act No. 201 enacted on August 28, 2006.

December 2, 2006: Plebiscite approves the separation of Dinagat Islands from Surigao del Norte by virtue of Republic Act No. 9355 approved on October 2, 2006.

November 18, 2008: MMA Act No. 201 declared void by the Supreme Court, Shariff Kabunsuan reverts as part of Maguindanao.

February 11, 2010: RA No. 9355 found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, Dinagat Islands reverts as part of Surigao del Norte.

March 30, 2011: Supreme Court reverses its decision on Dinagat Islands and became a province once again.

October 28, 2013: Plebiscite approves the separation of Davao Occidental from Davao del Sur by virtue of Republic Act No. 10360 approved on January 21, 2013.

Proposed Philippines Regions MapNot surprisingly, several new provinces have been proposed, as can be seen on the Wikipedia map posted here.

The Philippine’s structure of administrative regions has also changed frequently, with new regions added and with provinces transferred from one region to another. An executive order in 2015, for example, created a new region composed only of the two provinces on the island of Negros, which had previously been divided between the Central Visayas and the Western Visayas regions. This division reflected the island’s cultural and linguistic affinities, but evidently caused problems in planning and developmental initiatives. The new region is officially designed to “further accelerate the social and economic development of the cities and municipalities comprising the provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental and improve the delivery of public services in the aforementioned provinces.” The linguistic division of the island, however, presents a challenge to its regional unification. As outlined in an article in the Philippine Inquirer:

“The Constitution provides that the region should have a regional language that shall serve as the auxiliary official language in the region, the auxiliary medium of instruction,” said Maxino, dean of Silliman University’s College of Law. “So in this Negros Island Region, what would be the regional auxiliary official language?” he asked.

For Negros Oriental Vice Gov. Mark Macias, the solution is simple: Transactions will be done in English.

English is one of two official languages of the Philippines, along with Filipino. Filipino, which is based on Tagalog, is also the country’s sole “national language.” The Philippines has an additional 19 officially recognized “auxiliary” languages, which are used regionally but not nationally. The majority of the people of the Philippines speak English fluently, a situation that has brought considerable economic benefits to the country. Still, the idea that English should serve as a Philippine regional language strikes many Filipinos as a step too far. But then again, profound controversies also persist about the role of Filipino as the language of national integration. Those who retain strong loyalties to their own regional languages sometimes view Filipino/Tagalog as an imposition from the center and often favor English for inter-ethnic communication. This attitude is reflected clearly in a comment by Randy Derigay to an 2014 article in the Manila Bulletin entitled “Filipino Is ‘Foreign’ To Many Pinoy* Students”:

Why call it Filipino where in fact it’s TAGALOG? It’s ironic that you guys are promoting the speaking of Filipino but the majority of FILIPINOs are Visayan speaking. Why not make it plain English to be fair to everybody? I mean fair to Cebuano, Waray, Hiligaynon, Bol-anon, Ilocano speaking people, etc. Did you ever wonder why Filipinos don’t unite at all? That’s probably because of that………. Language. We tend to be regionalistic. So don’t expect people from Mindanao to speak the FILIPino language per se.

Other commenters on the same article, not surprisingly, disagree vociferously. It is interesting to see how Philipmon seeks to refute Randy Derigay:

It is unfortunate that the educational system still instills colonial mentality to students and graduates. And, businesses including advertising support it. (Just look at the billboards, telly advertisements, etc., which are mostly in English.)

By forcing students to use English even after class, it subconsciously emphasize the “superiority” of the colonial language to Filipino. Additionally, Pinoy parents in the “upper” echelon of society encourages their children to speak English rather than Filipino to get ahead. And, these children are sent abroad for their further education/indoctrination. However, in the process, these children lose their nationalism. Unfortunately, these are the same children who will lead our country.

And finally, consider the rejoinder to Philipmon by Mssn:

Go and work in call center using Tagalog. Let’s see if you will survive one day…. Internet and social media use English… English will be the language of the Internet… and THE FUTURE is the INTERNET economy…. if you don’t know English you are dead…

Comments sections of newspaper articles may not give representative data, but they can be revealing and they are often very diverting. I probably spend too much time reading them.

*“Pinoy” refers to any native resident of the Philippines. The Wikipedia article on the term claims that it is “considered by most Filipinos as a racial slur and derogatory,” but I am not convinced. The same article states that “the word is formed by taking the last four letters of Filipino and adding the diminutive suffix -y in the Tagalog language (the suffix is commonly used in Filipino nicknames: “Ninoy” or “Noynoy” for Benigno …, “Totoy” for Augusto, etc.).

Philippines Customizable Maps (Keynote)

Philippines Customizable Maps (PowerPoint)

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  • LorenzoCanuck

    I am a Filipino, and I can confirm that the Wikipedia article is wrong on that last point, as you suspect. “Pinoy” is a fairly common colloquial self-reference, but probably the term comes to be patronizing when it originates from non-Filipinos (it’s been a long time since I’ve been to the Philippines, so make of that what you will).

    • Thanks for the comment. I suspect that the term was once considered pejorative, but was long ago widely adopted locally. I see it used often by Filipinos, but seldom if ever by non-Filipinos.

  • not the only language from PHL

    To: all peoples everywhere on Planet Earth

    Instead of asking the clichéd questions: “Can you speak/write Tagalog?” ; “Are you proficient in Tagalog?” ; “Did you study Tagalog?”

    It’s better to ask the questions: “What Philippine language[s] can you speak/write?” ; “What Philippine language[s] are you proficient in?” ; “What Philippine language[s] did you study?” ; “What Austronesian language[s] can you speak/write?” ; “What Austronesian language[s] are you proficient in?” ; “What Austronesian language[s] did you study?”

    Tagalog is not the only language which originated from the Philippines. Tagalog is not the only ethnic group which originated from the Philippines. Thanks in advance.

    • Thanks for the comment — I agree completely. In the United States, most people seem to assume that every country has a national language that everyone there speaks. This is part of what I call
      “the myth of the nation-state.”

  • Jeronimo Constantina

    Many Filipinos would like a revision of the regional divisions. Many speakers of Pangasinan, for instance, a major Philippine language, would like a region, and in case of federalization, a federal state of their own separate from the Ilocos. Likewise, many speakers of Kapampangan would like their own region and, in the case of federalization, separate from Tagalog-dominated Central Luzon, otherwise they would continue to be dominated by “Imperial Manila” and its language. They would like Central Luzon Tagalogs to be part of the state of Metro Manila or Mega Manila, since they share the language and culture of the capital.

    • Interesting comments. I suspect that such sentiments are particularly strong among the Kapampangan and Pangasinan peoples because so much of their land was settled by Ilocano- and Tagalog-speaking peoples in the late 1800s and early 1900s. On this issue, see the next GeoCurrents post, for which your comments are especially welcome!

      • Jeronimo Constantina

        With respect to the proposed Kapampangan federal state, it has been compared to the proposed Cebuano federal state, arguably the most economically successful of the proposed states:

        “But, of the proposed eleven (or so) federal states, no more than a few – like the Cebuano state or the Pampangueno-Tarlaqueno state – would actually be able to stand on their own financially.”

        (Azurin, Rene. On Decentralizing Government, p. 5. Paper presented at the Dialogues on Federalism. Center for Local and Regional Governance, NCPAG, UP Diliman, Quezon City, 3 August 2007.

        Originally published in the book Stationary Bandits: Essays in Political Power, also by Dr. Azurin. Platypus Press, 2007).

        On its size, the proposed Kapampangan state is larger in area and population than at least 26 independent countries, including Barbados, Grenada, Liechtenstein, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius and Seychelles, and in population than another 26 including Brunei, Cyprus, Estonia, Fiji, Gabon, Guyana and Swaziland. it is larger in area than both Singapore and the Chinese Special Administrative Region of Hongkong.

        As for much of originally Kapampangan land being later settled by Tagalogs, check this historical reference on Bulacan being originally Kapampangan:

        This is also true of La Union, now Ilocano, being Ilocano at the beginning of the Spanish colonial period.

        • Jeronimo Constantina

          I mean, on La Union being *Pangasinan* at the beginning of the Spanish colonial period.

        • Many thanks for the information and references. Very interesting!

          • Jeronimo Constantina

            Here’s a reference to La Union being Pangasinan-speaking at the beginning of the Spanish colonial period:

            Pangasinan—An Endangered Language? Retrospect and Prospect

   p. 10

            “By 1572, when the Spanish explorer Juan de Salcedo reached Pangasinan, speakers of Pangasinan stretched from the present provinces of La Union to

            central Tarlac.”