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Expanding the Role of Philippine Languages in the Legal System: The Dim Prospects

Isabel Pefianco Martin


This article considers the prospect of expanding the role of the nationallanguage, as well as other Philippine languages, in the legal system.While Tagalog-based Filipino, which is the national language accordingto the 1987 Constitution, is used extensively alongside English in schools,the national language has made few inroads into the legal system.Very little legislation has been translated into Filipino. Filipino-Englishcode-switching has been observed in courtrooms, but English aloneis used for records. In recent years, however, there have been signs ofa more favorable attitude in the legal profession toward bilingualism.Since 2007, certain criminal courts in the Tagalog stronghold of Bulacanhave been conducting cases in the national language, with Englishbeing retained for civil cases. So far the experiment has had a mixedreception, with some courtroom participants arguing that Filipino bringsgreater transparency and others claiming that it reduces efficiency.By weighing the preferences of legal professionals against the needsof defendants, witnesses and litigators, I consider the possibility ofextending the Bulacan experiment to the rest of the Philippines. In thisarticle, I also explore the question of introducing regional languagesinto the legal domain.

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