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    The Use of English in Philippine Courts

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    We see them in public discourses, Filipino lawyers and people of the law expressing their opinions and rebuttals in English. We see them stored up in voluminous heights, documents of trial proceedings written in English. Our courts are alive with people engaging in the litany of judicial trials in English. For a layman who has no grasp of the motions of court trials, the experience could well be both overwhelming and confusing, not only on account of the case itself, but also on the awesome impact of the language being extensively used during the whole process.

    English, though considered the second language of many Filipinos and first language to some Graddol, 1997 continues to strike up controversy among sectors of the society – those who feel that our own ‘national’ language, i. e. , Filipino, and therefore our nationalism are threatened by the widening popularity of English; those who fear that the underprivileged and non-English speaking litigants are deprived of justice; and/or those who simply could not and would not accept that there is such a language with absolute accuracy to equate to fair interpretation of law and therefore fair rendition of judgment.

    This paper intends to express a hypothesis that argues: “The use of the English language in the Philippine judicial system ensures accurate interpretation of the law and therefore fair rendition of judgment. ” As such, the paper hopes to show that the use of the English language in the law profession does not necessarily put the English language in a pedestal of absoluteness, nor its use deprive justice to non-English speaking litigants and nor does it follow that we lose our nationalism when we speak and use the language. History of the Philippine Justice System’s Language according to the Constitution.

    The influence of the West, first the Spanish then the Americans, is ever apparent in the Filipino life. Governance of its people controlled and manipulated in the last 350 years since its independence in 1935 necessitates adoption of its colonizer’s justice system. Juco 1969 articulated that Filipinos wanted independence but not many of them really knew what was going on when we were drafting our constitution in 1934-1935. The form and the manner by which independence was to come was left not to the common Filipino citizen, but to the more informed segment of the society – the elite.

    Thus, by virtue of the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934, the draft of the Philippine constitution patterned after the United State of America’s constitution was began and to be completed the following year. In 1921 Sibayan, 1999, then US President McKinley instructed the Philippine Commission to use English as the medium of instruction in schools, which became the dominant language in several domains such as those in the courts of law, legislation, government, international relations, business and industry.

    The Philippine constitution has been ratified and amended in 1971, 1973, and 1986. Not much changes were introduced and though renamed and re-titled, the one single provision that remained unchanged is that one found in both 1973 and 1986 charters, under Article XVI, General Provisions, section 3 stating that “this Constitution shall be officially promulgated in English and in Filipino, and translated into each dialect spoken by over fifty thousand people, and into Spanish and Arabic. In case of conflict, the English text shall prevail. ” emphasis mine.

    Juco seemed to have succinctly expressed his wariness about how our constitution could have taken a different course if the Filipinos back then had been more vigilant, and literate, to insist integration of features unique to our culture. The more-informed segment of society, the elite comprising a minute population, was charged to make decisions and take steps toward independence for the whole nation. Why English? Much can be said about the seeming tolerance of the Filipinos to use the English language in defining its Constitution, much more in drawing the laws that govern the judicial system.

    In the eyes of the self-proclaimed nationalists, its proliferation goes contrary to the nation’s aspiration of freedom, of acquiring a unique identity and of veering away from the shadow and therefore borrowed identity of its colonizers. But there seems to be veritably good reasons for using the language when it comes to the judicial system. Ma. Lourdes Bautista, Editor or Manila: the Linguistic Society of the Philippines Sibayan, 1999 wrote that language has domains and sub-domains and even sub-sub-domains. These domains have 1 human population or users of language, 2 support groups and structures, and 3 a tradition of language use.

    The language domain of the law has for its population lawyers, judges, and professors of law to name just three. Support groups and structures consist of law schools, law courts and the judiciary, the legislature, etc. The tradition of language use in law was Spanish during the Spanish colonial period but has shifted to English in the late 20’s. Bautista continued to state that the replacement of Spanish with English as language of the law took roughly three decades, a relatively short time in terms of language shift and replacement.

    The replacement had not been difficult because 1 the population in the domain consisting of judges and lawyers and interpreters was relatively few and therefore manageable; 2 the law was readily available in English and books and reading materials were easy to procure from the United States; 3 law schools soon taught the law in English and it did not take long before these English speaking, writing, reading users of the language were able to replace the Spanish-educated domain population of lawyers and judges.

    Bautista offers that it is important to remember that the population and some extent the support groups and structure have to communicate with each other in a particular language game. The Philippine law uses English as its main language – and it is English of a particular register – sometimes referred to loosely as legalese – which the untrained cannot understand. This person, the untrained or uninitiated in the legal parlance, is practically an outsider.

    In the light of the foregoing, is it then enough that a person speaks English to go through the motion of litigation or make judicial decisions and ensure the rights of the people are preserved? I will again quote Bautista in her definition of literacy. She contends that one is not just literate, period. To be highly literate, read well educated, in the modern world, is to be literate in the following aspects: 1 literate in intellectualized language that is used as the working language in science and/or the professions, i. . , the language used in the domain; 2 literate in writing system; 3 literate in a register. Literate in an intellectualized language – for example English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish and Russian. Unfortunately while steps are now being undertaken to make Filipino an intellectualized language, it is far from being fully intellectualized to be useful as the main language for obtaining complete education.

    Take note of this last sentence which proves my point – Bautista stresses that Filipino in its present state of development cannot be used for teaching and learning the various professions such as those of science, the law, medicine, engineering, etc. However, Filipino is hoped to gain the same posture as the English language in the Philippines since it is highly supported by the government and there are many users that keep it alive. For the time being, it continues to be useful the area of creative writing, literature and the cultural arts.

    Literate in a writing system – for example Roman alphabet, Cyrillic, Arabic writing, Chinese of Japanese or Korean character. Literate in what is technically called register or sub-register- for example, the law and medicine have different registers, that is, even if the texts in law and medicine are in English, the lawyer may not understand a text in medicine and the physician may not understand a text in law, etc. Registers have sub-registers and even sub-sub-sub-registers, thus the law has sub-registers of criminal law, constitutional law, etc. nd medicine has sub-registers of ophthalmology, neurosurgery, cardiology, etc.

    Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago interview, 2003, an authority in the subject of law being a lawyer and a judge at the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City for five years, and later having been elected into senate, believes that English, at this time, is the best medium for the conduct of judicial trial in the Philippines for the following reasons: · There are still many regions in the country where in addition to the local dialect, the only other language familiar to the town folks is English, not Filipino. · Filipino does not have the vocabulary for certain abstract concepts in law, such as ‘intent’, ‘motive’, ‘simultaneous’, ‘conspiracy’ and other key words that are extremely important in criminal law and civil law. · The medium of instruction in law schools is English. · The medium of popular TV, which is presumably the most accessible form of media for the masses, is English, Filipino or Taglish.

    If the language used by a TV show is Filipino, still the popular spoken form of Filipino is very far removed from the official spoken and written form in the judiciary. · Filipino judges and prosecutors were educated in English. All the reference books in law are written in English, even CD ROMS containing legislations and jurisprudence are in English. These court officers are periodically sent abroad to attend seminars, workshops or further studies conducted in English. Science has played a very significant and useful role in resolving issues of evidences presented to prove guilt or innocence of the accused.

    Forensic DNA analysis, for example, is now being widely used in the Philippines to aid the judicial branch in bringing the criminals to justice and exonerate the innocent Tagapamalita 2002. Since science uses the English language as it domain, its participation in solving crimes in a country that has an English-bound judicial system proves useful and complementing that which it serves. Standard or Formal English is the language used in public discourse Cruz & Quiazon 2001. It is characterized by the tendency to give full treatment to all conventions and elements required for grammatical sentences.

    It is taught, unlike non-standard or Informal English, which is spoken and written without formal studies. Non Standard English includes regional expressions that are associated with dialects. At this point, we could arrive at a consensus that Philippine law is a meticulous, calculated and strictly guarded language arena. As Cruz and Quiazon would stress, of all the professions other than journalism, law is the most word-bound and which demands from its practitioners much speaking and writing, requiring the correct use of words, phrases, clauses, sentences and paragraphs.

    I might add that this strict adherence to Standard and Formal English, and having acquired the literacy described by Bautista earlier, make the deciding judge capable, equipped and aplomb to interpret and render a fair judgment. Foreign grants help propagate and ensure development of the Philippine judicial system aimed at providing the poor the same legal aid that a moneyed citizen gets Asia Foundation 2002. To a certain degree, these foundations are the watchdogs of our judicial system, understandably so since they help finance reforms.

    Philippine law thus has become open to such reforms offered by international organizations necessitating adoption of developments that may be inspired by foreign culture to make it acclimate to international law. If not English, can Filipino be a good alternative language for the Philippine justice system and will it guarantee fair interpretation of law and preservation of our nationalism? Earlier in this essay, one of my resources Bautista in Sibayan 1999 said that Filipino, at its present state of development, unfortunately could not be used as a language register in Philippine law.

    That is a sad presumption. Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago interview, 2003 offered her assessments regarding the three assumptions – language shift, fair interpretation appreciation of law and preservation of nationalism. The idea of Filipino being the measure of nationalism is an obsolescence that used to be valid in the past, but the argument lost potency because of the phenomenon of globalization. English is no longer just the former colonial language; it is now the lingua franca of the whole world, including such linguistically xenophobic countries as France, Germany and China. Sen.

    Santiago opined that to advocate that Filipino should replace English would be tantamount to rejecting an inherent advantage on the part of the English speaking Filipino people. Filipino may replace English in certain parts of the trial, particularly in the arraignment period and presentation of the litigant’s own testimony, if the said litigant or the witnesses are not fully conversant in English. Sen. Santiago stated that during trial where she was judge, part of her fame or notoriety as she also described it as an RTC judge was her insistent use of the Filipino language in her court.

    She would make it a point that everybody in the court speaks in Filipino for the sake of clarity in pursuing the truth. As such, the adaptation of either English or Filipino as language of the court should depend on the particular circumstances of the litigant or any other witnesses. Here, it is made clear that Filipino is still widely used during court trials for the sake of the litigants. However, as the trial progresses into highly technical level, there is no point to make the litigant understand the flow of trial because he cannot understand any of it unless he has gone to law school.

    Concepts such as ‘offer of evidence’ or ‘demurer to evidence’ could not be plainly or simply translated into Filipino and make them comprehensible for anyone. The usual setup of individuals with trial roles in the court is this – the witness, interpreter and stenographer. Sen. Santiago recalls occasions with high points of hilarity particularly when the lawyers of both parties would not agree on the interpretation of a term from Filipino to English being given out by the interpreter for the stenographer to record in the transcript.

    These occasions do not only provide such comic interruptions but delays upon delays as the debate over which translation is ‘best’ translation goes on between the concerned lawyers. Sen. Santiago does not believe that the underprivileged, non-English speaking litigant is deprived of justice because the trial of his case is conducted in English. Litigants who are furnished a copy of any judicial document will be unable to comprehend the contents of the document regardless of whether it is written in Filipino or English.

    She further stated that because law is a highly technical profession and it is confined to a specific language thought, it is never a matter of common sense; this is a misimpression. If the reason behind the intent of using Filipino in the judicial processes of our courts is for the litigant to understand, by himself, the ramifications of the trial, then it is futile. You cannot be your own counsel. It is the same as patients self-medicating when there is a physician who can best interpret the actual medical implications of his condition.

    Law uses terms that are unique in the profession and therefore, no matter how the judge or the lawyers try to make the language as simple as possible, still it would be largely incomprehensible to the layman. This is why law takes four years on top of undergraduate school. It is the task of the lawyer and the judge to explain the flow of the trial to the litigant. Is it possible for the Filipino to English language shift to take place? Sen.

    Santiago said that this is most unlikely to happen because · To shift from English to Filipino in a complete turnover is disruptive and expensive for the State. We do not have the resources to finance the translation into Filipino of all the decisions of the Philippine Supreme Court. These decisions are collected into a series called Philippine Reports with 110 volumes, Supreme Court Reports Annotated with 371 volumes so far and the American Jurisprudence 2nd with 83 volumes.

    These reference materials that documented preceding classic cases are basic sources of any serious law office. They are like a stethoscope to a doctor or a slide rule to an engineer. They are so basic that any effort to turn over to Filipino necessarily involves the translation of these books to Filipino also. · This would mean that reference materials sourced from abroad such as decisions of the US Supreme Court, the British Courts and the International Court of Justice would all be translated to Filipino.

    While these decisions are not derived in the Philippines, they are very authoritative in the judicial profession. As a profession, the law is extensively dependent on precedents, whether here or abroad. Is our language truly that weak according to how scholars picture it? The answer to that may lie on how we value the language and its relation to our literacy and nationalism. Judging from the way our Education system has been pathetically treating the language since the time we were given our so-called freedom, we could see where our problem roots.

    In school year 2002-2003 DILA Philippines Foundation, Inc. 2002, there are almost 20 million school children enrolled in schools nationwide. Under former Department of Education’s Secretary Roco’s basic education curriculum, their instruction will begin to focus only on the five subjects of Filipino, English, Mathematics, Science and Makabayan. At best, this is hoped to improve the National Elementary Achievement Test NEAT scores of Sixth Graders, which in 2001 stood at a low 51. 7% when the passing mark is 75%. How is this to be done?

    By lumping Geography, History, Government and Civics, Home Economics, Livelihood Education and Music and Arts in Makabayan for elementary; and Teknolohiya-Edukasyong Pantahanan at Pangkabuhayan, Edukasyong Pangkatawan, Araling Panlipunan, Edukasyon sa Pagpapahalaga, Philippine History, Asian Studies, World History and Economics for high school students. The mega subject, Makabayan Patriotism is thus to be taught in the Filipino national language. Reason? DepEd is of the opinion that Filipino is better comprehended by school children than any other language.

    Inasmuch as much of the NEAT questionnaire is written in Filipino, the DepEd hopes to raise average scores by intensifying Filipino instruction in the elementary level. As such, they are going to teach Filipino for the sake of teaching Filipino. Concern for education and literacy as Bautista defined it, is a thing of the past. Literacy rate by the time these children are old enough to understand their rights may not be ideally high. The statistics are quite misleading. In another plane, we boast of having one of the highest literacy rates in Asia – more than 90% Tan, 2001 but how much of that is functional?

    It seems we only like to see numbers and do not care to see deeply still to see how we stand as a literate citizenry. Tan defined a literate citizenry is one that understands the value of listening to all sides, separating fact from fiction. He further opined that as we become truly literate, then we become less gullible, less prone to being fooled by the gimmickry of ads and marketing campaigns or by the shrill and sterile rhetoric of politicians, and in the context of judicial profession in the Philippines, protect self against the circumventions of lawyers and incompetence of judges.

    Conclusion The English language is the best language to conduct judicial trials in the Philippines because it is the language that sufficiently and adequately sustains the requirements of law. The training, practice and enhancements of skills of lawyers and people in the legal profession are conducted in this language using its Standard/Formal form that requires extensive study and learning. The Constitution provided for this provision that in any case of conflict, the English translation of law shall prevail over our very own language.

    The Filipino language, though slowly gaining popular acceptance is not ready to replace English in this field. The language is limited in a sense that up to now, it has not provided a vocabulary for certain abstract concepts in law. Language shift, at this time, is not only expensive, it is likewise arduous and ineffectual considering the massive reference materials that also need to be translated in Filipino.

    The rights of the litigants plaintiff and respondents are guaranteed by the fact that the processes of the trials are clearly explained to them in areas where they need to be apprised of such intricacies using the language most familiar and comprehensible to them. The motion, researches, appreciation and evaluation of cases, or the things done in the back room Defensor-Santiago, 2003 that lie in the hands of the learned people of the law are conducted in English which acclimatize every rule or policy that qualifies them to make sound and fair interpretation of the law.

    Nationalism is not threatened because it is not the case in point here. The language that we speak does not measure our sense of nationalism. This is a controversial issue since we are still divided as to which dialect should be made the ‘official’ language of the country. Why Filipino if Filipino or Tagalog is to be made the national language considering that it is just one of the eight most spoken dialects in the country? This has undoubtedly become a source of division among the regions, which sees the choice as iniquitous and biased.

    DILA 2002 dared say freedom from Filipino means that communities are able to develop and market textbooks in the local language, promote indigenous art and literature, and discard the albatross of cultural inferiority. And if the community so decides to enhance the proficiency of their children in English, let them proceed without the hindrance of over-centralized authority. The time has come to no longer have a national language. More than the language game, whichever language we use, the more important aspect of the whole general picture is still understanding or literacy.

    This ensures that an active communication of truth, fair judgment and appreciation of facts according to what the law defines will be shared by all parties concerned, not only the ones writing, implementing or deciding the law, but also the one whose rights and destiny are being decided. We cannot compromise truth by insisting on nationalistic pride that is flimsily appreciated to start with. So far, the English language remains to be undisputed in this area.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    The Use of English in Philippine Courts. (2018, Apr 26). Retrieved from

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