To ‘P’ or not to ‘P’: That is the question: whether ’tis more correct to use “Pilipino” instead of “Filipino”…

September 16, 2008 · Posted in Uncategorized 

by Allan G. Aquino

This article was originally written in 1998 and published in the Philippine Post. Allan has given his permission to republish this article. Keep in mind that Allan wrote this before grad school, when he used to drink a whole lot more. Enjoy the throwback.

One of the things I really like about my ethnic identity is its seemingly infinite ambiguity. After all, Filipinos surely have their own individual perceptions about what our collective identity is, how it is to be defined. If there are millions of Pinoys on earth, then surely there are millions of models of what is and what isn’t “Filipino.”

Some folks still feel Pinoys are distinguishable by phenotype, despite the fact that many of us are commonly mistaken for Latinos (our mostly Spanish surnames adding to the confusion), other Asians, even African-Americans. I myself am often prejudged by my looks as being Native American (people often ask me, “From what nation are you?”). Interestingly, the fact that I’m spelling our collective label with an “F” (rather than as “Pilipino”) is likely to raise now long-running debates on self-definition.

So, to “P” or not to “P.”

This witty little brain-wracker of a question has been posed for may years now, notably by such scholars as retired UCLA professor Royal Morales, one of the founding parents of Pilipino American Studies.

Like many others, Morales asserts the social significance of the P over the F. During the 1960s, people of color initiated a movement that resulted in a chain of events that eventually led to activism and self-determination. Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King are prime icons for the African American community. People began to reject their social labels which they deemed offensive, and reclaimed newer, redefined and more dignified ones.

Thus, Negroes became Blacks/African Americans; Mexicans/Hispanics/Chicanos became Latinos; Orientals became Asian Americans, and Filipinos, at least some of them, became Pilipinos.

The argument was this: since there were no “F’s” in the indigenous language of the Philippines, the “F” is therefore “colonial” and unsuitable for a new self-determined and decolonized identity.

Another interesting fact: you could break down the word in two. “Pili” means “to choose,” and “Pino” means “fine.” Ergo, Pilipinos choose to be fine! (This witty little word play was concocted by Orvy Jundis). Also, the term Pinoy, still considered contemptible by some today, was subsequently reclaimed.

Others however, like scholar Fred Cordova, prefer the “F.” For one thing, the earliest immigrants — the largely forgotten elders and ancestors who toiled on behalf of today’s generations — who came to the U.S. around the turn of the century asserted their identity as “Filipinos.”

Surely, the honorable thing to do would be for us to carry on and perpetuate their legacy? If they were “Filipinos,” then so too are we.

Others take the pro-F stance more personally. As scholar Doris Trinidad writes: “I have always found it ludicrous on spelling our national language Pilipino when we are perfectly able to spell and pronounce the letter F.” (The Philippine Constitution currently states that the “F” refers to people, the “P” to the national Tagalog-based language.) Therefore, in order to fully resist those dreaded colonial consonants, should Mr. Cordova change his name to Pred?

I myself have been confronted outright for my settling on F. I once was very “pro-P,” embracing every aspect of the P over the F argument. Eventually, I started thinking about all these arguments.

To say there was no F in Philippine indigenous languages is, I dare say, naive and ethnocentric. True, there’s no “F” in Tagalog, but what about the other dialects? Again, Ms. Trinidad writes, “Why is the Pampango dialect riddled with this breathy consonant…(and why is the Pampangue/o) the object of “kafamfangan” jokes?”

Also, I have observed that at every Pinoy cultural dance performance I’ve seen, traditional Igorot dances are almost always performed; and, once in a while the culture of a tribe known as the Ifugao is re-created.

Moreover, how do we know that specifically F-based tribal nations weren’t eradicated by disease and Spanish colonization? For all we know, some of us may have ancestors who used the F on a regular basis in their mode of communication.

Lastly (and I suppose some may choose to call me “pro-F”) I submit this: P/Filipino, regardless of the first letter, is rooted in the Spanish word which referred to Spanish creoles born and raised in the Philippines during the colonial era. Anyone who by today’s standards is considered a Filipino would have been considered nothing more than an indio. “Filipino” was the former title of white nobility in the Philippines.

Regarding the Pili-Pino/ choose-to-be-fine argument: pino comes from the Spanish fino. Although I am not proud of our painful colonial legacy, I cannot deny that it is part of who we are, whether we like it or not.

There is really no such thing as “collective” moniker/label which can appropriately define each and every one of us. Many of us object to using the word “Pinoy.” Some have suggested using the ancient word Ma’i, but that’s Chinese and therefore not indigenous. What of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines — the T’boli, Maranaw, Bontoc, etc.– who probably don’t care to label themselves P/Filipinos, opressed as they are by the Philippine government itself. What label could embrace them as part of our collective existence as a people? It is rather fashionable for many of us (not excluding myself) to wear “tribal-ethnic” jewelry; as much as I love wearing tungkaling around my neck, like most everyone elese, I know almost nothing about T’boli culture.

“To P or Not To P,” nonetheless, will always be a fascinating and compelling topic that should not be ignored nor neglected. While the Pinoy identity crisis brings much frustration and conflict, I nevertheless see it as yet another reflection of our wondrous diversity, our infinite identity.

Do I pitch a fit whenever I see or hear the word Pilipino used; do I feel compelled to correct every P-brain (no pun intended) out there for “further blurring our quest for self-definition?” Of course not. My usage of the F is merely a personal choice. Many of my friends, including Professor Morales, proudly view themselves as Pilipinos, and I have no objections nor reservations about their choice of self-definition.

The legacy of self-determination, wherein Filipinos became Pilipinos, is sacred in our private, and albeit, personal histories. I am an avid supporter of Pilipino Studies, as well as community organizations such as the Pilipino AIDS Task Force. Many college organizations feature the F in their name (the Filipino American Student Association, for example), organize a Pilipino Cultural Night year after year. The Filipino American National Historial Society of Los Angeles (FANHS-LA) often works in conjunction with the Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA).

We obviously have larger, more vital issues to confront as a community than our collective settling on a single consonant. I am proud of the treasure occasions when many of us can mobilize and work, even party, together. When we learn to co-exist, even if only for a brief period of time, arguments over names, labels and single consonants become inconsequential.

“To P or Not To P” is therefore more to me of a personal choice, rather than an issue demanding debate and conflict.

What’s in a name? People don’t even care to ponder such a question when they’re too busy working together and appreciating each other’s company, striving to attain common goals.

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25 Responses to “To ‘P’ or not to ‘P’: That is the question: whether ’tis more correct to use “Pilipino” instead of “Filipino”…”

  1. Homer Symcion on September 16th, 2008 5:15 pm

    F YEAH!!!

  2. Valleypinoy on September 16th, 2008 5:36 pm

    here, here! good show!

  3. K1 on September 16th, 2008 10:42 pm

    Awesome breakdown of the p vs f argument Moonie! I completely believe its a personal choice, but people should understand why there is even the choice of Pilipino/Filipino, and your article details it well :) keep it up!

    From the editor:

    Thanks but just to clarify, the article was written by Allan G. Aquino, not me. I cannot take credit for Allan’s 10 year old work :)

  4. Dewey Cox on September 17th, 2008 9:46 am

    How’s your mind… blown?

  5. richard move on September 17th, 2008 9:52 am

    i hear that after writing that piece, allan gained 100 lbs., started drinking turpentine, then (akin to leonard nimoy’s “i am not spock” autobio) wrote a memoir entitled “I AM NOT A FLIP!”.

    then he nixed that title and renamed it “I AM THE MASTER OF THE FLIP! I AM THE FLIP COMMANDER! I MAKE THAT S**T WORK!”

    what a werdo! :-P

  6. A Very Opinionated Pinoy Dude on September 17th, 2008 10:07 am

    Oooh, we got archives!

    I use the F. Because Lord knows how many time white people butcher the various versions of “Philippino” that are out there. Besides, the Black Eyed Peas made the word “Filipino!” into a dance club chant. Enjoy it.

    Also people who proudly use the “P” as some sort of anti-colonialist badge are totally contradicting themselves by using a genderized word. the Spanish gave us genderized nouns, so “Pilipino” is just as colonial as “Filipino.” Even the lame-ass usage of “Pinaty” (i.e. Pin@y – gag, ack, vomit) still references the genderization. If you really wanted to avoid genderization, I’d recommend “Philippine” – as in “Philippine-American.”

    And we’re not the only ones on this great earth who argue about the spelling of our ethnicity. Koreans (or Coreans, depending on who you talk to) have the EXACT SAME ISSUE, with Japan being their colonial foe.

  7. Banky Edwards on September 17th, 2008 12:08 pm

    What’s a Nubian?

  8. FinoyPest on September 17th, 2008 3:28 pm

    We get confused by this everytime! Please mark your calendars for the version II of the “Largest, grandest Filipino event in all the SFV” next year during the June/July timeframe.

  9. K1 on September 17th, 2008 11:56 pm

    haha i should read more closely, what’s your take on the “argument” Moonie?

  10. Moonie on September 18th, 2008 9:39 am

    Personally, I use the F. I just wish there was a standard that people could agree on so we can move on from this really minor issue. I see the F used more often so that’s what I go with.

    And yes, you need to read more closely ’cause you don’t want to upset Allan G. Aquino – where the G stands for GANGSTAFLIP.

  11. Pinoy1998 on September 18th, 2008 10:07 am

    Mr. Aquino:

    Excellent points my man! That was dope. I was just listening to my K-Ci and Jojo CD on my Sony Discman while I was reading this. I got so inspired, I shared the Pinoylife link to all my fellow Pinoys on the #filipino channel on IRC.

    And what do you all think of the Lakers? Do you think Shaq will bring us an NBA championship anytime soon? It’s been what, 10 years?

    Oops, gotta go! My girl’s been calling my pager!

  12. A. Guh-Guh-Guh-Gangstaphlip Aquino on September 18th, 2008 11:13 am

    Word izz bond. I’m so G-ified, I travelled back in time and shot JFK just so Oliver Stone could make a movie about it. Who really benefitted and covered it up? [raising the roof gesture]

    And P’98, thanks for the love. Dunno about Shaq, but I think he’s gonna be a Laker even longer than Kareem was. And his freethrow average is gonna be near perfect come ‘99.

    Damn, my Aiwa 3-disc box keeps shuffling my Jocelyn Enriquez and Pinay CD’s. I wanna listen to Julie Plug now!

  13. Pinoy1998 on September 18th, 2008 11:45 am

    Mr. Aquino:

    Thanks for the insight!

    Oh yeah, I’d like to see an article on that new singing group called KAI. They got signed to Geffen Records! i think they got a bright future ahead of them.

  14. I Just Found My Identity in 1998 on September 18th, 2008 12:00 pm

    ThAt iSH is SoOOoo kEwL!

    ImmA cheCK ouT Da SPoKEn WoRD evEnT wEArINg MaH DOWNRIGHT PINOY t-ShIRt.

    HaV YaLL HeaRD oF ReX NaVaReTTe? Dat DOOD is PhUnnEE. He JUsT CaME OuT WiD a NEw CD – BADLY BROWNED.

  15. Sammy Fernando, Pil-am Standup Comic on September 18th, 2008 12:12 pm

    Hi, I just stumbled onto this site, it’s really good! I never knew people in the community had this issue.

    I’m a Pil-Am standup comic. Some of my friends tell me about this Rex Naverretty guy. Is he good? I never heard of him before. I hope he’s funny! It’ would be great if he could open up for me one of these days!

  16. Moonie on September 18th, 2008 1:32 pm

    Did someone accidentally leave on the asshole/sarcasm switch?

  17. Brian on September 18th, 2008 10:24 pm

    There’s a switch? Why do I not know these things? And why would you put your seatbelt on?

  18. Monarch Henchman 21 (RIP) on September 19th, 2008 9:56 am

    I don’t know!

  19. Pinoy Batang on October 24th, 2008 11:04 pm

    And you fools who call yourselves “Pilipino”. What the hell is that supposed to be? You say there is no “F” in the language, why stop there?? There is no “King Philip II” of Spain either! So are we named after King PILIP II of Spain? Do you talk on a TELEPONE? Are the Sixers from PILADELPIA? Are you hooked on PONICS? Get it right, its FILIPINO!

  20. prankie plowers on October 25th, 2008 12:38 am

    eh, puck youse

  21. sandra407 on September 9th, 2009 8:36 am

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  22. Louie on December 18th, 2009 5:46 pm

    Thought I’d dust off this blog post one more time. An interesting wrinkle to the P/F “debate” is the actual existence of the letter F in the Gaddang dialect of Northern Luzon of which I have familial roots. Unlike the mispronounced “kaFamFangan” we have actual words like “afu” “tafulu” and “ibbafaw.” Definitely not to be ignored are the IFugao people who cultivated and carved the rice terraces of Banaue…they are definitely not identified as “IPugao”. So..apparently the letter F, or whatever dialectal equivalent of the letter F existed in the Philippines during pre-Colonial times.

    Myself….I choose Team F.

  23. Cell Phone Accessories on September 2nd, 2011 9:34 am

    Thanks for the greet post, I love reading it!

  24. Clay Matthews Jersey on September 9th, 2011 6:18 am

    I like to pop in your position a yoke times a week on new thoughts. I was wondering if you be enduring any other topics you send a letter about?

  25. Funny Facebook Status on September 24th, 2011 11:58 pm

    I agree with your To ‘P’ or not to ‘P’ |, fantastic post.

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