Bringing Back the Aged Baybayin Handwriting System

Author: Jeg Cadayona
Post Date: October 10, 2021

During the early times of the Philippines, an aged writing system was used by its people The people from Luzon heavily used this language during the 16th and 17th centuries. In 2018, the Philippine House of Representatives approved a bill that would reveal Baybayin as the national writing system of the country. The measure seeks to reveal Baybayin as the Philippines’ national writing system, generating greater recognition on the script.

The term 'baybayín' is described as 'to write' or 'to spell (syllabize)' in Tagalog. From the information that is accessible, it is clear that Baybayin was used in Luzon, Panay, Leyte and Iloilo, but there is no proof supporting that Baybayin reached Mindanao. It seems coherent that the Luzon and Palawan classes have started to develop in different ways in the 1500s, way before the Spaniards arrived the Philippines. This puts Luzon and Palawan islands as the oldest regions where Baybayin was and is used in the Philippines. In current times, Baybayin has been denoted Badlit, Kudlit-kabadlit for the Visayans, Kurditan, Kur-itan for the Ilocanos, and Basahan for the Bicolanos. The oldest printed book in a Philippine language, featuring both Tagalog in Baybayin and translated into Latin script, is the 1593 Doctrina Christiana en Lengua Española y Tagala. Baybayin was generally used for secret writings, poetry, etc. which was noted by the Spanish priest Pedro Chirino in 1604 and Antonio de Morga in 1609 to be known by most Filipinos. There were datus from the 1590s who could not sign affidavits or oaths, and witnesses who could not sign land deeds in the 1620s admitted by to William Henry Scott. Eventually Baybayin fell out of use in much of the Philippines because of the hesitancy over vowels (i/e and o/u) and final consonants, lacking letters for Spanish sounds and the reputation of Spanish culture and writing may have contributed to the demise of Baybayin over time. The missing of pre-Hispanic specimens of usage of the Baybayin script has led to a usual missapprehension that fanatical Spanish priests must have burned or destroyed massive amounts of native documents. The most likely reason why no pre-Hispanic documents lived, according to scholar Paul Morrow who also noted that there are no recorded occasions of ancient Filipinos writing on scrolls, is because they wrote on perishable materials such as leaves and bamboo.

The only surviving current scripts that based directly from the first Baybayin script through natural development are the Tagbanwa script left on from the Tagbanwa people by the Palawan people and named Ibalnan, the Buhid script and the Hanunóo script in Mindoro. The people who historically use Baybayin are Tagalog and a marginally extent Kapampangan speaking areas. The writing tools used to write Baybayin were called panulat and it is usually recorded upon palm leaves upon bamboo with knives. Some Filipinos started keeping information of their property and financial transactions, and would write down lessons they were taught in church, all in Baybayin. For iOS and Android mobile devices, a virtual keyboard app Gboard was made and updated last August 1, 2019. Directly typing Baybayin from the keyboard is also attainable without the need to use online typepads.