Translation in the Philippines started as part of a religious undertaking. The Spanish missionaries used translation as a tool to spread Christianity among the natives, thus fulfilling a utilitarian role: to conquer mind and body. The Spanish missionaries, aware that a foreign language would meet resistance as medium in teaching a new religion, studied the native languages instead and undertook the first translations from Spanish into Tagalog and other Philippine languages.
The first printed book in the Philippines, the Doctrina Christiana, which came out in 1593, is a translation of prayers and Christian doctrines with which the Spanish friars spread the new religion. Other books that came out after Doctrina were translations or adaptations of Biblical stories, or explications of Christian doctrines.
In 1627, the first dictionary, Vocabulario de la lengua tagala by Fray Pedro de San Buenaventura came out. It is an important tool for the Spanish missionaries to learn Tagalog.
Other books of translation worth mentioning are the following:
Meditaciones cun manga mahal na pagninilay na sadia sa sanctong pag-Exercisios, by Fray Pedro de Herrera, a translation into Tagalog of the spiritual exercises of San Ignacio de Loyola from the Spanish of Fray Francisco de Salazar.
Manga panalanging pagtatagobilin sa calolova nang tauong naghihingalo (1703), by Gaspar Aquino de Belen, a Batangueno who worked in the printing press of the Jesuits. The book is a translation of Recomendacion del alma (1613) by Tomas de Villacastin.
Aral na tunay na totoong pagaacay sa tauo, nang manga cabanalang gaua nang manga maloualting santos na si Barlaan ni Josaphat (1712) by Fray Antonio de Borja based on the text of San Juan Damaceno.
It should be noted that the source language was not always Spanish. There were also what is called relay translation, where Spanish was an intervening language of a text that was originally written in other languages. The translation language (or target language) was not only Tagalog, either. Since Manila was the seat of the colonial government, most of the publications were of Tagalog texts; however, there were also translations in Ilokano, Kapampangan, Cebuano and others.
The earliest translations were therefore directly related to religion. Toward the end of the 18th century, translation took a new direction. This time, the texts were not purely religious, though still containing religious ideas. From Europe came the narrative poetry and the metrical romance which became popularly known as awit and korido. The theatrical presentations komedya and moro-moro became very popular. They were believed to be either translation or adaptations of comedia de capa y espada. The translators were “Indios” in the employ of Spanish friars, and in the translation, they would add their own interpretations, thus giving indigenous touch to the translated texts.
There were also translations from Tagalog and other native languages into Spanish. Fray Pedro Chirino retold in Spanish two legends in Panay. Fray Ignacio Francisco Alzina summarized in Spanish two narrative poems in Boholano.
Our national hero, Jose Rizal, translated into Tagalog Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell from the original German.
Toward the end of the 19th century, translation had a new use, no longer to conquer, but to inspire the spirit of nationalism and thus to liberate. Ang mga Karampatan ng Tawo (1891-92) is a translation of Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which summarized the spirit of the French Revolution. Jose Rizal’s “Amor Patrio” was translated into Tagalog as “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa.” Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios” was translated by Andres Bonifacio as “Huling Pahimakas.”
With the coming of the Americans and the introduction of English as medium of instruction, the direction of translation is now from English into Tagalog/Filipino and other Philippine languages. The translation texts are no longer religious in nature, but now have a wider range. Translation is now a tool for liberating the masses from ignorance. Through translations, those who do not fully understand English may still benefit from the wisdom of the west through the translation into Filipino and other Philippine languages of informative materials on science and technology. In the field of education, translation is a necessary tool in the production of textbooks and reference materials in the language understandable to the greater number of the people.
English is also used as intervening language in the translation into Filipino of various materials from French, German, Japanese, and other languages.
The government agency that has pioneered in translation is Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (formerly Surian ng Wikang Pambansa later renamed Linangan ng mga Wika sa Pilipinas). Now, the National Commission on Culture and the Arts is also mandated to undertake translation work through one of its national committees, the Committee on Language and Translation. NCCA sponsored a project in 1991 which surveyed individuals and institutions undertaking translation, and came out with a bibliographic listing of translated works.
Nowadays, there are many individuals and institutions undertaking translation, aside from the KWF and the NCCA. There are religious organizations which translate the Bible into the Philippine languages; there are individuals who translate literary works and non-literary texts. There are two existing professional organizations of translators, Pambansang Samahan sa Pagsasalingwika and Pambansang Unyon ng mga Tagasalin. What is needed now is a concerted effort to come up with a national translation program that will define priorities and professionalize translation.