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

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This article considers the prospect of expanding the role of the national language, as well as other Philippine languages, in the legal system.While Tagalog-based Filipino, which is the national language according to 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-English code-switching has been observed in courtrooms, but English alone is used for records. In recent years, however, there have been signs of a more favorable attitude in the legal profession toward bilingualism.Since 2007, certain criminal courts in the Tagalog stronghold of Bulacan have been conducting cases in the national language, with English being retained for civil cases. So far the experiment has had a mixed reception, with some courtroom participants arguing that Filipino brings greater transparency and others claiming that it reduces efficiency.By weighing the preferences of legal professionals against the needs of defendants, witnesses and litigators, I consider the possibility of extending the Bulacan experiment to the rest of the Philippines. In this article, I also explore the question of introducing regional languages into the legal domain.