Goodbye, Alibata? Quo vadis, Baybayin?

Photo from WIKApedia, a Filipino learning collection
launched by the Philippine government
Recently, the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (Commission on the Philippine Language) released Virgilio Almario's article disproving that the ancient Filipino script is called Alibata. What is being pushed is Baybayin, and the article went as far as lambasting lack of media coverage on the issue, as well as preaching a "cleansing" of DepEd (Department of Education) staff from Alibata. It was as if Alibata was a curse to be driven away.

Once more, this sparked a debate among Filipinos, especially through social media. That is, up to the point that the denial of Alibata is anti-Muslim, since the one who had first coined Alibata (Paul Versoza) admitted in 1939 that the said term was invented from the assumption of the script originating from the Arabic. Versoza had taken the first three syllables of the Arabic script, widely in use in Muslim Mindanao, to derive Alibata: alif, ba, ta. As it is known, Arabic has become the script of the Muslim world, and the Philippines has a heavy concentration of Muslims in Mindanao. Anyway, if Versoza himself admitted that his use of Alibata had been the result of lack of comprehensive research on the ancient script, then it might as well be good to discard the name altogether. Also, I believe that it if one does not use Arabic (or simply not adept in the use of the Arabic script), he or she is anti-Muslim. At the least, to prove that the commenter really stands for Alibata (and with it, the assumption of its Arabic origin), he or she should have had used Arabic in the said comment. I have friends in Facebook who do use Arabic, so it is not near impossible. Anyway, the Philippines is a said to be a free country, so let us simply deal with it.

Comments featured in that say the use of Baybayin is anti-Muslim (See the full article by clicking here)
As far as my research went along online dictionaries, the root word for Baybayin, which is baybay, appears in major Philippine languages like Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, and Waray. At the least, it gives Baybayin a few more points for being closer to the Filipino tongue than Alibata.

This brings us to the question of Baybayin's origin. Where did the script really originate? According to Teodoro Agoncillo, baybayin "was probably of Sanskrit or Arabic provenance." That is, there is no definite history of Baybayin, as evidenced by his use of a term signifying uncertainty. It is even apparent that our ancestors left no documentary evidence to actually explain where Baybayin really came from. Also, if we are to take account the Laguna Copperplate Inscription (LCI), which was dated 900 and would have been in existence long before the arrival of Islam (and most likely, the Arabic script) by 1280, then Baybayin may have had stronger influence from the other option presented: Sanskrit.

Laguna Copperplate Inscription
See the meaning of the inscription by clicking here
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Indeed, in the studies between Tagalog and Sanskit of both Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera and Pedro A. Paterno, it is revealed that many Tagalog words have been "loaned" from Sanskrit. Examples include bahala (bhara), balita (vartta), kuta (kotta), ganda (ganda), hari (hari), and so on. However, any simple glance at both Sanskrit and Baybayin, it would be apparent that the two scripts are still quite apart, though as not apart than with Arabic. I think it might be said that the script that is sariling atin would have had gathered influences from many more other scripts around us. Say, Old Malay, Old Javanese, Old Assamese?

Where does the Arabic connection lie, at least in terms of chronological proximity? There has been speculations, as mentioned by Ambeth Ocampo, that the LCI may have been imported. The exact transliteration itself does not look anywhere near Tagalog, nor any of the major Philippine languages. In fact, it looks more like Javanese. Another thing of note is that the LCI does not really say anything about the history of Baybayin, but it is mainly about payment of debt. A business transaction, so to speak. Thus, if the LCI is proven to be unrelated to Baybayin, the Arabic connection will be strengthened because the LCI is a fugitive text. There is no other document yet discovered that is of the same time frame. The Calatagan Pot from Batangas was dated in between 14th and 16th centuries. Others, if not most of them, are not yet dated, like the Butuan Ivory Seal or the Rizal Stone from Ticao.

In any way, there are also talk that the Spanish had destroyed Philippine literature, and with it the works that may have supposedly been written in Baybayin. However, for one thing, if the Spanish did destroy them, how come Baybayin still survives today (with its many versions)? Filipinos had still utilized Baybayin fifty years after Legazpi. It might even be said that without the handiwork of Chirino and other lexicographers who documented Baybayin, then the ancient script would have been lost in the mists of time. That is, if we consider the notion that our ancestors usually wrote on perishable materials like leaves, barks, bamboo parts and surplus, etc. Although, we may not remove the possibility that the Spanish friars might have documented Baybayin only to exhibit it as the "work of the devil". It can be said that this is another story.

Paterno's compilation of the different Baybayin scripts
Photo retrieved from
Having mentioned the existence of so-called versions of Baybayin in the different regions of the archipelago (in Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Kapampangan, and so on), another issue might be raised. What version of Baybayin would be of standard use if it is to be instated (or reinstated, if we are to believe Chirino's amazement of the Filipino's adeptness in Baybayin) as a national script? Apparently, there are only slight differences in the different versions, but we do have to take into mind that small things tend to become big. Take for example the lack of H (ha) in the Kapampangan and Ilocano Baybayin, as noted by Paterno. Meanwhile, there is a lack of NG (nga) in Pangasinan Baybayin. Besides, as the 170 Philippine languages differed, why would not their respective scripts? Would we be basing our national Baybayin on Tagalog? Also, up to what extent will instating Baybayin be? On consumer and government logos alone or up to textbooks?

Muslim Mindanao had been above mentioned. Perhaps it is only my lack of comprehensive research so as to observe, so far, that ethnic groups in the area had not possessed their version(s) of Baybayin. Is this because of the replacement of the Arabic script? Or perhaps the Spanish failed to document whatever indigenous script the people in the said areas had besides the Arabic script (which is not far from possible since the Spanish had only made small headway in their Mindanao conquest)?

Will Alibata die soon? Then, quo vadis, Baybayin? Where will you go now?

If one thinks that there are too many speculations in this short discussion on Baybayin, it may very well be inferred that we are still lacking substantial sources to back up anything at this point.


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[Disclaimer: While some content may offend or cause disagreement with some readers, it must first be taken to mind that the author does not have access to the entire fountain of sources for Baybayin. Therefore, whatever analyses and conclusions made here are made as adequate as possible and are only built from the available evidences, sources and theories the author has access. Also, since only few editing, mainly grammatical, was made, then it is yet to be subjected to change. Any correction is welcome, but copying without permission is being frowned upon, since this blog is not under any Creative Commons Attribution. Thank you for reading the Young Filipino Historian.]

Goodbye, Alibata? Quo vadis, Baybayin? Goodbye, Alibata? Quo vadis, Baybayin? Reviewed by Al Raposas on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 Rating: 5


  1. Let's stick with Baybayin.

    By the way, do you know any books about Baybayin? A How-to guide book?

  2. • Introduction to Baybayin by Christian Cabuay
    • Baybayin by Jean Paul Potet