Clarifying the confusion over the differences between Tagalog, Pilipino, and Filipino.

AnoWhat is the Philippine National Language?

What is the National Language of the Republic of the Philippines? What about the Official Language? Are they even the same?
Is it “Tagalog? Is it “Pilipino”? Or is it, in fact, “Filipino”?
Too many people, Filipinos and Filipino-Americans unfortunately included, are unable to differentiate between these three different languages, much less answer these questions with a high degree of certainty. The inter-relationships between “Tagalog”, “Pilipino”, and “Filipino” has led to many misunderstandings, including the incorrect assumption that these three languages are mutually interchangeable, which is oftentimes quite confusing for speakers and non-speakers alike.
One of the reasons behind such widespread confusion is the divisive geographic effect of an archipelago comprised of 7,107 islands. All of these separate islands, (which had prompted the previous Official Name of the country as the Philippine Islands or PI, that is still sometimes used today), have led to the growth and development of a total of about 76 to 78 Major Language Groups, out of which evolved  more than 500 distinct, regional Dialects across the country.
Out of these totals, eight (8) major Languages are the Native Tongues of the vast majority (almost 90%) of Pilipinos: Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano, Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Waray, Kapampangan, Bicolano, and Pangasinan
The following table shows population estimates from the 2000 Philippine Census that was conducted by the National Statistics Office of the Philippines (NSO) on the number of Pilipinos, out of the total population of 76,498,735, who speak the following 18 languages as their Native Tongue.Native
LanguageNative Speakers Native
LanguageNative Speakers
Tagalog22,000,000 Southern Bicol1,200,000
Cebuano20,000,000 Maranao1,150,000
Ilokano7,700,000 Maguindanao1,100,000
Hiligaynon7,000,000 Kinaray-a1,051,000
Waray3,100,000 Tausug1,022,000
Kapampangan2,900,000 Surigaonon600,000
Northern Bicol2,500,000 Masbateño530,000
Chavacano2,500,000 Aklanon520,000
Pangasinan2,434,086 Ibanag320,000


To definitively answer these questions once and for all, here is an excerpt from the most current and up-to-date version of the Philippine Constitution, which was ratified in 1987:

Section 6. The National Language of the Philippines is Filipino. As it evolves, it shall be further developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages.
Subject to provisions of law and as the Congress may deem appropriate, the Government shall take steps to initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official communication and as the language of instruction in the educational system.
Section 7. For purposes of communication and instruction, the Official Languages of the Philippines are Filipino and, until otherwise provided by law, English.
The regional languages are the auxiliary official languages in the regions and shall serve as auxiliary media of instruction therein.
Filipino is therefore The National Language of the Philippines, and while it is based on Tagalog, it is an actively evolving language that is constantly “developed and enriched” by incorporating elements from the diverse languages spoken throughout the Philippines. Additionally, there are a multitude of Filipino words that are loan words based on other languages like Spanish (cómo está > kumustá = hello) and English (kompyuter = computer), as well as from other non-native languages like Chinese/Lan-nang (keh-ya  > kuya = big brother), Arabic (selamat > salamat = thank you), Malay (sedap > saráp = delicious), and Sanskrit (cerita > salitâ = speak), among others. "Western" letters, such as F, J, C, X and Z - sounds of which were not indigenous to the islands before the arrival of the Spaniards and the Americans - were also included in the most recent revision of the Official Filipino Alphabet. Filipino also is, along with English, the Official Language of Education, and is used as the lingua franca in all regions of the Philippines as well as within Overseas Pilipino communities – a sector that obviously includes Pilipino-Americans.
English became an important language in the Philippines in the period between 1898 and 1946, when the Philippines was under U.S. sovereignty. Today, English is, along with Filipino, recognized as the Official Language of Communication, and is therefore the dominant language in government, the legal system, business, medicine, the sciences, and education. Pilipinos tend to want their textbooks for subjects like calculus, physics, chemistry, biology, etc., to be written in English rather than in Filipino. The use of English may be thought to carry an air of formality, given its use in school, government and various ceremonies, and a large percentage of the media including cable television and newspaper publications are also in English.
Tagalog, on the other hand, is used to refer to both the ethnic group as well as the native language of Metro Manila and the surrounding provinces of Central and Southern Luzon. Being that it was the lingua franca of those who lived in or near the government capital; Tagalog was declared the Official Language by the first Constitution of the Philippines in 1897. Then, in 1937, it was selected as the basis for the evolution and adoption of the new Philippine National Language, which was eventually renamed in 1939 to Wikang Pambansa (National Language). Wikang Pambansa, in turn, was further renamed into Pilipino in 1959, a move that was done in order to give the language more of a National rather than an Ethnic label and connotation, which was an effort to dissociate it from the Tagalog ethnic group that is for the most part only based in the northern part of the country.
This move was partly due to the fact that native Tagalog speakers comprise less than 30% of the total Philippine population, and there was a growing feeling of discontent among Pilipinos from the rest of the country who did not speak it as a first language.
The following are some key figures from the table on the 2000 Philippine Census that might put some of these anti-Tagalog sentiments in perspective: Tagalog, with 22,000,000 native speakers, only constitute 28.76% of the total population of the country. On the other hand, native speakers of the Visayan Language Family - which includes Cebuano (20,000,000), Hiligaynon (7,000,000), Waray (3,100,000), Kinaray-a (1,051,000), Surigaonon (600,000), and Masbateño (530,000) - add up to a total of 33,463,654 people, which is an obviously much higher percentage of 43.74% out of the total Philippine population of 76,498,735.  
To recapitulate;
Tagalog is the native language of the Tagalog ethnic group that is based in Metro Manila and the surrounding provinces of Central and Southern Luzon, which had been declared to be the Official Language by the first Constitution of the Philippines back in 1897.
Pilipino was what Tagalog was renamed to in 1959, a unifying act that was done in order to give the language more of a National rather than an Ethnic label and connotation. Pilipino was, along with English, declared to be the Co-Official Language by the 1973 Philippine Constitution.
And finally, to re-iterate the categorical Answer to the abovementioned questions,
Filipino was proclaimed by the present Constitution of the Republic of the Philippine in 1987 to be The Philippine National Language, and is also, along with English, the Official Language of Communication and the Medium of Instruction in the Education System of the Philippines. While it is based in Tagalog, Filipino is an actively evolving language that is constantly “further developed and enriched” through the incorporation of loan words from various “existing Philippine and other languages”.
Nevertheless, just when matters finally appear to have been clarified and to now make sense, this Cultural Note further complicates this particular subject;
Although the word "Filipino" is acceptable while speaking in Filipino, most Pilipinos will still say “Pilipino” in its stead while speaking in the vernacular.
One of the more obvious reasons behind this is that a "p" sound is more natural than an "f" sound to a Pilipino’s tongue, especially while speaking in Filipino, despite the (relatively recent) additions of the f, j, c, x and z letters into the most recent revision Official Filipino Alphabet. Otherwise, “Filipino” is the proper term, for both the person and the language, while speaking and/or writing in English.
In other words, it is perfectly fine to say both "Ako ay Pilipino" and/or "I am Filipino".
·         1987 Philippine Constitution
·         Philippine Government Portal
·         National Statistics Office
·         CIA World Factbook
·         Wikipedia
·         Country Studies
·         Travel Guide
·         Nation Master
·         Tagalog Lang
·         Language Maps