Many Filipinos take pride in their command of English, a language that became part of the school curriculum when the United States ruled the Philippines and compelled students to learn it.

But President Joseph Estrada has told officials to speak and write more in Filipino, reviving decades of debate on whether the country will be hurt by a decline in the use of English."This is the language of our countrymen," Estrada said in Filipino in a speech last week marking August as national language month. "This is the language of our heroes and our ancestors. This is the language now of your president."

Estrada's comment was widely seen as an order to increase the use of Filipino, and his education secretary has since announced plans for a wider use of the language in public schools.

Both Filipino and English are official languages under the constitution.

Estrada and some Filipino academicians, however, question whether the country's use of English for the teaching of math and science in schools and for official communications has benefited ordinary Filipinos.