Further on the “Filipino Language”

Posted on May 9, 2012


Language is considered equivalent to culture (Jiang, 2009), and it has long been considered as such. Yes, you may contend about Latin as continuously extant in virtue despite that no person claiming to be of direct Roman ancestry lives today. However, the Latin that is being used today in Vatican City–as well as being integrated in many languages such as English (on a second thought)–is only for specific purposes; it means that the language has long been extinct in terms of communicative and a wider sense of functional purpose. The cultural element of the language has long been dead as hundreds of years have already passed since the last purely Latin-speaking community as multitudes of their people diverged into different Romance languages, thus identities. Therefore, Latin, by broader definitions of language, is dead since there is no one to propagate and flourish crudely Latin culture.

With this idea in mind, the issue of national language and dearth of so many languages in the Philippines leads to a dearth of stately consciousness as well. I do not prefer “national” as the Philippines itself is an amalgamation of different–may it be varied or interspersed–nations as even mentioned as early as in Francisco Colin’s Labor evangelica (1663) edited by Blair and Robertson (2009).

  • Visayans
28. The nations of the Bisayas and Pintados, who inhabit the
provinces of Camarines in this island of Luzon, and those of Leyte,
Samar, Panay, and other neighborhoods, came, I have heard, from the
districts of Macasar, where it is said that Indians live who make
designs on and tattoo the body, in the manner of our Pintados... 
and when they find themselves beset by the troops from Filipinas,
they make an alliance and help one another.
  • Ilokano, Tagalog, Kapampangan, Pangasinan, Cagayanon
94. Coming now to the other point, that of their languages, there are
many of these. For in this island of Manila alone there are six of
them, which correspond to the number of the provinces or civilized
nations; the Tagalog, Pampanga, Camarines (or Visayan), Cagayan,
and those of the Ilocans and Pangasinans. These are civilized nations.

These quotations also clearly tell us that Western historians, upon first contact with our ancestors, have already considered us nations with degrees of civilization, political framework, established social hierarchy, science, arts and literature: all of these, if we only put much of our efforts and financial capabilities, could be discovered more, and thus would provide a clearer view of what we really were, are, and should be as a country. Yet, with the reality that we have right now and years of cultural (albeit turned political) colonization of the Spanish and American, we have to overcome a myriad of obstacles of forgottenness that time has beset us.

Since the beginning of the Bilingual Education Policy in 1974 (Kirkpatrick in Low & Hashim, 2012), economic, cultural and academic inequality has been on the rise in the Philippines. As noted by Kirkpatrick (in Low & Hashim, 2012) about the said medium of instruction (MoI) policy, the mother tongue or native language of students outside Tagalog-dominated Manila region has been relegated to oblivion. This is far from the reality of how my parents were able to use and be taught of their own languages at school prior to that time. Martin (in Low & Hashim, 2012) similarly laments how (non-Tagalog) schoolchildren “may be marginalized by a policy that promotes languages that are not their own” (p. 198).

This has also taken a toll on student performance most especially to those outside of Tagalog-speaking provinces and regions. While the entire country subscribes to Tagalog-English bilingual education, across generations, student competency in understanding lessons and applying them in written and practical terms have been compromised. Overall student performance of regions outside Manila continue to slide because of a medium  of instruction (MoI) that was never suitable to their respective communities that do not speak Tagalog initially. Such dismal phenomenon has been proven in Malaysia where its government implemented a controversial education shift of MoI from Bahasa Melayu, the L1 of ethnic Malays being the majority of the population, to English as MoI. I am never against bilingual education since there have been many research that have seen numerous cognitive and neurological benefits bilingualism could provide. However, what the government and our peoples should push for is bilingual instruction focusing on the students’ FIRST LANGUAGE (L1). Now, when we pertain to L1, it’s not the National Language  and not Tagalog for everyone throughout the Philippines since we are apparently a country of different ethnicities. Furthermore, a recent study by Benson (2004) of the UNESCO revealed the importance of mother tongue-based education where the students’ L1 would be used as the medium of instruction for reaching, writing, mathematics and other subjects, and a possibility of having a separate subject area of its own.

Anyway, setting that concern aside, the Filipino language has been mired with misconception and wronged implementation. Previous administrations of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (Commission on the Filipino Language) have long enshrined the “national language” as an agglutination of Tagalog grammatical elements with modern-day adaptation of foreign loanwords mostly from English. Therefore, Filipino, they say, is not Tagalog. However, when looking at it linguistically, Filipino is never different from Tagalog, still. Grammatical components of Filipino are apparently Tagalog; majority of the indigenous lexicon (I presume not below 50%) is Tagalog; the loanwords (apart from Spanish) they were saying are simply natural by-products of the current sociolinguistic situation in the Philippines, particularly around urban areas, where English is the language of prestige. Allowing word-loaning does not transform the language into a different one. In analogy, the government is like saying an apple painted with yellow polka dots is an apple no more. Or, adding drops of milk in a glass of water does not make it water anymore. This bluff has rooted from the constant mockery the central Philippine government has put up all the way from:

  1. 1959 when they renamed through Department of Education Order No. 7, S. 1959 then Tagalog into Pilipino to “separate itself from the Tagalog people” and validate that it should also be the language of everyone else. In other words, it was a means to nominally justify its insinuation into Philippine-wide education, media and governance.
  2. Come the Marcos Constitution of 1973, in Article XV, Section 3.2, the government called the National Congress “to replace” Pilipino with Filipino as the new national language absent of the former (in short, Tagalog) as the basis of the latter, and thus was open for subjective interpretations of which existing language would be the necessary framework.
  3. Upon overthrow of the late president Marcos, the 1987 Constitution finally indicated specifications in Article XIV, Section 6 which base language was to be used in place of Pilipino (AKA Tagalog) for Filipino stating that:

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.

  •  Moreover, the Congress also sought the need for a regulating body, which would be the present Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, that would oversee the development and propagation of this “national language” and all other recognized languages as mentioned in Section 9:

The Congress shall establish a national language commission composed of representatives of various regions and disciplines which shall undertake, coordinate, and promote researches for the development, propagation, and preservation of Filipino and other languages.

The problem here is that ever since the 1987 Constitution was promulgated, there have been no serious initiatives from the government with regard to the safeguarding and development of other Philippine languages or at least any of those considered as “recognized,” namely as of 2010:

Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray-Waray, Pangasinan, Kapampangan, Bikol, Ilokano, Maguindanao, Maranao, Surigaonon, Zamboangueño,  and Chavacano

Only Tagalog (with respect to Filipino) and English have been given enough breathing space in media, public signs, education and government. While a few private television networks such as ABS-CBN and GMA News TV have allotted at least 30-minutes to 1-hour news programs in regional languages, local companies that set up advertisements in regions and cities outside the Tagalog region only use the language of the Tagalas. Even Nokia user guides available anywhere in the country are limited to Tagalog aside from English. Likewise, because of government endorsed grandiose of speaking the “national language,” other ethnic groups have taken toll on this as their linguistic and cultural identities have become perennial targets of humiliation particularly that of anyone coming from Manila.

With “Filipino” language being forced as the primordial source of nationalistic identity, citizens are observed to subject themselves to the language and the imposed cultural footprints shrouded as Tagalog. With this organized cultural supremacy, anything that is detached from this conceived idea of “Filipino” is inferior and at times vilified as subversive and anti-patriotic–an enemy of the state.

[In Tagalog] Episode 9 (Ano Ang Punto Mo? / What’s Your Accent?) of Lourd de Veyra’s  TV5 segment Word of the Lourd questions the wrong Filipino mentality toward different accents (and languages)

The video above probes into the recurring problem regarding ethnolinguistic discrimination prevalent in Metro Manila, and sweeping across the country, with regard to non-Tagalogs’  accents when speaking Tagalog. These people with unorthodox Tagalog accents are automatically conjured (with a tone of insult, of course) as Bisaya or Visayan. If one is caught up in this uninformed, discriminatory notion, he or she becomes an instant butt of jokes among so-called cultural elitists. A rather usual tendency among these elitists is to belittle the intellectual and economic capacity of the person being trivialized into a hard laborer, dishwasher or househelper.

Another video is a short documentary made by a foreign tourist about the language barrier between two of the greatest ethnic rivals, the Tagalogs and Cebuanos. The video says it all. I think what any other non-Tagalog group should espouse is the same as what the Cebuanos do: resisting ethnolinguistic dominance. Identity is the best weapon each and every Filipino should uphold in this volatile and globalizing world.

Cebu: Center of Tagalog resistance
photo courtesy of slerz

No, this blog entry does not attempt treason to Philippine sovereignty. This blog is challenging the forthright  the things that should be important among every Filipino. The Philippines is not a homogeneous state to begin with. It is then the government and the people’s responsibility to shed light into each detail that deals with them as human beings and as citizens of this country of different nation-states.

I am born and raised in Tagalog-speaking Manila by Visayan parents. I have recently found the heart to accept the reality that our peoples face: doom if we do not take action. I have also recently found a new source of pride other than being myself and being a Filipino: that is being Visayan.   This I elucidated with utmost conviction to my parents. They replied, “But, no. You’re not Visayan anymore. You’re Tagalog–you’ve been born here in Manila and you speak Tagalog.” I was slightly disheartened by how they view their very own identity being passed onto me. However, only one thing that comes into my mind, Identity does not only pertain to language you speak, but where your spirit, dreams and aspirations, are for. That is why I am and will always be Visayan. This may sound too melodramatic, but we can never do things for the better if we never have the heart for them. The actions done by the government and individuals involved may have been detrimental to the nation-building process of this country, but there is still time to fix what we have to.

I am Bisaya and I am not a slave.

[To be continued]