The imposition of Tagalog (a.k.a., Pilipino, alias Filipino) on the entire nation as its national language is one of my pet peeves. I can speak and write it with modest proficiency, but I find it culturally offensive that the regional language of Manila and its environs should be foisted on the entire nation as its national language.
Last week, at a forum of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs, I was invited to share my views as an academic on legal instruments on human rights for the Asean region. An integrated Asean has culture among its priorities and the evolution of an Asean identity as a item high up in its agenda. But as clearly does the Asean charter provide that the official language of the region is English. No contradiction because Asean is merely accepting the fact that English is the language of the world—otherwise, there is no way to explain why English teachers do not have to wait for long before finding decent employment anywhere in the world. The point is that proficiency in English has never done anyone harm, nor is not necessarily a betrayal of one’s culture.
In respect to the national language, the Constitution provides this exactly in Article XIV:
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.
What is the referent of “Filipino”? Really, none. At the time the Constitution was popularly ratified, Tagalog masqueraded as Pilipino. ‘‘Filipino” is a construct, a fictive attempt at compromise but the term is really vacuous. Because of an earlier policy of the Department of Education that favored the use of this Quasimodo called “Filipino,” we now have an entire generation of college-level students many of whom are sorely wanting in the fundamental skills of comprehension and communication. Teachers often ask in exasperation why students do not read. There is no need to go far afield to fathom the reason: They do not understand, and so it does not pay to read.
As deleterious is the “cultural alienation” that has resulted. Young Ibanags no longer speak Ibanag. They do not want to. They have no love for it. Pangasinenses tell me much the same thing. I reserve a reverential bow for the Cebuanos and for other language groups in Southern Philippines that remain fiercely loyal about their languages. But with the media inundating the entire archipelago with a Tagalog tsunami and our national leaders who reinforce the alienating notion that Tagalog is the language of power and nobility because it is the language of Manila, it should be no wonder that we are harvesting the bitter fruit of cultural alienation.
I had thought that the Department of Education was serious about what it calls the MTB-MLE component of the K to 12 program: Mother-Tongue Based, Multi-Language Education. That meant that Ibanags in the first four grades would learn Ibanag at school, as would Ilocanos, Warays, Ilonggos and Kankanays. It has been a tremendous let-down. In Tuguegarao City alone, “mother-tongue based” has become just one more opportunity to ram Tagalog down the gullet of a helpless nation. I have complained about this to Sec. Armin Luistro who indeed took immediate steps to remonstrate with the persons in our region responsible for this frustration of so laudable a goal. The fact that there are migrants to Tuguegarao is not an argument for Tagalog to the prejudice of Ibanag. Putin is right: You come to Russia, learn Russian! As a young professional, my father migrated to Tuguegarao—because he had married my mother—and a mere two years after residing here, he was interviewing clients of his nascent law practice in Ibanag.
If the long-drawn Mindanao conflict should have taught us anything, it should be the acceptance of Filipino culture as a mosaic of various cultures. All pretense at hegemony is folly, if not dangerous and destructive. As for English, even the French concede that it is now the world’s language. It will not do well for the Philippines to move in the opposite direction. The hundred or so Philippine languages must thrive and flourish, and the key to that is ridding ourselves of the imperialism of Tagalog, but let our people be proficient in English so that the treasures of literature and the mass of information, as well as the promise and opportunity that competence in a global language offer may be ours to enjoy.