(Suratko daytoy iti The Freeman, Cebu. Inayonko ditoy kas nayon a pagpampanunotan.)
For a long time now, we have read the clamor of our brother Cebuanos and the Ilonggos about the necessity of preserving your respective tongues. Based on the frequency that Bobit Avila raises the furor and fans the fervor on that respect, we assume this issue is a very touchy one for our brother Cebuanos who claim that it is very difficult for you to learn Tagalog.
We Ilocanos, more accomodating than Cebuanos on the issue of language, have watched the clouds of dust and clank of armors as we see you cry with your hollowed tongues and raise our flag with the nationalism clearly in your Cebuano voice. We see you raise heaven and hell and develop your own Institutes for your language. As this develop we from the Iluko literati silently envy you Cebuanos for such brazen display of zealousness for so precious a heritage. We agree on the sidelines with you and how we wish, our zeal would amount to yours.
Until now. This issue of language is so sensitive that we too bear its weight in silence, that we blame even our Marcos who when given the opportunity could have arrested the tide of history and restored Iluko to a dazzling height; who when vested with power could have raised his own native tongue to the cadence of his unfathomable mind. When he should have veered that way, you our brother Cebuanos, would have made him too the saviour of your tongue.
But he did not. And here comes a president who desires that all instructions should be in English, to the detriment of even Tagalog, which had legally but not morally appropriated the absolute and singular glory of being called the “Filipino language”.
We feel our children in the Ilocos already masters of Tagalog in the masquerade of Filipino and English writings but never in Iluko. We speak of the magnitude of Iluko literature that we churnn out and we pride ourselves of saying we have the second largest literature in the land. But with our dwindling readers in Iluko language, we too fear the emergence of a large but dead corpus of letters in our language. For literature without readers is dead and dead literature is no part of a living tongue.
Tagalog literature, ferried on and within the vehicle of Filipino, will never be a dead literature. It is read in schools and Ilocano children nowadays know “Tata Selo” of Rogelio Sicat but they never know “Bituen ti Rosales” of our great Juan SP Hidalgo, Jr. It is an outrageous and outright shame for Ilocano children to read English and Tagalog with good speed and comprehension but stammer every syllable in their native tongue. And this is because this politics of the tongue is perpetrated by our educational system. We don’t find any opportunity in this stilted curriculum of ours to present our very rich and varied Iluko literature and language to our pupils and students. I suppose the same thing will not be true with you.
This is because once and for all we can not find a treshold of our literature in the curricula. Admit we must that the Filipino society is a society of lazy readers and we find a larger segment of our population not glued to the magic of the page but beholden to the flash of the idiot box we call television. It is only in the younger population of ours that we find active readers just because they have to read to pass their academic subjects. And in this segment, the regional languages and literature aside from Tagalog (again purportedly Filipino), are marginalized and reduced to obscurity. Tagalog literature, again appropriating the glorious monicker of “Filipino literature” when in fact it contains no element of Iluko or Cebuano or Ilonggo or Bicol or Pampanggo literature at all, takes all there is to call Filipino literature simply because Tagalog is the basis of Filipino and hence all Tagalog literature are necessarily Filipino literature but not all regional literatures are Filipino literature.
When was the word Filipino literature did encompass Filipino Literature in Cebuano, Filipino Literature in Iluko, Filipino Literature in Tagalog, Filipino Literature in Pampango, Filipino Literature in Bicol, Filipino Literature in Ilonggo, in Waray-Leyte? We have yet to see that. From whence comes this difference that Tagalog literature sits on the dais and crowned Filipino literature while the others are merely debased to the pity of being called regional literature, when in fact Tagalog literature is no higher than any of these regional literatures? We ought to ponder on this political ploy of exalting a language and literature above the rest, calling it national in scope when it is actually regional in content; branding it all encompassing in comprehensiveness when it is parochial in soul and psyche and mind.
In addition, it is the tendency of most schools to adopt a “Speak English campaign,” or a “Magsalita ng Filipino” campaign with the singular purpose of propagating the two languages to the detriment of the native tongue. Give me a school with a policy like that and I will show you a violator of human right of expression. Our schools had become the oppressor and the foremost violator of the adage of Rizal whose dictum was for us to love our own language.
Is this the essence of what Rizal said when he wrote: “Ang di marunong magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit pa sa malansang isda”? In plain terms, is this only applicable to Tagalog and never for Cebuanos, Ilocanos, Bicolanos, Ilonggos and other linguistic groups? What then an Ilocano should love, unless he claims Tagalog his own and disowns his Iluko as a foreign language? Should other linguistic groups other than the Tagalogs , love Tagalog (sugar-coated as Filipino) and remain ignorant of their true “sariling wika?” and yet avoid Rizals’s metaphor by loving Tagalog which is not their own language? Tagalog because it is sanctioned as Filipino, claims the metaphor to itself and imposes itself on us as if it is our native tongue and demands its reverence from us. That metaphor should not be interpreted as a metaphor for the “Filipino language”, it is a metaphor of the Tagalog language, which essence we can borrow if Rizal mirrors the collective Filipino soul.
Research had shown and proved that an individual’s first language aids in the acquisition of his second language. This means that if a child is made to master literacy (reading and writing) in his first language, he will have a solid foundation in grasping his subsequent second languages. Contrary to the long held belief that learning a first language interferes with the acquisition of second language, massive research have shown that a solid foundation in first language will greatly facilitate the acquisition of whatever second languages an individual may learn in the future.
At this point, we need a language reform more than we need any other reform in our educational system. A great deal of our pupils’ and students’ underachievement in their academics stems from the problem with language. It is just a matter of communication, but it is communication that matters. To teach the regional language in the form of reading will give our children mastery of literacy in their native tongue. This will in turn increase their chances of improving their communication skills in English.
Teach the regional languages we must, even just the reading of their literature in schools. This as much will preserve these languages threatened by Tagalog and English and increase the comprehension levels of children in their academics and aid them in improving their command of English.
For a long time, we Ilocanos watched you, our brothers in the south, agitate in view of preserving your language and hence, your own turf and culture. We would like you to know, we Ilocanos are coming to our senses, too.
The linguistic diversity of the Filipinos must be balanced with the need for national voice. Our own languages, too, must be taught even just our literature. And they should be read in our own native tongue not in Tagalog or English. With that crusade, we clasp hands with you our brother Cebuanos! May we walk hand in hand in this issue?
JOEL B. MANUEL
UP Diliman, Quezon City
Vice President, GUMIL Ilocos Norte
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