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The Case of Ilokano as a National Language (Part 5)

The ideological consequences of the sloganeering gimmicks of the New Society gave rise to an ideologically impotent understanding of what constitutes a ‘nation’ and a ‘new society.’

The framers of the concept ‘new society’, those bright boys from the academe, failed miserably to understand that in the building up of a transformed and new society, only one and only one language is not the requirement. Thus, the ‘isang bansa, isang diwa’ slogan that schoolchildren mouthed from 1972 and onwards propagandized a mentality that was not only serf-serving to those in the center of power, with Manila-centrism providing the flawed backgrey. That slogan simply short-changed us into understanding that democracy, the backbone of that new order, did not require one and only one language and did not intend to stifle and muffle the voices and dreams and hopes of those outside Metro Manila, the humongous city with its claim to the proverbial and equally ad populum kind of a phrase, ‘the true, the good, and the beautiful.’ In short, we could have had a ‘new society’ without the imposed Tagalogization of all that concerns our national life, from awareness of the injustices around us to the zest and vitality that is required to live the good life in that new society. The myopia is palpable—and the leaders are guilty of this lobotomization of the minds of our people, such that, in the end, the standard of national life became either an Anglicized-Englishicized one or a Tagalogized one, or both depending on whose presidential era one is speaking about.

This failure of the bright boys of Malacanang to see beyond the imprisoning ‘one nation, one thought/language’ mindset gave rise to the failure of our collective imagination to build up a country, nation, and society that has multiple national languages.

If we did have the vision, if we had that imagination, we could have set a political philosophy of language that was able to respond to the requisites of democracy. Somewhere, we know of this truth: that the solution to the problems of democracy is more and more democracy.

The solution to the problems of democracy is not dictatorship: political, cultural, economic.

The solution to the problems of democracy is not the oligarchy of those walled within walls—those who take residence in palaces, in the hallowed halls of Congress, in posh villages that do not know of the hardship of those who cannot speak Tagalog and neither English.

The solution to the problems of linguistic and cultural democracy is not the imposition of two colonial and neocolonial languages: English and Tagalog.

For English is the proof of how divided we have become, with the chasm of that division a symbol and a social sin, with the Englicized leaders only talking to themselves and among themselves, and never with and to us.

For Tagalog has become a internal-neocolonial tool of the unknown enemy, well, we know them too, the enemy who has received an email from the gods, a fax message from the goddesses, or a text message from the anitos—the email, the fax, the text all telling them that from hereon, they are the new lords and masters, those who know Tagalog/Pilipino/Filipino because they speak the message of the poetically phrased but empty boast of an empty rhetoric, ‘isang bansa, isang diwa.’

These are the sins of the fathers, and we urge them to confess of their sins before the Filipino public, telling us, and telling in frankness and courage and daring, that, well, they have been imprisoned by the myopic thoughts of the myopic past and that today, they have realized where their mistakes and sins and failures lie.

Democracy seen in its lights gives us the options, the gift of vision, the freedom of thought. I wonder how we have been imprisoned to this singular national language idea, not challenging it, not rejecting it, not resisting it in a systematic way, except in the ‘reactionary’ theatrics of some legislators who probably did not know how to distinguish the semantic difference between ‘a language from the region’ and ‘a regional language.’

The lesson learned is this: that we can build up a country, we can build up a nation, we can build up a decent and self-respect society by giving decency and respect to the languages and cultures of those in the periphery, of those in the margins, of those outside the center of power, of those outside the academe whose members have become tools to this widespread illusion about the Tagalogization and Englishization of the homeland.

The lesson learned is this: We are not going to allow Ilokano and the other lingua francas of the country, say Sebuano, to go the wastebin of cultural and linguistic history. We have given so much entitlement and privilege to English and Tagalog. Now is that time for us to ask for an accounting of our cultural and linguistic obligations.

At the very least then, Ilokano needs to be declared as a national language. So all the other lingua francas of the country.

The rage among informed Ilokano writers, cultural activists, and scholars is palpable.

Even in the silence, I can sense the storm brewing, and the storm is going to be a deluge, and this deluge will test the premises of the cultural idiocy that we see in the governmental policies relative to the national language, national literature, and national culture. I can name some now, with their rage against the systemic and programmatic wiping out of the other lingua francas of the homeland because of the unfair advantage being given to Tagalog as Pilipino as Filipino (say, what is the difference, pray tell!) in all aspects of our national life.

At the very least, this unfair advantage given to Tagalog is an anomaly because it is based on entitlement and on privileges. Leoncio Deriada’s position, for instance, to distinguish, in one literary contest sponsored by a government agency, between Tagalog writing and Filipino writing is laudable, and was appropriate, but at the same time, it masks the reality that indeed, Tagalog writing is not distinct from Filipino writing.

In effect, that proposal came in early because the distinction cannot be found, is, in fact, unfounded, unless we accept that a Tagalog writing becomes Filipino writing when we use, in a Tagalog work, some words from Aparri to Zamboanga City, such as ‘mafato/napudot’—or ‘okinnam’—, and ‘este,’ ‘bien,’ or other Chavacano words pidginized from the Spanish.

(To be continued)

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