The case of Ilokano as a national language (Part 1)

THE argument I am putting forward is this: the insistence that the Philippines now have a national language in the form of that chameleon which is Tagalog masquerading as Pilipino and then as Filipino is one of the heavy-handed manipulations that many of the ethno-linguistic groups have had to go through in our history of nation-building. The arrogance that goes with this claim is one that is doubly manipulative, with the entitlement and privilege that has been given Tagalog in the past that continues up to today. The argument could sound like a broken record—some kind of water under the bridge, but I see that linguistic and cultural injustice here that must be addressed if the country is really serious in doing justice to the rest of the people of the Philippines.

These manipulations, one that have served that narrow interest of those who think only in terms of one ethno-linguistic group and presume that this same ethno-linguistic group can serve as a cover term for all the experiences of the country, have had its heyday of ‘fabricated truth’ and that it is high time that we have it unmasked in order to transform Philippine reality—especially that reality that has something to do with the national language, the national culture, and the national literature. The big trouble in the conception of these three concepts—a culture that is national, a language that is national, and a literature that is national—is that all these refer largely to the culture, language, and literature created, produced, performed in the everyday life in the Tagalog area and in Manila, clearly indicative of a form of an ethnocentrism passed off as nationalism.

Something is wrong here and there seem to have evolved that complacency in resisting this continuing onslaught on the sensibilities of the other peoples of the country.

One of the key reasons why we have arrived at this terrible situation is the notion that for a country to be truly national, that country should have only one and only language, and one and only one culture. The second one we have achieved: the culture of corruption that is rampant among those who can wield power over the rest of the population, a culture that is slowly creating a seepage in the way we affirm ourselves with dignity and self-respect—and this culture of silence we have adopted in the face of this unwanted onslaught of the Tagalogization of anything belonging to the nation, of the mind of the peoples of all the ethno-linguistic groups, of the Tagalogization of consciousness, of the Tagalogization of all the apparatuses of culture, the media, the economic and political life of the peoples. The problem is the myopia of the framers of the ‘national language,’ forgetting that it is possible for a country to have more than one national language because, let us accept it, the myopia is based on the notion, not empirically correct as it is, that the country is divided along linguistic line. The cause of our division has never been along linguistic line: the cause of our division has always been along the terms of domination and oppression, with the dominator against the dominated, the oppressor against the oppressed.

Today, we think different. It would be a service to the country if those who are in the know would understand that a country may opt to have many national languages—and that in opting such, we are more attuned to the realities of our people and not to the expectation of a powerful elite who speak the language of the colonizers and the language that they use to speak or command their domestic helps in Manila, Tagalog.

The making of Ilokano as a national language is long overdue in much the same way that the making of Sebuano as a national language is as expedient as the declaration of ceasefire between the warring factions.

I argue for a rethinking of the national policy on the national language, a policy based on irrationality, on the fear of the unknown, on the disregard and disrespect for the democratic and cultural and linguistic rights of other peoples—in short, a policy that is dictatorial, tyrannical, and neocolonial.

For today, we have a new colonizer in sheep’s clothing—and this neo-colonizer is the proponent of Tagalog as the vessel and the only vessel of our self-knowledge and self-reflection as a nation. I say: this position can never be correct if measured against the requisites of social justice and fairness. I say: this position is untenable when measured against the demands of linguistic and cultural democracy.

The only way to correct these injustices is declare multiple national languages for the country with multiple respectable lingua francas.