The Case of Ilokano as a National Language (Part 3)

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.

But this is tokenism, and no amount of language engineering based on tokenism will ever correct the cultural and linguistic injustices inflicted upon millions and millions of peoples—in the plural—in the Philippines, with Sebuano still lording it over as the ‘national lingua franca’ in the Visayan and Mindanao, and Ilokano, as the ‘national lingua franca’ in Northern Luzon, and for history’s sake, in the diaspora. For the historical language of the diaspora is none other but Ilokano, but the muffling of the enemy has been so effective, the muffling making it appear that the Ilokano in the diaspora has no voice of his own, has to find that voice in other languages not his own but those of others, such as Tagalog and his pidgin/Hawaiian English that you cannot even recognize as English at all, if the basis is the one you hear from television—from the CNN headquarters.

This tokenism is the culprit—and this is the cause of this systemic masking off that is making it appear that we have, in fact, already a P/Filipino.

The other culprits to these are well-meaning academics, who, operating from a particular linguistic base, comes up with a totalizing strategy to account everything. Virgilio Enriquez’s “sikolohiyang Filipino” is one prime example, when, in his exuberance found something called “native psychology” or the more stylish term “indigenous psychology”, called the Tagalog experience of “psyche” the “sikolohiyang Filipino.” There are other academics of this mold, such as Prospero Covar’s “araling Pilipino” and Zeus Salazar’s “p/filipinolohiya”. Include here the philosopher Leonardo Mercado and we have a quartet that pushed for a totalizing view of the national experience based on one linguistic experience.

Mercado, for instance, in his metalinguistic approach, tried hard to put together the possibilities of loob-nakem-buot coming together but did not succeed, or so I think. The premises are never the same for arriving at that forced conclusion in order to account what, in abstraction, is called “Filipino philosophy’, which had nothing to do with the nation but only with some select ethnolinguistic groups representing themselves but never the nation as a whole.

The big intellectual problem—and a huge one at that—in the Philippines is that logical equation being done to account the nation: Tagalog is equal to Pilipino; Pilipino is equal to Filipino.

There has been this shorthand way to make things ‘national’ for political reasons, part of which is that almost fanatic view that says that when the center has spoken, the whole thing is finished. There is a formula for this in the medieval church, which medievalism still pervades to justify religious moral standards: “Roma locuta est— Rome has spoken.” And because Rome has spoken, no one has the right to make a speech again. The word Rome has uttered about anything at all is final and there are no ifs and buts.

The linguistic arrogance in Tagalog began when it did not recognize—it did not have any intention to recognize in the beginning—the other sounds of the other languages only to find out that this linguistic position to account the alphabets of the national language is ultimately wrong.

The sense here is this: that if the equation—this isomorphism—continues, then we have sold our souls to the neocolonizers.

With more than 20 million people speaking Ilokano all over the world, what do you do with this continuing rendering of a people into one of systemic and programmatic invisibility?

(To be continued)