With this MLE turn, now we make the road while walking: our task at Nakem and at the UH Ilokano Program until 2015 (Continuation)

But in all these acts of state-sanctioned discrimination and intolerance, acts that are those of a cultural tyrant, the effectively ‘othered’ Philippine ethnolinguistic communities did not raise howl but meekly followed suit, taking in all the effects of marginalization in stride. The masking of all these discriminatory practices could have been complete were it not for the empirical fact that the educational outcomes that we desire are not there, and these outcomes have not been there in a long, long while, thus making the Philippines slide down further to illiteracy, and then to underdevelopment. All these because we forget that the easiest way to teach our people about the world is to make them competent in their own word what this world is all about. Their own word is their own language and no other.

While we are going full throttle with the chimera of building a nation with the illusory Constitutional mandate that developing one national language, Filipino, would unite us, we should be shamed by the resolve of our southeastern neighbor-state, Papua New Guinea, which by virtue of its Constitution expressed “the wish for traditional villages and communities to remain as viable units of Papua New Guinean society, and for active steps to be taken in their preservation.” There’s nothing spectacular or remarkable about a country’s wish to preserve its traditional villages and communities except that Papua New Guinea has expressed the will to preserve more than 800 indigenous languages and at least as many traditional societies out of a population of just under 7 million.

These things have been clear to us at Nakem Conferences, even if in the beginning we did not have the courage to blurt it out into the open. We have been talking about cultural citizenship for so long we cannot remember any more when we first got our rebuke from the ranks of Ilokanos who did not have respect for what we were doing. Those of us who were into advocacy for Ilokano language and literature were branded as incapable of doing advocacy work for the national language or English, with our minds considered lesser than those who can think, write, and speak from English or Tagalog. Or were just simply regarded as educational reactionaries. The path we took at Nakem Conferences was never easy; it is not yet easy until today, this we now know full well.

When Ricky Nolasco was chair of the Commission on the Filipino Language, we made it sure that he knew what we were doing at Nakem Conferences. For two consecutive years, in 2007 and 2008, we asked him to come to our conference and lend his name to the cause, which he did, and for which Nakem Conferences will always be grateful. We sometimes feel that Nakem Conferences pushed him to side with our cause at the expense of his position as chair of the commission. All told, what Nakem Conferences did and what Nakem Conferences continues to do in the interest of the goals of Education for All by 2015 is a commitment first to our peoples of the Amianan. We are clear on this.

The six EFA GoalsXX can never be vague to us as these are concerns that have not left us even when we were discriminated against, even when the tolerance for our languages and cultures was not the virtue that we saw, heard, and experienced during all these educational regimes that did not regard the difference and diversity that we offered as something of value to the development of our cultural and political citizenship.

Nakem Conferences could not be vague with what universal primary education was. We went to school sharing seats with others, even walking barefoot for hours to experience the traces of words that were not ours, to go through the rite of getting into a world we do not understand because the words in that world were not ours.

Nakem Conferences could not be vague with increasing adult literacy: we owe it to our communities and our people that our adults will be able to read and write in the Ilokano language again. With about eight Ilokanos in the country and millions more abroad, we have only a single monolingual magazine to speak of, with a weekly circulation of 50,000. This means that a fraction of one percent (or .6%) only reads—or buys. Given that people share their reading materials with others, we can extrapolate and increase the number of readers to four per week. We have these facts: the original number based on the weekly circulation reveals that: 6250 out of one million read. With the multiplier, we have: 25,000 out of one million read, or a measly 200,000 out of some 8 million. We cannot even compare the gravity of the situation when someone calmly said, “Houston, we have a problem!” in that calm NASA-speak.  We have an astronomical crisis pointing to the eventual disappearance of our language! The tell-tale signs are there:  you initiate a conversation in Ilokano with the young in Ilokandia and chances are you get a response in Tagalog or some foreign language. This problem, of course, is compounded by the fact that many of our magazines and newspapers do not live long because: (a) the number of readership has always been a problem and (b) the overall environment for adult education does not support the learning process in the Ilokano language. There are of course business issues related to the failure of these publications but this is not concern of this paper at this time.

(To be continued)