Buwan ng mga wika
GOVERNMENT agencies call it “Buwan ng Wika,” and already, injustice is pronounced. At the Legal Education Summit organized by Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin and chaired by Justice Alex Gesmundo, Justice Mario Victor “Marvic” Leonen delivered what to me was one of the highlights of the opening lectures.
He referred to the web of myths that ensnared all of education — including legal education — and one of these was calling our indigenous languages “dialects,” but privileging Tagalog with the category of “wika,” language. This, to him, discriminated against other languages and confined them to the margins of national life. They are labeled “minority languages,” and the people who speak them as “minorities” with consequently only “minor” voices. By what title, moral, historical or legal did Tagalog “conquer” all others, attain the status of “language,” and consign all others to the inferior status of dialects? Nothing but the conniving and conspiring of Tagalogs who had either won or bought for themselves seats of power with the ability to shape policy.
We rant and rave against Spain forcing itself against us. Let us be truthful. At the time the boats of Magellan and later of Legazpi sailed into the Visayas, there was no “us.” What there was was a motley group of islands and as motley a group of peoples, each speaking its own language, each either flourishing or slaving under the rule of some local chieftain, like Lapulapu. We seem to be so regretful of our Hispanic past, miserable people that we are, that March 21 each year comes and goes without so much as begrudging mention of the Portuguese admiral at the service of the Spanish court who changed the course of our history. The friars — also the object of so much misplaced and misinformed opprobrium — showed immense respect for our culture, at least insofar as our languages went. They wrote grammars and lexicons. In fact, our languages started to be written languages only with the printed books and pamphlets by which the friars learned our languages to be able to preach more effectively. There is an Ibanag grammar, and there was an Ibanag lexicon — neither of which was written by Ibanags, but by friars, and there have been no such necessary labors since then. There were native scripts, to be sure, but there is no evidence that these were ever widespread and enduring. As Nick Joaquin so acutely observed, our history and culture hardly ever went for magnitude, and there are no epics or indigenous opera magna written using these native scripts.
Ibanag, Ilocano, Waray, Cebuano, Ilonggo, Pampango, Pangasinan, etc. are languages and it is offensive that agencies of government should celebrate Buwan ng Wika as if there were only one language. What the language policy of the government did to our indigenous languages was nothing less than ensure their gradual demise by allowing media to inundate the countryside with Tagalog programs and with giving it the phony status of “national language” — wikang pambansa. Rizal’s “Ang hindi marunong na magmahal, blah blah blah” — a rather mediocre unquotable — was uncritically taken to refer to Tagalog. It did not occur to Filipinos of other language groups that the “sariling wika” had to refer to their languages as well.
There was propagated this stupid myth that for us to be united as a people, we had to speak one language — the language of the Taga-ilog. Thanks to cultural invasion and its media minions backed by a conspiring national government, most young Filipinos now speak Tagalog — and we are not any more united because of this, nor have academic standards improved, as we were duped into thinking they would be if we would adopt a common national language.
When will it dawn on us that by history, geography and Divine design, we are one nation of many languages, cultures and ethnicities — and that the path to peace must build on this diversity, rather than pave it over with a painful and ludicrous simulacrum of unity?
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