Ilocano language, culture, literature

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Regional Languages as MOI in First Few Years of Grade School

Following is a copy of my email today to Roy V. Aragon, a prize-winning Ilocano writer, blogger and creator of [cc: Cles Rambaud (Bannawag), Aurelio Agcaoili (NAKEM/Univ of Hawaii at Manoa), Jaime Agpalo, Jr. (Tawid News Magasin), Joel B. Manuel, and Djuna Alcantara (GUMIL)]:

Dear Roy,

I am delighted to note that my sentiments on the language issue are echoed in Manuel L. Quezon III's column in today's Arab News entitled "Our Languages and Our Songs in the Philippines", to wit:

"Every so often a debate [occasioned doubtless by the recent Petition FOR CERTIORARI, PROHIBITION with PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION filed with the Supreme Court on April 27, 2007, re President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's Exec. Order No. 210 as implemented by DepEd Order No. 36] breaks out in the papers, and quickly turns into a fight. The debate is over which language should be taught in our schools. The debate used to focus on two languages: English and Filipino. In recent years, it’s become a three-cornered fight: English vs. Filipino vs. the other languages of the Philippines. I have my own views on the matter (English is necessary; Filipino, too; and advocates of both have a historical obligation to recognize the aspirations of other Philippine languages, so that learning either doesn’t come at the expense, politically and culturally, of the others)."

Now, I think that's the kind of healthy attitude we Ilocanos [especially those in position to help influence the powers-that-be] should have to help turn the tide on the decline of Ilocano, especially among our young people. To us, their elders, the subtle decline might not seem perceptible now. However, give it a few years, perhaps when these same young ones become parents who are less capable of articulating themselves in Ilocano, what do you think will happen to Ilocano then unless we stem the decline now?

MLQ3's rhetorical question is most illustrative of the point I have aligned myself to espouse, namely that literature written in one's own language is the mirror of one's culture:

"How would you appreciate Cebuano culture, if you cannot speak Cebuano? The closest I have dare come to doing so is by means of three songs: Hearing our national anthem sung in Cebuano; listening to the kundiman “Ay, Kalisud!”, and by belonging to a generation that had its first exposure to history by laughing along to Yoyoy Villame."

MLQ3 concluded his column with something he experienced somewhere in Cebu:

"Right now, it is simply illegal to sing our national anthem in any language other than Filipino. I once attended a concert which opened with the anthem being sung first in Spanish, then in English, then in Tagalog: All three times, it stirred my heart, and I felt, through those languages, drew me closer to the generations that grew up singing our national hymn in those languages. It was an emotion I felt, as well, in Cebu when students there broke the law and sang the anthem in Cebuano.

In Cebu, the students opened their program in Cebuano, they welcomed me in Filipino, and I talked to them in Filipino but they asked me questions in English. We all got along very well, and we all left the symposium with smiles on our faces. It may be that a younger generation, younger than you or I, have settled the old debate among themselves.
There is a place for everything, and that place is a more reasonable, more accommodating, but ultimately, dignified place when it comes to language."

I like to go back to an era in our country when the freedom of speech or expression was held high, when anyone could speak in his/her own regional language without fear of getting fined, sing songs, even the national anthem in his/her regional language without breaking the law--and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. We chose to learn English and that was just fine because we found out we could flourish in it, and to our advantage, we simply latched on to something that is now the undisputed global language.

Dean Jorge Bocobo's commentary on this issue gives us Ilocanos some enlightening perspective on the abovementioned petition which is chock-full of faulty premises. Notably inaccurate among such premises of the petitioners:

"9.4. Government and institutional studies have shown that children in the grade schools cannot learn how to read and write in English..."

Now, that's odd. Except for the 3-year old preschooler and some minor petitioners, the rest of the petitioners must have gone through grade school and learned English as to be able to craft the petition itself in English and continue to participate in the intellectual intercourse using English.

"9.6. The harmful effects of using a foreign language [English] for learning are not just limited to low academic achievement and cognitive growth; it also impairs the emotional security and the sense of self-worthiness and the ability to participate meaningfully in the educational process by lower class children who develop inferiority complex as they are stigmatized by their use of the native tongue."

Well, tell that to the Cebuanos, Ilocanos, Hiligaynons, Bicolanos, Warays, Pampangans, Pangasinenses, etc., who consider Tagalog, er, Filipino as a foreign language! But then those same "harmful effects" didn't seem to limit the academic achievement of most of the petitioners.

About the only thing that I agree with the petitioners is their desire to have the regional languages be used as the medium of instruction (MOI) in the respective regions to "enable school children to learn how to read and write and enable them to acquire the foundations of knowledge in the first few years of education".

In the final analysis, I believe the most pragmatic and equitable course of action would be to amend Exec. Order No. 210 and DepEd Order No 36 to include the regional languages as MOI in their respective regions in the first few years of education. It is the sensible and constitutional thing to do, period.