In Search for A Filipino Identity vis-a-vis Our Language

In Search for A Filipino Identity vis-a-vis Our Language*
By Marlon B. Raquel

If you want to know your identity, you have to go back to your past and study history. That is exactly how modern-day Filipino advocates do today. The Philippines is not exactly the society our ancestors knew 3,000 years ago. We have a system of government even before Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese who worked under the Kingdom of Spain, landed on our soil in 1521. I opt not to use 'discovered' because Magellan did not discover the archipelago at all. There is no such thing as discovery, at least to my point of view. There was merely a meeting of two cultures - east and west. The so-called 'discovery of the Philippines' is a Western concept. Any writer who is foreign may write down the chronicles of our history for his country's advantage. An American historian may be biased and glorify American occupation. A Spanish chronicler like Pigafetta may tell us that it is Magellan who first discovered the islands. Perhaps the word 'Philippines' would not exist today should the Spaniards failed to conquer the islands. The archipelago has been named that way in honor of King Philip II of Spain. We need historians like Renato Constantino who accurately narrated our history from our perspective.

For centuries Filipinos are standing at the crossroads. We've been continuously searching for a true Filipino identity. Or we might ask if there's such identity in the first place. Our race has been a mixture of Malayan/Spanish/American/Japanese/Chinese blood. They say that the only pure Filipinos today are the Negritos and Tasadays and some ethnic minorities. Because of foreign influences, many Filipinos choose to become westernized in many ways. Among us are people who speak the foreign language and avoid using the mother tongue as much as possible. Some would feel ackward speaking or hearing someone using his vernacular language or dialect. He has a hard accent, one would say. Many Filipinos abroad are even displaying an un-Filipino manner though you would obviously notice that they are from the Pearl of the Orient Ocean. This is a grim reality each Filipino has to face.

When I was in college, I enrolled in two subjects dealing with Philippine languages for two semesters. These subjects were in no way connected to my degree but the university where I came from gave each student the freedom to choose some subjects that the student may deem helpful to him. From then on, I started to appreciate the beauty of our own literature - written in Cebuano, Ilocano, Waray, Tagalog, and other Philippine vernacular languages. My professor, who was then the highest-paid faculty member of the college, showed us his dedication for the preservation of these languages. It is a grave mistake to call them dialects. For this reason, I was able to write poems written in Waray (we call it siday) and some of these were published in our school paper.

With the increasing globalization taking place, the country needs to adapt to changes. Madame Arroyo would never use Tagalog when she speaks to Obama, otherwise, Obama would not understand her. But have you notice during summits or conferences of different ministers or presidents? Many wouldn't really care using English. Have you seen the King of Saudi Arabia speaking in English during those meetings? The prime minister of Japan? The president of China? The chancellor of Germany? The president of South Korea? And others? No, they would always use their mother tongue as the primary medium of communication. They have interpreters! But look at those countries, they are among the richest nations in the world. Even during international beauty pageants, contestants from other nations would usually use their native language. They have all the resources to learn English but they choose to speak in their respective language. In countries where nationalism is strong like that of Japan, English is not the primary medium of instruction in schools. Japan imposed Nihongo or Niponggo in almost all subjects even mathematics. Now you begin to wonder what would be the Tagalog equivalent for square root, multiply, quotient, etc. Apparently, these people know the importance of language for national survival. This is their way of communicating to their people that they are united. Language binds societies.

There have been several attempts from various groups to educate the Filipinos about the importance of using our national language in different aspects. The University of the Philippines (Unibersidad ng Pilipinas in Filipino), the country's national university, has been at the forefront on these initiatives. The Surian ng Wikang Pambansa (now called Sentro ng Wikang Filipino), established during the time of President Manuel Quezon, is located inside U.P. Diliman campus and is very active in promoting national consciousness of the importance of Filipino language. A professor from the College of Arts and Letters have actually published a dictionary with original Tagalog words. Even the name of different colleges and departments have been "Tagalized." The College of Social Sciences and Philosophy became Kolehiyo ng Agham Panlipunan at Pilosopiya; College of Arts and Letters became Kolehiyo ng Arte at Literatura; College of Architecture became Kolehiyo ng Arkitektura; and others. The birds of the air told me that there is an effort to change the name Philippines to Malaya or Maharlika. Well, Mapua Institute of Technology in Intramuros has been renamed as Malayan University already, perhaps under the influence of its top administrator who is a UP graduate. This is according to my former colleague who worked there as a professor for several years. I may have to do some research regarding its veracity.

The Philippines may be internationally competitive with the use of English language but we lag far behind our Asian counterparts. There is nothing wrong in using English in its proper place and time but it is a 'sin' to deny any thing that has connections to our identity as a distinct nation.

* February 1, 2010
Monday, 3:30 PM MNL
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