DILA was organized on November 2, 2001, when separate Kapampangan and Visayan discussion groups on the Internet concerned about the threat to their languages posed by the Philippine national language policy came together to form a single group. At first, this group was called United Non-Tagalogs. Later, it was renamed DILA (Defenders of the Indigenous Languages of the Archipelago). Its establishment was historic: it was the first multi-ethnic response to a language policy which its founders felt was annihilating the non-Tagalog languages of the Philippines.
The group has grown and developed, giving rise to other fora and organizations with a shared advocacy and similarly radical outlook, and creating an unprecedented awareness of the impending language holocaust in an increasingly broad segment of the Philippine public. It has nearly 300 members at present, representing the major ethno-linguistic groups from all over the archipelago, as well as several “lesser used” languages, based around the globe.
DILA is acutely aware of the problem of language extinction, a phenomenon observed all over the world. Of 6,800 or so languages spoken in the world today, it is estimated that half will be lost in this century. There are even projections putting the proportion of possible extinctions at 90 percent. In the Philippines, a language policy aimed at systematically promoting the Tagalog-based national language (earlier known as Pilipino, and now Filipino) has shut all other indigenous languages out of schools and government, and is steadily choking them as well out of the mass media and society in general. As a result, the proportion of Tagalogs rose from 19 percent in 1948 to over 29 percent in 1995, while that of all others has plunged, precipitously in the case of some (Pangasinan, for instance, plummeted from 3 percent in 1948 to 1 percent in 1995). Because of government policy, of the estimated 174 languages spoken today, only Tagalog (of which DILA considers Filipino to be a subdialect, of the Manila dialect) is considered secure.
DILA believes in the finding of educators and psychologists that children learn best in their mother tongue. All subsequent learning, including that of additional languages, will be retained longest if the foundation in the first language is secure. This is contrary to current practice in the Philippines, in which the non-Tagalog child is exposed to two foreign languages, English and Tagalog-based Filipino, from the first grade onwards.
Apart from this, it believes that privileging one language at the expense of others constitutes a form of discrimination, which not only magnifies the disadvantage suffered by non-Tagalogs (most of whom are far from the educational and commercial centers of Metro Manila), but also reinforces the inferior stereotypes assigned to them, by the media and society in general, of the influential, trend-setting National Capital Region. It holds that many of the problems in the country will become worse if the language issue (and the underlying social reality of which it is merely a symptom) is not addressed, and that true peace, unity and progress can be attained only if the multilingual, multicultural and multinational character of the Philippines is recognized.
DILA’s mission is to foster a consciousness of this increasingly acute problem in government and in the public, help bring about change in language policy, revitalize the different indigenous languages, and restore them to their rightful place in Philippine society.
The Founding of DILA
Like most writers in the vernacular, I did not develop any skill in writing in Kapampangan till late in life. I was just influenced by an uncle of mine who encouraged me to write in it and I became what one would call a prolific writer in it.
Then something made me realize that I was just wasting my time in such an endeavour. With Tagalog lording it over in all media of communication (TV, radio, movies) and with it as the medium of instruction in our schools, I started to have the feeling that someday soon, my province would (heaven, forbid) eventually become Tagalog-speaking. All my works as well as the literature of both my contemporaries and those before me would just go down the drain then. The language policy in the Philippines, I thought, favored only the national language and neglected all the others even in the regions they are indigenous to. So, I became uneasy and worried about the future of my language that I eventually stopped writing in the vernacular and just resorted to doing research in the internet to while the time away.
Then sometime during the fall season of 2001, I came across an article entitled "Ethnic Cleansing in the Philippines." I readily agreed with the projection of a country trying to annihilate all the languages except for one in its effort to just have one language, and hence some sort of unity. I lost no time in getting in touch the author and found a mutual desire and common goal in the preservation and promotion of our languages.
Then I formed a Yahoo group, temporarily naming it United non-Tagalogs. That was on November 1, 2001, although it seems that it has been around for a much longer time on account of the numerous messages over the passing months. – Ernie Turla (2003-06)