Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino

The Supreme Court did not excise so-called “Filipino” (a.k.a. Tagalog) from the curriculum. No court has any business doing that. Courts do not resolve curricular issues. What it did though was decide that the petition to interdict the implementation of the K to 12 curriculum — involving a college curriculum that no longer prescribed Filipino — lacked legal warrant. The petition to enjoin having been dismissed, the result, of course, is that the CHED-ordained curriculum that does not require Filipino stands.

My brilliant friend Antonio Contreras asks why we even prescribed a “national language” in the fundamental law, and he is right in raising the question. It was wrong, I maintain, to prescribe a “national language” in our Constitution. A nation does not need one national language to survive and to flourish as a nation. If anything at all, it is the imposition of the ill-contrived that spawns violence and triggers divisiveness. Since it was Manila that formulated policy, Manila chose the language with which it was most familiar, decreeing it to be the language of a people who have always had different languages.

In many ways, this anomalous and truly unjust situation has its roots in the mistake of calling Ibanag, Pangasinan, Waray, Cebuano, etc. “dialects”, implying of course that they are variants of one language. Any decent source on languages will show that Ibanag, as most other Philippine languages, belongs to the Austronesian family of languages. It has its own rules of syntax; it has its own semantic complications and it has pragmatics all its own. Our policy-makers ignored all this. Gave Tagalog the habiliments of, first Pilipino, and later Filipino and canonized it as the language of an entire nation.

It worked — in the sense that the media deluged the towns, cities and barangays with Tagalog programs. The national government did its share in this assault on indigenous languages: It decreed that Tagalog would be the medium of instruction in the rather ridiculous belief that once Tagalog was known by all, it would make students understand lessons more easily and teaching, more effective. But Tagalog had to be learned in non-tagalog regions, while the facility with which our pupils and students spoke, read, wrote and discussed in English steadily and cumulatively declined. Just as the rest of the world was rushing to learn English, we were running in the opposite direction — foreswearing it, in the name of some moronic version of nationalism that equates being a nation with speaking one language.

Are we better of for all this hoopla over Tagalog? Res ipsa loquitur. Our world standing, academically, remains mediocre, and a growing number of graduates cannot find jobs because the English they speak and write is labored and laborious — and that, most certainly, is not good enough for regional and global business. So much literature is in English — so much information in the sciences and in various other disciplines. What were the proponents of this mad proposition even thinking: That this formidable intellectual corpus would be translated into Tagalog and, in consequence, better understood by Ilocano, Ibanag, Cebuano, Waray, Chabacano, Tausug students?

So, Tagalog is no longer required in college. Good. Then let us get on with the task of undoing an ambivalent language policy in higher education that has really proved to be our undoing! Let us, like ASEAN, make the firm decision that we shall do business — teach, read, study, write and discuss in English. It need not be the King’s English. The datu’s will do, provided that it is English that is grammatically sound for grammar is not, after all, some nicety with which one can dispense. It is the guarantee of intelligibility.

With educational policy finally regaining its sensible bearings, the other, equally original, equally indigenous, equally worthy Philippine languages can thrive and flourish. There is no reason that they should perish. There is no reason that this cultural invasion of Tagalog into every barangay and purok should define our future national life. We are a country of a myriad islands and we are a nation of distinct ethnicities and languages as distinct. That fact will not divide us. Stupidity will!

November 2018, Manila Times

Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino

E PLURIBUS unum…from the many, one. This is the American motto, and it lyrically finds expression in the welcome accorded by the Statue of Liberty at the New York harbor: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Ships packed with poor, tired and oppressed migrants from all over the globe, eyes full of hope upturned to the lady with her torch held aloft has been iconic of the American hospitality that has made of it the proverbial “melting pot” of races. That is why Trump’s Wall is, to many, the contradiction of everything that America has ever stood for. Of course, eventually, Italian, Hispanic, Asian migrants became — and become — “Americanized”: they speak English as Americans do, copying even their common grammatical errors, choose American brands, sing American songs and live by the aspiration of just being one American nation, though awakened to the harsh reality, ever so often, that here and there, non-native “native” Americans will exhibit their antipathy in varying degrees ranging from avoidance to violence against the later waves of “non-natives.”

The Swiss ideal has been the opposite — E uno plures: From one nation, many peoples: a Confederation that is one by fostering the differences among its peoples, be these linguistic, ethnic, religious or historical. The Swiss cantons, each an assemblage of linguistically, culturally and religiously diverse peoples, came first, politically and historically. The Confederation was a subsequent development, and if there is any principle that pervades the Constitution of the Swiss Federation, it is that which preserves and upholds cantonal sovereignty. It is this fostering of diversity and not merely tolerance but cultivation of differences that has allowed the Confederation to emerge and to prosper. So it is that most of the amendments to the Swiss Constitution have bestowed on the Confederation vaster powers; but the return of power from the Confederation to the cantons is hardly known. Plurality has been the main ingredient to Swiss unity.

There is much to be learned. Before the Spaniards referred to us as “Las Islas Felipinas”, we were Ybanag, Cebuano, Tausug, Maranao, Ilocano, Kalinga, Isneg, Mangyan, etc. We were scattered islands and scattered peoples, trading perhaps with each other, often warring against each other. The point is that we were — and still are — diverse. We were then colonized, and when the Spaniards referred to their colony in this far part of the world as the Philippines, then we also started thinking of ourselves in quodamodo, one nation, thus borrowing the perspective of our colonizers, although in affiliation, allegiance and loyalty we remained diverse and plural. It is the right to this diversity that Muslim Filipinos have taken up arms at different periods in our history; it is the reason that, for some time, highland Filipinos have resisted the incursions of lowland culture — although that does seem to be changing now. A visit to a native Bontoc village might as well be a visit to another country: the language is different, the customs are different, the beliefs are different. It is the same thing, if not more so, in the case of the Sulu Archipelago. And the stupidest mistake we have committed — and continue to commit — is to run roughshod over this diversity, impose a veneer of unity and foolishly commit the fallacy of taking “isang Bansa” to mean “isang wika,” “isang diwa,” “isang kasaysayan,” and I should not even be writing in Tagalog. To endeavor not at assimilation, but at celebrating our diversity, to recognize that our languages have been many and that this notwithstanding, we can live with each other in peace and prosper together, this will do far more to bring about the unity that long eluded us than to cast the various ethnicities and language groups of our nation into the fiery furnace where all differences can be melted down and forced into a single mold. This is not only a formula for national strife; it is immoral! As for Rizal and his contempt for “malansang isda,” the trouble with Rizal is that the only isda he knew were those that swam in the Pasig River and those that thrived in the waters of Laguna. For all his vaunted intelligence, he did not seem to have been so concerned — or enamored — by our plurality.

It is no less different with the faith, with Catholicism in particular. It used to be so that to avoid “shipwreck in the faith,” the formularies had to be uniform, the terms unchanged and the expressions, fixed. So, “homousios,” “transubstantiation,” “nature,” “hypostasis” — regardless of whether these concepts were meaningful within given intellectual and cultural contexts. Today, the Holy Spirit has led us to greater openness — and to the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ does speak languages other than Latin and Greek, and that philosophical concepts through which revealed truth is articulated did not cease with the demise of Thomas Aquinas. So Hans Kung, Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Avery Dulles, Marie Dominique Chenu, Yves Congar, Walter Kasper and so many brilliant lights in the Catholic firmament — not to mention the very rich theological endeavors of the Eastern Rite of the Church — have dared, often to the consternation of the Vatican itself, to articulate the Catholic belief in different, new and engaging ways, often departing quite dramatically, markedly but significantly, from traditional formulations. The Church tried the ways of suppression and censure, without much success, and definitely without much benefit to the Church. But the Spirit blows where it will, and greater humility and docility on the part of the Magisterium has allowed it to reap the fruit of fecund theologizing, rather than to feel threatened by a plurality of theologies. One Catholic faith flourishing in more than a hundred theologies — e uno plures!

And this will be true in other dimensions of human individual and communal existence and history!

January 2019, Manila Times

Buwan ng mga wika
Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino

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?

September 04, 2019, Manila Times


Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino

The Komisyon ng Wikang Filiipino must now be abolished. It is obsolescent and has hardly done anything to nurture the richness of linguistic diversity in the Philippines. True, it has attempted to standardize the orthography of different Philippine languages but clearly, as is evident in the prescribed arrangement of phonemes and lexemes in Ibanag, the undergirding persuasion was that Tagalog was the model language along the lines of which the spelling, phrasing and enunciation of other languages had to correspond. The KWF is the custodian of the myth that all other languages are marginal in relation to the language of the Tagalogs. It is also the purveyor of the fallacy that our nationhood depends on the propagation and national imposition of Tagalog.

Following years of ambivalence in respect to the policy on the language of instruction, we have in our hands the bitter harvest of this vacillation, irresoluteness and lamentable paucity of perspective: We have senior high school students who are non-readers. We have freshmen college students whose level of comprehension does not go any farther than the barely coherent, utterly illogical and outstandingly foolish posts on Facebook. When the Philippine Bible Society and its laudable project of making Scriptures accessible to simple-folk adopted the principle that the translation had to be as simple as a newspaper article (which it considered the most available form of literature), it did not foresee the depths into which we would fall — because most college students today do not read newspapers!

CHED is right in taking the teaching of foreign languages as an indicator of globalized education. Cousins and relatives who attend European universities easily read, speak and write in two or three languages besides their first language. With our flair for the dramatic and our laughable inclination to exaggerate, we have extirpated Spanish from our curricula, stigmatizing it as the language of our colonization and our enslavement — the tell-tale sign of a pathetic nation that has been foolishly unable to reconcile itself with its history and to appropriate it in ways productive and enriching!

One attempt at “simplifying” contemporary language theory puts the matter thus: “The extent of thought is the length of your tongue”. Language, thought Heidegger, is “the house of Being”. Whatever can be affirmed, said or meaningfully realized can be done so only within language. It is not only the means of communicating — as if thoughts were possible without language, and only subsequently had to be “encoded” to be transmissible. No thought is beyond language, and when one pretends that one “knows” but cannot “say”, then the straightforward fact is that one does not know. For Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, the world is a totality of facts, and facts are what atomic and molecular propositions picture. A proposition makes sense because it pictures, but not every proposition that makes sense is true, because propositions can picture states of affairs that are not facts. Elephants fly higher than geese. So, when you have terms like “ate”, “sanse”, “ditse” or “manong”, “manang”, “ate”, “kuya”, then you think according to a sense of order, familial relations and social hierarchization that is unknown (and unthought) in the West, generally. It is Philosophical Investigations that makes the very strong point that learning a language is immersing oneself in a way of life — because expressions mean what their functions are in the language games that the different life-situations of the language-speakers are. To learn a language then is to learn a way of looking at things, of doing things, of relating to each other, of going about with the business of life.

Aside from the obvious benefits of access to literature and studies written in other languages and the more consumerist end of facility of business with entrepreneurs who speak other languages, the advantage of multi-lingual education in higher education is the perspective that is opened to the student, the parallel words that are offered to him with each language earned, the standpoints and vantage positions that other languages are that allow us to be more accommodating, not only tolerant, of others, that allow us to recognize otherness and still relate in friendship, goodwill and peace!

October 2019, Manila Times