ONCE MORE, ON FILIPINO LANGUAGES
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

E UNO PLURES
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