One word to demonstrate we need Filipino in college: Pangingialam

Arlene Burgos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 02 2019 07:12 PM | Updated as of Jun 02 2019 08:15 PM

Students protest in front of the Commission on Higher Education in Quezon City on May 30, 2019 against the non-mandatory teaching of Filipino in college, among other issues as another school year approaches. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

(I edit news in Filipino daily. Mostly, this is why I care about this issue. Here’s my take on the exclusion of Filipino from core college subjects.)

Someone called it “asymmetric advice,” and defined it as advice from someone who can’t use it.

“A rich person saying, ‘Money isn’t everything.'”

“A fit person saying, ‘Beauty is on the inside.'”

“A powerful person saying, ‘Stop caring what others think of you.'”

Essentially this: “It’s easy to give advice when you don’t face the downside.”

Associate Justice Leonen wrote in Filipino a concurring opinion to the Supreme Court decision that effectively upheld exclusion of Filipino language and literature from core subjects in college.

It was enough, I think, to vote to kill mandatory Filipino subjects in college. To justify that decision in Filipino is an insult; it is the legalese version of an asymmetric advice.

I guess this is why I am writing this now.

I agree with two points: the definition of academic freedom, and this freedom being sanctioned by the 1987 Constitution.

The main decision by Associate Justice Caguioa also contained undebatable points about the CHED Memorandum Order 20 on K to 12 and on the mandatory offering of Filipino as among core college subjects.

Caguioa said in that decision that we cannot expect the Supreme Court to oversee the entire bureaucracy, and that the cure is not with the court but may be with the two other branches of government.

What I do not agree with is this: I do not think the propriety of that CHED memo, as far as the issue of the Filipino subjects is concerned, should have been the only parameters with which to judge the issue on whether Filipino language and literature should be mandatory subjects in college.

Sure, the court was passing judgment on whether the Commission on Higher Education could, among others, push the Filipino subjects down to the newly created senior high school grades, in essence the first and second years in college when kids are made to take up general subjects anyway.

Caguioa already said the sole function of the court is to determine if statutes challenged on constitutional grounds really do transcend constitutional limitations or the limits of legislative power.

So maybe I am wrongly expecting for the apex court to not have myopic views and anticipate in some measure the unintended consequences of removing Filipino subjects from core college subjects.

But just listen because here is how it plays out in my mind: In the absence of any other forum where this kind of conversation could be taking place at this stage in our history, I guess I had expected the court to be that beacon of light, and guide us all. Say something awesome like, “We know it sucks this is the extent of the decision we can make on this matter. But maybe you could take up the discussion somewhere else because this is really important. Here are some seed concepts to get you started on the discourse.”

I mean, this:

“Sa pamamagitan ng kakayahang umunawa ng dayuhang wika, napayaman ang ating kaalaman sa agham, pilosopiya, at iba pa. Gamit ang panitikang isinulat at binigkas sa dayuhang wika ng mga Pilipinong makata, naiparating ang yaman ng kalinangan ng magkakaiba nating mga komunidad. Sa ganitong paraan, hindi napipigilan ang pagyabong ng ating kultura; bagkus, ito’y lalong pinagyayaman,” Leonen said.

(I mean, why go through the extra effort of justifying a unanimous decision, using Filipino, only to belabor the point? The platform provided by that separate concurring opinion could have been used to discuss the importance of discourse on voluntarily including Filipino language and literature in higher education’s subject offerings, something that universities needed to hear or read. Again, maybe an unrealistic expectation…)

The point of the Filipino paragraph cited above: Foreign languages we have assimilated facilitated our understanding of science, philosophy. Similarly, there have been literature about our culture expressed in foreign languages. Exactly. These are good things, by the way.

But my question is why can’t we allow for our language to grow and mature, and to entrench itself as deeply in our consciousness and in our social fabric the same way foreign languages have been allowed to grow and mature by their native speakers?

Learnings in science and philosophy have been easily articulated, passed on in English not just because that language has been mature to handle the linguistic rigors needed to express paradigms and facilitate discussions on these subjects. The language flourished because it was in use.

We find it difficult to translate science and philosophy to Filipino not because our language does not have the “muscle” to handle the paradigms – I’m certain Filipino could handle complexities. We do not discuss science or philosophy in Filipino because – I dare say this – our schools have not prepared us enough for it, and our everyday life has neither space nor tolerance for it (we will not go into a discussion using words like “obhetibo” or “subhetibo” in everyday conversations).

This piece is written in English because it is faster and less time-consuming this way for me. This is possibly a function of the extent with which my education has been able to train me – limited, despite my own effort to master the language so I can edit the news in Filipino daily – and my environment. I cannot help but think that if my society were far more serious in training me in Filipino or in ingraining in me the love for Filipino, I probably would have been wired differently and would be constructing arguments in Filipino in my head, and I would be writing this thing in Filipino.

And such is the kind of love for the national language that I think would be required if we were to let Filipino grow and mature in the same level as English and other older languages we have been using to teach constructs in science or philosophy.

I am not a lawyer, so reconciling what I strongly feel to be the importance of having real love for the national language with the concept of academic freedom supported by the Constitution, which that love seems to clash against, are things I do no bother with, if only to win an argument. I leave it to the lawyers of Tanggol Wika to (please) do that (if there is still chance).

But what I do know is this: What many of us feel about the Filipino language and literature is not just some romantic notion devoid of any cultural or practical implication. It is not empty sentimentality that simply and outrightly dismisses as unpatriotic one’s refusal to impose Filipino in college education.

Because here is the thing: There are a million other things, but I do not know of any other that bonds me with another Filipino quite like, well, Filipino. You throw me to Singapore or Portugal or the US, and I will meet Filipinos there, and we may sniff from each other’s kitchen windows the smell of adobo and that may signal our Filipino presence to each other. But what will define our being magkababayan and set it apart from the connection we have developed with the people from other nations is the fact that we both can speak or sign some form of Filipino.

In this sense, the Filipino language unites us (yes, this is the romantic part) because it allows us to understand each other in a way not duplicated or approximated by how we understand people of other countries.

But we will never see the day when that language we speak everyday reaches the versatility of English if we never allow it to grow (I’m getting to the practical part).

Language is not just the facility we use to tell stories to each other; it is how we codify realities; it is how we pin concepts to a giant cork board for all of society to see.

Allowing our language to grow will standardize concepts, lead to the institutionalization of our paradigms, and assign names to instances or situations – all of which we could confidently say are specific to our culture and context.

When we do this, we commit our concepts to permanence, and ensure a more certain level of understanding among members of our community.

The gain to be made in having a national language that will facilitate our understanding of the world, that will allow us to explain to each other complex concepts we use for science or trade or law or, yes, literature is closely tied to the advancement we make in marking our nationhood.

The level of sophistication we achieve as a cultured civilization of a particular independent nation can be directly seen in the way we are able to create works of beauty and literature for our various professions in a language we can call our own.

This kind of sophistication is tied to nationhood and sense of self because it cuts through a people’s ability to identify who and what they are; it is what Bahasa is to the Indonesian, Nihonggo to the Japanese.

Excluding Filipino and Filipino literature from core college subjects does not violate the constitutional provision saying “the Government shall take steps to initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official communication and as language of instruction in the educational system.”

But neither is this a positive move in that direction stated in the Constitution.

What this court decision does is it helps demolish the chance of the Filipino language and literature to be exposed to academic communities whose aim is to specialize, surface new knowledge, and pass on learning.

Sure, all of us who had the chance to finish high school have had a lifetime of Filipino subjects during our growing years. But studying Filipino under a setting of higher learning allows for a more mature appreciation of that language and its literature.

What mandating Filipino and Filipino literature as core college subjects does is giving agency to our national language and its literature. It creates an environment that forces what an otherwise will stay as a clumsy language in perpetual need of borrowing words from older languages the chance to grow and ensure currency among speakers who are bound to pursue specialization.

Ordering the higher education institutions to offer Filipino and Filipino literature pushes the envelope for our national language. It reinforces a statement: that anyone of us who will ever have to say something important in the public sphere will at some point have to do so using our national language, because that language is not just the language of the masses, but the language of the learned.

Filipino has earned its place among the languages’ grown-up table. We should help it get this rightful seat.

If we do this, we will not have to drive home our points in pidgin Filipino that has our most judicious people saying words like, “pangingialam” in their opinions, when what they actually mean is “pakikialam.”

The author is head of ABS-CBN News Digital Audience Development, and editor of Patrol.PH. The piece above originally appeared on her blog.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.