Recalibrating our language policy

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Language is an integral part of our identity as Filipinos. Contained within every syllable or word are ideas that we use not only to communicate with our fellowmen and to describe our world but also to express our heritage, our history and our aspirations as a people.

That is why it is important for us to commemorate “Buwan ng Wika” to celebrate and promote the country’s national language, Filipino.

During this time, government agencies, schools and the general public are encouraged to take part in Filipino plays, literary contests, Filipino language seminars and workshops, traditional Filipino games competitions to help raise awareness of our national language.

I am convinced that there is indeed a need for a celebration that boosts the pride of the Filipino people in their own language, heritage and culture, especially amid the backdrop of today’s globalized world where cultural homogenization is becoming a norm.

However, I also believe we must remember that we are a republic composed of various ethnic groups. As such, it is our duty to spread awareness of this fact and pursue measures to preserve the inherent diversity of our nation. This entails the promotion and protection of the more than 170 Filipino languages and dialects, not just Tagalog which the current celebration of “Wikang Pambansa” aims to achieve.

The move to use Tagalog as the basis of Filipino, our national language, occurred at the time of then President Manuel Quezon during the Commonwealth period. Understandably, the government then needed a convenient tool to unite all Filipinos toward independence.

The imposition of a national language was the chosen means to advance this cause.

Whether such a move was wise, effective or even sensible, remains a source of contention among historians, academics, politicians and ordinary Filipinos alike. But I believe that times have since changed. We now live in a different era in our history with a different milieu and different concerns.

The imposition of Filipino as a “national language” threatens the survival of other languages. True enough, in the past decades we had witnessed the death of indigenous Filipino languages like Ermiteño, Ayta Tayabas, Agta Dicamay and Agta Villa Viciosa. Many of our ethnic languages will suffer the same fate if we maintain our present policies as regards the treatment of our languages.

Not to mention that the imposition of a “national language” is, in itself, a form of colonialism and a cultural injustice. If we want this nation to move forward, we must embrace the circumstances that make us who we are as Filipinos, including our innate diversity in culture, disposition and language.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s goal to change the system of government into a federal form upholds these principles. He understands that if we want every part of the country to succeed, we must put an end to the “Imperial Manila” system which puts the needs of Metro Manila first to the detriment of the other parts of the country.

The decentralization of power resulting from Federalism will also make governance easier, more responsive and more efficient. With more power over their funds and resources, the states will be able to finance their own development, thereby creating employment, reducing poverty and improving the overall economic situation of the country.

Diversity is a part of our identity as Filipinos. As such, it is our utmost duty to preserve it. Therefore, I believe it is high time we start mulling over our language policies. Transforming the “Buwan ng Wikang Filipino” to “Buwan ng mga Wikang Filipino” would be a step forward to this direction.

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Blast from the past: On 6 Aug. 1569, the Province of Cebu was established when King Philip II of Spain granted Spanish Conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi the title of governor and captain general of Cebu. But as a political entity, Cebu had existed centuries before the arrival of the Spaniards. It already had numerous inhabitants, a flourishing trade network, a vibrant culture and a long history.

It is no wonder then that when it was decided that Tagalog was going to be used as the basis of the development of a national language, the politicians and people from Cebu vehemently rejected the proposal and found the measure very offensive.

It is my hope that as we celebrate the 449th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Province of Cebu, this historical injustice will finally be addressed through measures such as the recalibration of the “Buwan ng Wika” celebrations to include other languages and cultures and the decentralization of the government through Federalism.

p: wjg

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