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Houston Texas

March 2007 Issue



The new talk in the Philippines today is on how to teach young Filipinos talk to each other and to outsiders. This is an offshoot of a bill in the House of Representatives reviving English as the mandatory language for teaching in all school levels. The bill sponsor, Rep. Eduardo R. Gullas ( Cebu Province , 1st district), explained that it seeks to correct the defects in the current Bilingual Education Program of the Department of Education (DepEd), and improve the learning process in schools to ensure quality inputs. He added that the teaching of both Filipino (Tagalog) and English has dealt a setback in the student's effort to gain proficiency in English which used to be an advantage the Philippines enjoyed as against the other countries in Asia.
He added that Targeting the learning of two languages (English and Pilipino) is too much for the Filipino learners, especially in the lower grades. And if the child happens to be a non-Tagalog speaker, this task actually means learning two foreign languages at the same time, an almost impossible task, This is unfortunate, he said, because books in almost all disciplines are written in English.
Under the Gullas bill, English, Filipino or the regional language shall be the medium of instruction in all subjects from pre-school to Grade 2. Then, English and Filipino shall be taught as separate subjects in all levels of elementary and high school, but English shall be the medium of instruction in all academic subjects from Grade 3 to Grade 6, and in all levels of high school.
I believe this proposed legislation is long overdue because it makes a lot of sense. By allowing the regional languages to be taught alongside English and Tagalog, the school children can better understand their lessons and learn more quickly because they will be studying in the language spoken at home. And the early use of English in the grade school will prepare them for a career in the global economy.

But despite the rehabilitative purpose of the proposed legislation, it has already divided the country into two competing camps, between those for and against the junking of Filipino (Tagalog) in favor of English, and the addition of the regional languages in the classroom. This is reminiscent of the cultural clash in the 1935 constitutional convention of the Philippine Commonwealth, when the delegates discussed which among the different language groups was to be constitutionally mandated as the basis for the development of a national language.

Tagalog won handily in this first encounter, thanks, to the interference and dominant role of the then President Manual L. Quezon, who was a native Tagalog speaker. He led the partisans in arguing that Tagalog, being the language of the capital city of Manila, it should be the national language. But in hindsight, it can be said that this choice was parochial, short-sighted, and high-handed, however practical it might have been at that time.

It didn't take long for the folly of this national policy to be confirmed. The country's recent past proves the choice unrealistic in the general sense and unworkable in the long run. The fact that Tagalog was not spoken or at least understood, by the greatest number, its imposition by legal fiat was taken more as cultural tyranny rather than national necessity. But political accommodation and the patriotic need for national unity kept the non-Tagalogs from getting involved in fratricidal struggle or linguistic fight that many feared might disrupt or even abort the promised political independence ten years later, which it turned out was a year late in 1946, because of the war.

The statistical reality looming large over the constitutional convention was the fact that Cebuano was the predominant language, more so then than it is today when the disparity is still staggering, despite the coming of the age of national mass communication.

One out of every four Filipinos comes from regions where 20,000,000 speak Cebuano as their first language. If you add to their column the other Visayans, 7,000,000 Hiligaynon speakers, and the WarayWarays, who generally understand each other, and share the same syntax and words interspersing their languages, they make up about 35% of the 86,000,000 Filipinos. So if good reason and logical conduct had their way, Cebuano should have been the natural choice for the development of a national language.

Tagalog, at present, is spoken by 15,000,000. It used to be even less before World War II. Admittedly, though, more non-Tagalogs understand it now because a lot of them have lived or studied in Manila, and the mass media has spread it out to the remotest corners of the country. But the cold statistics staring in the eye are unforgiving in their indisputability. Tagalog speakers are just only one-half of the 30,000,000 Cebuano-Visayan speakers in the Visayas and Mindanao, without even taking into account the 8,000,000 Ilocanos and 2,000,000 Kapangpangans, whose languages are just as rich and well-developed. Incidentally, unlike the Visayan languages which have much in common, the major Luzon languages are distinctively dissimilar, except for the Spanish terms which they also share with the Visayan languages in the south.

Hence, the teaching of Tagalog over the years, never worked to develop a national language because of this fatal defect. It’s not the language spoken or willingly accepted by the great majority of the Filipinos. Only the coming of the age of information has somewhat corrected or ameliorated this flawed policy. Where government policy and public instruction have failed to propagate Tagalog, the radio, the movies, and TV programs succeeded in making Filipinos learn Tagalog, without their even knowing it. If there are more Filipinos today who can understand Tagalog, without necessarily being able to speak it correctly, it’s because they enjoy watching Manila produced movies, TV sitcoms, and radio programs. Somehow, they come to understand the language in the process. Commercialization of the airwaves is doing a better job at selling the use of Tagalog than all the unimaginable billions of pesos wasted in the effort to make it national.

The political, educational, and business leaders behind the Gullas bill consider it tragic that in the country's futile drive to develop a national language, it's turning out supposedly highly educated people who are neither good in Filipino (Tagalog, for the most part) nor in their own native language, and even worst in English. They expound their ideas in a mix of mangled Tagalog/Filipino and English, they call Taglish, which is neither good English nor good Tagalog, but a little of either, just like pidgin English.

More often than not, meetings are conducted in Taglish, including deliberations in the Philippine Congress or in any other conferences. It's now becoming natural for Filipinos to express themselves in Taglish, because, first, they are not proficient in Tagalog, which is disguised as Filipino, and cannot formulate their ideas without the aid of English. And they don't have the aplomb and confidence of their parents in speaking in English after years of Taglish, or they just become embarrassed speaking in straight English, for fear of being branded as mayabang, since Taglish has gained respectability.

It is clear that the ill-advised institution of Tagalog as the basis of a national language, in total disregard of developing the languages in which non-Tagalogs could naturally excel, have left them unlearned in Tagalog, mediocre in English, and lacking in depth in their own native languages. That's the reason why Filipinos are acting in many ways looking and thinking uneducated even if schooled in an educational system that boasts of 80% literacy rate. They may know how to read and write or work as professionals, but their actions and beliefs speak volumes of their lack of good education.

This crisis and tragedy is what the Gullas bill seeks to remedy. It's about time.

(lopelindio@aol. com)

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