Philippines: Another footnote to the language wars

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Jun 19 14:58:53 UTC 2007

18 June 2007
Another footnote to the language wars

An AWKWARD moment in the oath-taking that followed the speeches in
this morning's 59th charter day celebration came when Sen. Joker
Arroyo asked 10th-ranked Councilor-elect Ma. Elizabeth Lavadia to
recite the "panunumpa" after him. My favorite Bikolano senator had
difficulty reading through the oath in Filipino, which how Tagalog is
now known. (Although the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) knows
better, admitting that "Filipino is simply Tagalog in syntax and
grammar, with no grammatical element or lexicon coming from Iloko,
Sinebwuano, Ilonggo, and other major Philippine languages.")

As a result, the others that followed -- from 9th-ranked Councilor
Nelson Legacion up to Mayor Robredo himself -- simply went through the
motions, mostly for photo-ops.
If it were in English, in which the Senate conducts its business, or
in Bikol Naga, the regional standard in which Joker spoke flawlessly
in addressing the crowd that mostly lined along Elias Angeles Street,
the faux pas would not have happened.

The reason is generational: Joker's contemporary senior citizens are
not as exposed as today's youth to mass media, especially TV which
exerts a tremendous influence in developing and popularizing Filipino.
The generational divide was even evident when the senator, who also
guested in the book launching of Liberato "Levy" Aureus's Sabi ni
Levy, mentioned Bikol Naga's being the "purest" of the Bikol dialects.
It actually made me cringe: the regional standard, yes; but the purest

It is certainly a debatable point, and one that the other flavors of
the Bikol language he mentioned will not take sitting down. Among the
literati who attended the event at the Raul S. Roco Library at city
hall were leading Bikolano poet Kristian Cordero and Frankie Peñones,
a Ford Foundation international fellow who just arrived in town for a
much needed break from his studies at the University of San Jose in
California. Like Joker, we hail from Rinconada (the 4th district of
Camarines Sur) and consider Bicol Rinconada our mother tongue. Both
the multi-awarded Cordero and Peñones, in fact, have blazed the trail
in elevating Rinconada literature to a prominent place in the vibrant
literary scene. Yet Joker can only speak about the late Luis Dato who,
like him, hails from Baao.

But policy, I strongly believe as I argued here, is another culprit.
For instance, if policy and conventions allow, or better still
encourage, the use of the vernacular in government forms such as the
"panunumpa," consistent with the reality that we are a multilingual
nation, that awkward, "wow mali!" moment starring my favorite Bikolano
senator would not have happened. In this light, the KWF's decision,
under the leadership of the Bikolano Dr. Ricardo Ma. Nolasco, to
finally give long overdue attention to the development, preservation
and propagation of some 170 regional languages and dialects in the
country is a step in the right direction.

The use of the vernacular in government forms or even laws of local
importance -- the resolutions and ordinances that our sanggunians
churn out regularly, which are for local consumption anyway -- can be
a powerful contribution of government to this effort.
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