Philippines: A return to sanity

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Jan 6 14:33:57 UTC 2009

A return to sanity
                  Monday, January 5, 2009

By Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino

This paper recently reported that a House bill that endeavors to
enhance the use of English in instruction—and so abandoning the
ill-advised existing bi-lingual policy— is steadily gaining support.
Now, that is good news and, to me, a promising sign of a return to
sanity in basic education. I have never wondered about the cumulative
decline in the quality of basic education in the Philippines. Students
who come to college with pathetic levels of comprehension and
virtually inability to express themselves are the pitiful victims of
policy-makers who have made of the education of elementary and
secondary school students in this country an on-going, often pointless
and fruitless experiment!

The policy of dividing up the subjects of elementary school into those
taught in English and those taught in so-called Filipino was simply
insane. Whatever our hang-ups and unresolved puerile complexes in
respect to English might be, the fact is that the world speaks
English. Even the French have tacitly admitted— in French of
course—that their language is no longer the language of diplomacy and
of international law. Of course, law students in the Philippines still
continue mouthing French phrases that have left their vestiges in
international law such as compromis d'arbitrage and travaux
preparatoires, massacred in their pronunciation principally by the
professors themselves! In the People's Republic of China, Korea, and
Japan— not to say anything of the countries of Eastern Europe—English
teachers are in demand. On one of my visits to Rome, a friend took me
to the Parioli District for Mass with Filipinos. Most of them were
employed as domestic helpers. I asked them why the Romans liked them a
lot, and they had one very simple answer: Aside from being
hard-working, they were also asked by their Roman employers to teach
their children English. I wondered briefly about the future of Rome if
it depended on Filipina domestic helpers for the language education of
its future citizens, but when I was reminded that the usual Filipina
DH was a college graduate, then I was glad that at least in this
respect, history has shifted the center of the earth from Rome to the
Philippine archipelago! The point is that in most parts of the
non-English world, among proud civilizations, there is an almost mad
rush to learn English. And I find it insane that in the Philippines,
we were taking several steps to forget it!

In arguments on this theme it is commonly pointed out by the champions
of Tagalog—that has, as "Filipino," masqueraded as the national
language— that Scandinavian countries, China, Japan and Italy have
done well without English. There is first of all a fallacy involving
history tucked into this non-argument. These countries' histories have
not included a chapter of American occupation. Ours has. We can rave
and rue about that now but that would make us only more stupid,
because the future comes to pass by a creative and hopeful
appropriation of what has been, not by wallowing in regret. A second
fallacy consists in equating the disparate. There is no shortage of
Chinese literature, and there is an abundance of works of science in
Chinese. The same thing can be said of the Scandinavian countries and
of Korea. Where are the treatises in science, law, philosophy and
medicine in Tagalog that our students need? Where are the learned
tomes in the language of that region surrounding Manila? And if the
retort is to start writing in these language, then my question will
be: Why should we? Why should we go through the arduous and thoroughly
pointless task of translating legal tomes, medical texts, scientific
treatises into a language that the world quite frankly does not care
about and will never care to learn? Why should we not rather hone our
skills in that language that will give us a toe-hold on the dizzying
developments in science, technology, philosophy and jurisprudence in
the rest of the world?

Andrew Gonzalez, whose word many took to be the last in matters of
language, once argued at an educators' conference I attended that when
students mix Tagalog and English in that unhappy blend called
"Taglish" that only indicates that they have developed proficiency in
both! Any attentive teacher will tell you that Gonzalez was simply
wrong, no matter how revered his memory might be to some. Students mix
English with Tagalog because they have a few English phrases in their
rather modest linguistic repertoire and many favored, well-worn
Tagalog expressions readily used in everyday speech. But the poisonous
fruit of that poisonous tree that bi-lingual education has been is
evident: students unable to comprehend, and therefore unable to
research with consequently nothing of their own to write. Research
among college students today means ample and abusive use of the "cut
and paste" icons of Microsoft Word or some similar program with
parasitic dependence on the gems and garbage indiscriminately offered
by the Web.

Will we be less Filipino by adopting an aggressive
English-as-medium-of-instruction policy? English may trace its roots
to the Anglo-Saxon tribes a world away from us, but it has become by
now a heritage of many nations of the world. Why should tapping into
common heritage make us less Filipino? Is our sense of nationhood so
fragile, so tenuous that it should take the posture of linguistic
xenophobia? I distinctly recall that one of the key arguments in favor
of bi-lingualism was that it is best that students learn in the
language closest to them. If one goes by that line, then the language
closest to the school-child's life will be the language of the region
—Ilocano for most of Northern Luzon (and certainly Ibanag for a good
number of Cagayanos and Isabelinos), Cebuanos for a large swathe of
Visayas and Mindanao, and Ilonggo too. That Tagalog is now spoken
almost throughout the entire length of the archipelago is to be
attributed to the imperialistic policy of making the language of
Manila the language of the entire country. While we are so quick to
decry cultural invasion in other respects, there was hardly a whimper
of protest as the policy-makers in Manila saw to it that the language
and the culture of the Ibanags, the Pangasinenses, the Hiligaynons,
etc. faded into oblivion in the face of relentless and
government-sanctioned advances of Tagalog.

One thing more. In the past, a doctoral student was always required to
enroll in at least six units of a foreign language. For one reason or
the other, it seems that CHED has not insisted on this requisite. I
cannot, for the life of me, understand how one can engage in that
degree of scholarly research that warrants the title of doctor or a
"PhD" or a "DSc" after one's name without familiarity with other
languages that opens to the graduate student an ampler field of
research. The point is to broaden opportunity and increase the breadth
of available research material. I am grateful for this return to
sanity—the return to English, and this time I hope our English
teachers will teach English well. There is every reason to be proud of
a Filipino nation that speaks English! I do not see any contradiction
in terms or in concepts in that.

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