(Appeared on Davao Today 12 September 2017)
In the Philippines, students are not created equal.
A high school student of the special section gets to use a flush toilet in a tiled and well-maintained bathroom which he shares with his just two hundred fellow honour students.
But a regular high school student has to pee in a cubicle made of rotting wood – sometimes simply an outhouse – that she shares with the six thousand seven hundred other regular and heterogeneous students, flushing with a tabo if she’s lucky to have running water. And she has to pay for using this latrine.
The stratification of the Philippine caste system begins in school. Like breeding livestock, we separate the goats from the sheep, our teachers handpicking a small and exclusive portion of our studentry from a young age and grooming them to aristocracy. The vast majority who weren’t anointed would have been culled if they were pigs, but instead they’re simply neglected.
The select, privileged cadre of students are lavished with resources and opportunities almost entirely denied from the rest of the student body: more and better materials, newer and better furnished classrooms, more competent teachers, more chances for involvement.
My girlfriend Nal, who was moved (demoted, really) in high school from the special section to a heterogeneous section in Koronadal Comprehensive National High School, relates to me the sheer unfairness of the system: while their old, pre-war classroom continued to have holes on its rotting wooden floor, the school administration planned to aircondition the special sections’ tiled, concrete classrooms. (as a silver lining, Nal would later cherish the fact that her dilapidated school building was an historic Gabaldon building).
When I was in elementary at Boys (what people in Kidapawan call the Notre Dame of Kidapawan College long after it had ceased being exclusive), I was not handpicked to write on the school paper, and it was only when the school paper moderator in high school – I was already third year – liked my writing that I got my chance. Now I’m writing for this column, while those who had an early start abandoned writing altogether and are busy microscoping stool samples.
In private schools, it’s a matter of common practice among teachers (one they do often get in trouble with), but in public schools the pyramidal stratification is institutional. There isn’t even any of that Animal Farm pretense at ‘some being more equal than others,’ being a public school student meant you had to fit into the rigid caste system. You knew your place and you stayed there.
And the public school caste system is defined by sections: at the top of the pecking order are the students of the special sections (SpEd, Pilot classes, Sci-Cur, STEM, the elite come by different names). Just below them are the regular sections, students who don’t quite qualify as elite but are still relatively decent. At the very bottom of the hierarchy are the heterogeneous sections, what the previous two orders call the “lower classes”, “the stupid students”, “the bulay-ogs”. The delinquent, dimwitted urchins in elementary who grow up to become rugby or Sukarap boys, Three-Rounder girls or teenage mothers in high school. “A basket of deplorables,” to use the Ivy League graduate Hilary Clinton’s language.
This discrimination is systematic, but more seriously it is cultural.
I had recently served to train student publication advisers of the public elementary and high schools in Kidapawan, and I saw this culture first hand. From DepEd district superintendent to the teacher-facilitators, the whole public education machinery was bent on winning student press conferences. Presscons, if you don’t know, involve around twelve student publication staffers per school: in a school of around seven to ten thousand students, DepEd is focused on investing its energies on developing the skills of these twelve privileged students. With the battlecry of “Kidapawan, always number one,” teachers were enticed to make their thoroughbred, showdog students win presscons so they can go to places like Baguio and Boracay. The rest of the student body hardly mattered.
Kidapawan, always number one: the number twos and number threes and number seventy eights do not matter.
Just the simple recollection of names is visible (and to a student, lasting) sign of favouritism and discrimination. Like a farmer naming her favourite piglets but not bothering to name the rest, teachers in Boys will call their favorites by the first names – sometimes even nicknames! – and the rest of us by our family names (if they remember our family names at all).
And of course, where teachers lead, students will follow, but in their own more horrible way. In KNCHS, Nal shares how the culture of special section elitism worked. When a regular student managed to get high enough grades to get into the privileged classes, she is met with hostility: “she’s not one of us!” Doubly so if this happens when a special section student suffers demotion into the realm of mortals, as the other special students will defend the worthiness of their brethren to remain over this lucky stranger. In high school proms, there are proud traditions maintained for the special section students that do not apply to mere commoners. In all programs the special section students sit up front while the mortals sit at the far back. And of course, all the student council seats, varsity team places, and graduation awards are tacitly reserved for the special sections.
When I was a student in Boys our prejudice was against the non-Notre Dameans (I grew up thinking all schools other than my own were lowly public schools), who when they trespassed their way into our walled world of a campus we called “outsiders.” Young women from Notre Dame would agree to always walk together when passing by a public school, lest the lawless public school kids come to include them in their anarchy, while young men were advised to avoid public school campuses altogether because the gang-boy students there were prone to picking fights with strangers. When a classmate found themselves having to transfer to another school, we pitied them. When a transferee from another school entered our ranks, we expected them to be some miraculous prodigy emerging from the wilderness.
The school is a microcosm of the country, and what an accurate microcosm the Filipino school is: run by teacher-bureaucrats preoccupied with promotions and lakbay-laags, dominated by a subservient, self-entitled elite in a teacher-student padrino system, while the vast majority of us are denied of opportunities.
Inequality is a natural result of a healthy society, the best emerge on top while the inefficient lose out as everything works in Darwinian order. I would be the first to point this out.
But school should not be some Hunger Games where you pit student against student until the most toxic wug kills the rest and emerges victorious. School is where we develop our children, give them the skills and opportunities to grow and be prepared for the challenges of a competitive life.
But our schools are limiting opportunities for a select few, justifying it as “rewarding hard work.” How can you reward hard work when you limit the students’ chances to actually try? Non necesse habent sani medicum.
“Rewarding hard work” is far too often an excuse made by schools to justify their misplaced priorities: abandoning quality education for all by limiting their resources to a select few to increase their chances of getting higher accreditation and quantifying success with Sports Meet wins and NCAE high scorers.
What is happening to our schools isn’t simply inequality, it is unfairness. These pilot class students – these oration contest fodder and varsity players – do not become the elite because they excel on their own merits in a leveled playing field. More often than not they’re privileged because of initial advantages. Many of these students have been teachers’ pets since pre-school, and a substantial bulk of them are the children or relatives of teachers and principals (how my mother often deplores the ugly kagid scars on the legs of majorettes from public high schools during city fiestas. “Anak ng teacher, kaya pinasali,” she would mutter in condescension.) A student with no such connections and who is too shy to display her intellect or skill will stand little chance of getting the opportunities and awards.
And there is even less hope for the defiant student, because of course the pecking order is all about compliance and subservience to teachers. I said something my high school chemistry teacher did not like, and she badmouthed me in all the high school sections until I graduated (thank goodness I did not rely on teachers’ opinions for my success as a student). I stepped out of the line, I was banished from Olympus.
This, incidentally, is how we have killed Filipino criticality. Our political thought is mind-numbingly orthodox because we have taught our kids what to think, complete with mandatory Jose Rizal quote. The little actual criticism our people exhibits is more the result of sourgraping (the salutatorian who was sidestepped from being valedictorian) than of any genuine ideological objections.
Instead of producing well equipped, critically thinking intellectuals, what we get from these privileged cadre of “young leaders” are self entitled snobs who thrive by complying and conforming.
A lifetime of being given the privilege of opportunities allows them to grow up subconsciously thinking that they alone have the society’s agency – “l’etat c’est moi,” as Louis XIV would have put it. When they hear (and quote ad nauseam) that Rizal aphorism of “the children being the future of our nation,” they understand that quote to be referring to them specifically. They are the world, they are the children.
And why shouldn’t they think so? They’ve been handpicked since elementary (kindergarten even!) by tita–teacher to compete in inter-school orations and quiz bees, participant in Leadership camps and Youth fora, go to Tagaytay or Dumaguete to join NSPCs. In high school they were the chosen few anointed by tita-principal to take the UPCAT so the school gets a high passing rate. They are the student leaders (in Ateneo’s case, the inadvertently elitist label “sui generis,” oh how special they are). The elect of God. The future of the nation.
It is a point of profound irony that this is the background of many progressive-leaning, “pro-poor” student activists that serve as rally fodder (remember that their schools allowed only them to take the UPCAT or groomed only them to get high enough grades for a DOST scholarship).
In college, they encounter the plight of the urban and rural poor and the displaced tribal peoples, see this as part of their natural enlightenment, and understand it to be their God-appointed duty to take up Marxism and call for equality. The rest of us who do not fall within the protectionist, nationalist, socialist mould they envision – well, we’ve always been stupid even back in elementary, we were never in the honors lists! They’ve immersed in poor communities for months, interviewed a few victims of landgrabbing and EJKs, joined in many rallies. Of course they understand inequality better than us.
Self-entitlement is the easy precursor of self righteousness.
While Philippine education is becoming more and more accessible, the pace at which it moves to become more inclusive is still deplorably glacial.
And it just goes to show how utterly blind these elitists are to their own self-righteousness when, in spite of this more chronic problem, they called instead for free higher education (and when Duterte signed it into law, claimed full credit for it). It would be being uncharitable to insinuate that they had been rallying to get tuition fee incentives for their own university education, but one does wonder.
Because far from free higher education, what our country urgently needs more is better and more inclusive basic education. High education should be optional in a society where quality education is given in the primary and secondary levels.
The budget that could have been allocated to the improvement and greater accessibility of our basic education services will instead be eaten up by the free college subsidies.
And for what? Because there are no mechanisms to ensure that state-funded education results in national service, the country is not earning back what it is spending: most graduates work in the private sector, with many even going abroad, so at most we’re just adding taxpayers, something the private schools are already doing. Even among that vocal progressive portion of our privileged student activists, most of them that I know are in well-salaried private jobs, their ‘call for social justice’ reduced to angry tweets and quarrels on Facebook.
We will simply be subsidizing – as we always have – the self-righteousness of the elitists we have created.
I daresay we are not only breeding our next generation of snobs, but also our next generation of graft and corruption perpetrators. I so dare because I have at least one case to cite: in 2014, the student president of Negros Oriental State University (where I was teaching at the time) was expelled for failing to account for almost three hundred thousand pesos worth of funds. I’ve seen the culture of “student leaders” in that state university, and it’s just as described: the president of several clubs who has been valedictorian since elementary and who is running for magna cum laude couldn’t even pronounce “voila” correctly. In this case, the word was that the missing funds were used by the president for a weekend outing with fellow student officials to Siquijor. This is just one case, there are many others out there of our “promising youth” pilfering money for themselves.
September will be National Teachers Month, and like our long-established school culture of unfairness and inequality, of elitism and selectivity, we will celebrate it the way we always do: praising our teachers for doing what they’re paid to do, requiring our students to make surprise greeting cards for their class advisers and even pitch in from their meager allowance for a lunch kumbira that they or their mothers cooked – all while their creaky old classrooms remain riddled with holes in the floors and leaks on the roofs, their bathrooms still no more than urine-stained holes in the ground, their battered old books still grossly not enough.
Not the special section students, of course. Why should they cook when they can always ask for budget from tita-principal for catering.
(Appeared on Davao Today 10 September 2017)
Last week I wrote a review here of Leoncio Deriada’s novel, “People on Claveria Street.” With the nomination process underway, readers will forgive me if I will be a fanboy again this week as I push for the man’s declaration as National Artist for Literature.
To those who don’t know, Leoncio Deriada is a prolific writer of fiction, drama, essays, and poetry, writing in English, Tagalog, Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, and Cebuano. He has won the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award – the Philippines’ version of the Pulitzer prize – so many times that he has been named a Hall of Famer (and he holds the distinction of winning it in the most number of languages). He is also an influential literary activist, organizing lectures and workshops for the past few decades.
The Order of National Artists is the highest honor the Republic of the Philipines can grant to any artist, a recognition of a lifetime of relevant work promoting the country’s arts and contributing to national consciousness. National Artists are named for music, dance, literature, theater, film, visual arts, and architecture.
And these are the reasons why I think Deriada should long have been named National Artist for Literature.
1. He’s a great writer. The awards should be indication enough that Leoncio Deriada doesn’t just join contests a lot, he wins them a lot. Deriada’s fiction manages to strike that difficult balance between good writing and gravitas of theme (far too often, well-written stories are shallow, while socially relevant ones are boring). Deriada’s plots are clever and original (just read stories like ‘Dam’ and ‘The Hunt’), and his language is easy and accessible but often throws out startlingly fresh phrases (I and my girlfriend Nal love how he describes one character’s crossed eyes as ‘a facial calamity’). But at the same time they deal in an insightful manner with some very serious realities: the urban-rural divide in Mindanao, landgrabbing of tribal ancestral domain, the horrors of the war in the countryside, the dehumanizing impact of modernity.
2. He’s the local writer par excellence. The bulk of Deriada’s fiction is set in Davao, with the rest set in his ancestral home of Panay. One of my first exposures to literature set in a locale familiar to me was his work (I started my college life devouring the Ateneo de Davao’s copy of his short story collection “Week of the Whales”). Deriada represents best the power of literature to elevate the local into the realm of creative imagination: the lingering horrors of war in Guerrero Street, the deep knowledge of life among frontier settlers in Mawab, the clash of classes in Artiaga.
3. He created the literatures of two Philippine languages. Deriada has been nicknamed ‘Father of Western Visayan Literature.’ But as grand as that moniker sounds, it doesn’t fully capture the monumental achievement of this man in Philippine literature. Before Deriada, Akeanon (the language of Aklan) and Kinaray-a (the language of Antique) did not have literary traditions. This was largely because these two languages were treated as inferior to the local lingua franca Hiligaynon – which in turn was considered inferior compared to Tagalog and English. In a span of a few decades, Deriada went about looking for young writers who speak these languages, and mentored them to write in their mother tongues. These young writers have gone on to achieve international recognition (“Kinaray-a is now an international literary language,” as Isagani Cruz put it). No other Filipino writer can claim to have started the tradition of one language, and Deriada single-handedly did it with two. In a country where only English and Tagalog are considered prestigious languages, Deriada managed to convince government agencies to give grants to writers in languages which have long been marginalized twice over.
4. We need a regional writer as National Artist. The Order of National Artists fails ridiculously to represent the diversity of Philippine cultures. The rostrum of National Artists for Literature in particular is the crowning institution of Tagalog Imperialism: of the twelve awarded National Artists since the honour was first granted, only one, Edith Tiempo of Dumaguete, is not from the Tagalog area (although she ultimately comes from Luzon). And all awardees were or are writers in either English or Tagalog. Deriada is uniquely positioned to address this gross cultural injustice, being prolific in the most number of languages among the country’s many literary figures. Seriously, the Order of National Artists needs him amongst its ranks to fully deserve the label ‘national.’
5. A Dabawenyo President deserves a Dabawenyo National Artist. Digong’s election as President threw all your Manila imperialist expectations of what is likely in the Philippine halls of power out of the window. There is no better time to name a regional writer and regional literature advocate to the National rostrum of artists than now. And what better way to fulfill this timeliness but with a writer who hails from the same frontier town as our hillbilly president?
(Appeared on Davao Today 6 September 2017)
Few Kidapawanons know the official motto of Kidapawan city, much less understand what it means.
‘Nakapangyayari ang sambayanan’ is banderoled on the city’s official seal, just below the escutcheon. The seal, designed by then Tourism Officer Benjamin Mallorca, was adopted by Kidapawan when it became a city in 1998. I have yet to find any official documents pertinent to the motto, but because I cannot find any use of it before 1998 I’m assuming it was also adopted upon cityhood.
The rather lofty Tagalog motto officially translates to ‘the people are sovereign’ (see the first few words of the Constitution’s preamble in Tagalog: ‘Kami, ang nakapangyayaring sambayanang Pilipino…’). It’s a metaphysical statement of nationhood: the word for sovereignty, ‘nakapangyayari,’ is rooted in the word ‘yari,’ ‘composition,’ but the morphology makes it an active state, ‘we who constitute.’ Sovereignty in Tagalog is implied to be active composition, thus making Kidapawan’s motto more literally ‘the people can constitute.’
But ‘nakapangyayari’ has another possible morphological derivation, leading to a more interesting alternative translation to the motto: ‘pangyayari’ also means ‘happening.’
The motto can thus also be translated: ‘The people can make it happen.’
Lovely idealism, you might think, one of those DepEd or DoH mandated themes that far too often are more the stuff of essay-writing contests for public school students that of any actual practice.
Kidapawan, in particular, has often shown that it is not the people but its government – the detached bureaucracy headed by the winning oligarch of the day – which makes things happen. The environment and natural resources are managed by the government. Law and order is the exclusive responsibility of the government. Festivals are organized by the government. The bulk of the education sector is run by the government. We rely, for everything, on the government, and so the government does everything.
But one recent development shows that, when they try, people can and often do make things happen.
This development, quite remarkably, is in another of those hollow principles we so often take for granted: the city’s history.
While Davao celebrated August with the Kadayawan festivities, on the other side of Mt Apo there were two celebrations in my hometown: the annual Timpupo Fruits Festival, and the town’s foundation anniversary.
The fruits festival was muted owing to the meager harvest (Kidapawan’s fruit industry is still picking up from the poor yield of the past decade), but the foundation was specially poignant. Not only was it a celebration of Kidapawan’s seventieth year, it was a celebration made possible by the efforts of its people.
You see, for the past decade or so, Kidapawan’s local government celebrated ‘foundation day’ on February 12. On this date in 1998, Fidel Ramos signed into law Republic Act 8500, declaring the Municipality of Kidapawan into North Cotabato’s first city. Earlier this year, posters from the City government promoting celebrations of the date called the day ‘Kidapawan’s 19th Foundation Anniversary.’
I had heard of negative reactions from Kidapawanons about this years before. Many people (including myself) still remember Kidapawan before it was a city, and so feel that this putting of the town’s foundation on the declarion of cityhood is a form of whitewashing. One friend pointed out that he was born in Kidapawan, and he was already in his thirties, so how could Kidapawan be only nineteen years old?
The more accurate foundation date being advocated is August 18, 1947. On this date Manuel Roxas signed Executive Order No. 82, creating ten different municipalities from existing municipal districts. Among them was Kidapawan, which was then a municipal district of the Cotabato province.
For much of Kidapawan’s history as a city, the only festivities held around that date were Fruit Festivals (which date often changed depending on the caprices of the harvest). During such events there was hardly any mention of the municipality foundation, and if there were no festivities during that month, the date passed unnoticed.
Much of the complaints about the February 12 celebrations were unaired, merely murmured at home among the city’s old timers.
That is until I made a blog post about it. In the post I called for February 12 to be called ‘cityhood day,’ and calling for August 18 to be celebrated as Kidapawan’s real foundation day. I lamented the whitewashing (specially if it was inadvertent), and decried the city’s disregard for its past.
I did not expect the post to go viral, but it did, eliciting rather strong reactions. On social media it was shared and reacted on. There were those who agreed and denounced the LGU for forgetting all those who came before them, but there were also those who called on me and those who agreed with me to move on because the municipality is gone.
But in the end the online sentiment (at least from what I saw) became overwhelmingly one of recognition for August 18. At the very least my post raised awareness about the date, and about its undeniable neglect. Informative posts like mine were easily shared on social media. And this made the neglect of August 18 all the more glaring.
I must have seen right, because by the time this year’s August came nearer, the City Tourism Office proudly declared that preparations for the city’s ‘70th Foundation anniversary’ were underway. The Tourism Office under Mallorca’s successor Joey Recimilla, has been very responsive to public sentiment.
But in this case, at least, the people of Kidapawan made it happen.
The celebrations also showed a strong appreciation for the city’s history – a complete reversal from the apathy I decried.
As early as 2010 (when I was still a student) I had been writing about Kidapawan’s colourful but long ignored local past. In 2010 I published a write-up on the destruction of the Sultan Omar Kiram mansion and the colourful life of its architect. In 2012, I and Vincent Cuzon (who had started being aware of Kidapawan’s history through my work) started the Kidapawan of the Past Facebook page, giving wider public access to old pictures of the town. A bit later I came up with another blog post, one on the obscure World War II martyr Eliseo Dayao Sr.
I received some responses from these efforts, but I never fully appreciated how much impact these efforts were making. I did not know that I and Vince (and later fellow Kidapawan of Past administrators Paul Gumanao and Clyde Vallejo) were slowly creating a demand for more information about Kidapawan’s history.
By the time the August 18 celebrations were held, the City Tourism office opened an exhibit of old pictures of Kidapawan, including portraits of the city’s mayors, of the city landscape in the distant past, and some domestic snippets (like my grandfather’s oathtaking as teniente del barrio of Baranggay Lanao). For the first time ever, historical figures like Siawan Ingkal and Eliseo Dayao was publicly remembered, and Rita Gadi’s poem ‘Kidapawan in my heart’ (which before then was unheard of in Kidapawan) was even displayed prominently.
Again, it was ordinary people who made it happen.
There will be – and in my work promoting more historical awareness there indeed have been – those who will dismiss such efforts as disruptive. I have been accused of ‘twisting history’ simply because I’ve presented versions of it that people are not used to.
But all change will be uncomfortable, specially change that is necessary.
I advocated for August 18, 1947 to be celebrated as Kidapawan’s foundation day, but now I am seeking to further problematize that: Before becoming a municipality, Kidapawan was first a Municipal district during the American colonial period. The question now is when that happened. I have yet to get hold of the law creating the municipal district, but I’ve ascertained it to be somewhere between 1906 (when the Department of Sulu and Mindanao was created, and Kidapawan is not mentioned) and 1917 (when the Cotabato province was created, and Kidapawan is first mentioned as a municipal district).
There will again be change, yes, and many people will again have to adjust. But as the President and his hoarde of devoted minions like chanting, ‘change is coming.’
And I like to believe part of that change will be this empowerment of people to take governance – whether it be something as concrete as the running of a festival or as abstract as local history – into their own hands, to have a country that works bottom-up.
We need to see a smaller government and a bigger society. One where fiestas are organized not by the municipio from the poblacion but, like the neighbourhoods of Gion in Kyoto, by each of the Baranggays altogether. One where local communities play active roles – and even compete with other communities – to keep their public spaces clean and attractive. One where local businesses work together to revitalize the local industries.
Just as locals are used to having the local government do everything, the local governments are used to receiving directive and funding from Imperial Manila. The imminent prospects of a shift to Federalism – essentially breaking apart the top-down unitary state into more localized spheres of administration – will hopefully make change more likely and more lasting.
There are qualms about the shift as it is a fundamental and radical change that is, rather ironically, being imposed on localities from top down. Critics will say that such a top-down introduction will create artifical reform, just another foreign concept introduced to the locals.
But then again, ‘nakapangyayari ang sambayanan’ is a sentence just as foreign to the Kidapawanon as Federalism would be, and yet we have owned its foreignness and, far beyond our own expectations, we are learning to live it. The foreignness of Federalism is the foreignness of self agency to those who are used to having their destinies defined for them.
And it will continue to be foreign if local people do not take an active role for themselves in making it their own. Federalism is a change that must be owned if it is to work.
But if anything, Kidapawan history teaches us to trust the people. With little help from the colonial government the Obo Manobo started the municipal district. With little help from the Commonwealth government the district slowly grew commercially until it had to be declared a municipality. In the 1960s, they were so ambitious that they planned to build an airport, and while that has not yet materialized, nothing is preventing Kidapawan from still realizing that dream. And with little help from Manila, the municipality petitioned (for decades) to be elevated into a city.
Will Federalism happen and work for Kidapawan? Only time will tell. But of one thing I am sure. Its people can definitely make it happen.
I am proud to say that Kidapawan’s many public elementary and high schools’ student publications now have online platforms!
I recently gave a 3-day training to the different publication advisers of the city’s public schools. It was under the auspices of the office of Mayor Joseph Evangelista, who hired me and my friend the journalist Armando Fenequito to give the training. The Mayor’s office covered almost all the expenses for the training, and this is the first time the training has been entirely free for the teachers.
While the local division of DepEd is clearly focused on winning more places in the competitive schools’ Press Conferences, I had other agenda: enjoining the advisers to explore student publication outside journalism. As a literary writer, I wanted them to nurture my hometown’s next generation of fictionists, poets, playwrights, and essayists.
This of course meant I introduced the teachers to Kidapawan’s two other writers, Rita Gadi and Paul Gumanao. It is not every town which can say it has writers, and Kidapawan should be proud that it has three.
I also required the advisers to make online platforms for their publications, whether it be a blog, a Facebook page, or a twitter account. This is unprecedented, as even private schools in very urban Davao don’t have online platforms. Now their publications are much more accessible to those outside of Kidapawan!
Here are the links to some of the schools’ online platforms:
The Pupils’ Journal of Marciano Mancera Integrated School, Singao
Ang Pagsibol of Onica Elementary School
The Flame of Katipunan Elementary School
Malinan Ngayon of Malinan Elementary School
The Horizon of San Isidro Elementary School
The Greenfield of Amazion Elementary School
Ang Kadsambi of Patadon Elementary School
The Bamboo Organ of Kalaisan Elementary School
The Shade of Sumbac Elementary School
The Genesis of Binoligan Integrated School
The Messenger of San Miguel Elementary School, Macebolig
The Striver of Sayaban Elementary School, Ilomavis
The Mulaan Newslette of Mua-an Integrated School
Ang Bagwis of Cayetano A Javier Memorial Elementary School, Ilomavis
The Meohao Scribblers of Meohao Elementary School
Kagoo of Ginatilan Elementary School
The Footprints of Balabag Elementary School
The Highlander of Sumayahon Elementary School, Perez
Ang Sigaw of Singao Integrated School
The Vigor of Isidro Lonzaga Memorial Elementary School, Magsaysay
Su Suara of Bangsamoro Elementary School, Bangsamoro Village
The Urbanite of Upper Singao Elementary School
The Nuang Ilbimumba of Nuangan Integrated School
The Puasindanian of Puas Inda Elementary School, Amas
The Pilot Gazette of Kidapawan Pilot Elementary School
Ginintuang Buwig of Amas Central Elementary School
Od Sobbu no Linow of Lake Agco Integrated School, Ilomavis
The Mateo Journal of Mateo Elementary School
This list is not complete because the high school advisers did not give me the URLs of their publications’ sites, and many of the elementary teachers gave URLs that don’t work.
Here’s to hoping the advisers and their student staff maintain these sites!
Buwan ng Wika is an odious thing.
Throughout the country, it is the month when elementary and high school students are made to memorize drab speeches by Manuel Quezon, quote Jose Rizal in their essays ad nauseam, and weed the onions in their sections’ Makabayan gardens of sampinit while wearing barong and terno.
That last scene in particular I got from the 2013 Cebuano indie film Iskalawags, directed by Keith Deligero and based on a short story by Erik Tuban (a thoroughbred Bisdak). The film, set in the Bantayan islands of Cebu, offers many glimpses of the Buwan ng Wika experience for those outside the Tagalog world: in one scene, a character, a student, struggles to memorize and pronounce a Tagalog talumpati in spite of his hard Cebuano tongue, only to deliver it on a stage with nobody watching.
In the regions the celebration of Filipino is like this: it is arduous, it is tedious, and it is pointless.
Because you see, behind the festive facade of National language pedagogy, there is a longstanding debate, one that is currently at a stalemate: are Filipino and Tagalog the same thing?
What many inside the Tagalog world and the bubble of conventional education don’t understand is that eighty years since Manuel Quezon proclaimed Tagalog as the National Language, there is still strong resistance against it.
The fact is that the Philippines is a very linguistically diverse country: the 170 odd tongues being spoken in the archipelago which teachers like to call ‘the vernacular dialect’ are, linguistically speaking, distinct and full fledged languages, and the majority of them have proud literary traditions. Giving Tagalog national status created a homogeneous myth, and worse ended up dismissing the value of these other languages – nothing short of cultural discrimination.
This imposition of Tagalog to non-Tagalogs is at the core of what we from the regions call Manila Imperialism. Speakers of other languages are systematically forced to learn Tagalog, while Tagalogs themselves are not compelled to learn other languages.
To distance the so-called National language from the Tagalog ethnicity, it was later called ‘Filipino,’ but when that cosmetic solution didn’t work the Marcos government redefined Filipino from a fixed language to a ‘language under construction,’ one whose dynamism is made a national concern rather than merely a strictly Tagalog one.
The mechanism, successive officials of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino have said, is to have the Tagalog language as basis, then influences from the other regional languages be allowed in.
The majority of intellectuals championing their regional languages called this attempt at nationalization a homogenization in disguise. With the ‘nationalization’ occurring almost entirely from Metro Manila (a Tagalog heartland), regional influences merely trickle down academically, usually obscure regional words that nobody is bound to use.
‘There is no such thing as Wikang Filipino,’ many regionalists have concluded, and they continue to champion their regional languages.
But on the other hand, decades of institutional imposition and the dominance of a Manila-centered media have made Tagalog the de facto national lingua franca, and but for the continued ascendancy of English over Tagalog in official contexts, refusing to learn to speak Tagalog has more disadvantages than it has merits (a Cebuano may well find it awkward to speak English to a tricycle driver in Aklan).
Either the Regional speakers learn Tagalog and lose their regional identities, or they keep their regional identities, lose out on opportunities, and we remain divided as a country.
I belong to a small group of writers who see a third way: that of localization, of hybridization, and of popularization.
Because Tagalog has taken for itself the role of National lingua franca, it has opened itself up for regional alteration – ‘bastardization,’ as some Manila Imperialists would call it. As such, there ought to be no standard that should be considered more correct than others.
And speakers of the Regional languages ought to take advantage of this.
To use a very crude metaphor, Tagalog is the name of the woman, Filipino is her name as a whore. And it is incumbent upon the Regions to make bastards out of her.
Instead of shunning it, Regional language speakers must steal the agency of Filipino from Imperial Manila, to own this imposed Tagalog language (which has opened its legs up as Filipino), mangle it to suit their own linguistic realities, and produce for themselves their own version of Tagalog, one which is tailored to fit their regional identities. Nationalization will – and must – entail localization, suppressing that is tantamount to cultural imposition. This is the best way by which Regional language speakers can adapt to Tagalog’s dominance without losing their identity.
Practically this will mean lots of Regional language influences will come in, on a regular basis, until the interlanguage becomes naturalized: vocabulary, pronunciation peculiarities, and specially idioms. When the Tagalog corrects the Davaoeno for his Filipino, the Davaoeno will correct the Tagalog for not knowing Davao Filipino. ‘Pataka ka lang diyan uy.’
Idioms in particular need to be owned, as they are culturally idiosyncratic. In Davao when a friend is too lazy to take a bath we tease him in Tagalog with an idiom transliterated from Cebuano, ‘kambingon ka na masyado!’ ‘You are so goat-like!’
To some extent this is already happening – but it needs to happen more, and it needs to happen in the classrooms and formal venues. Filipino teachers should actively encourage the localization of Filipino, calling out the oddity of speaking Manila Tagalog in Iloilo while encouraging the distinct lilt of Hiligaynon into the students’ Filipino utterances, or requiring Ilocano students to look up idioms in Iluko and translate it literally into Tagalog for everyday use. For linguistically diverse places like Mindanao, the hybridization must involve an even more diverse array of languages.
It sounds ridiculous now, until one realizes this is precisely what the classic French poet Pierre de Ronsard enjoins the Parisian poet to do with his French, to enrich it with the stuff of the other tongues in France. The French even have a term for transliterated idioms: calques, idioms that serve to expand the breath of French expression beyond the capital.
The absurdity of this idea in the Filipino context only shows how underprivileged the regional languages in the Philippines are.
Current moves to shift to a Federal form of government may make this localization easier: as cultural and education governance are devolved, concerns will invariably be more localized. It will not be surprising if the Federal system ends up shunning the National language policy while ultimately resulting in the creation of standard regional varieties of Tagalog distinct from Manila Tagalog.
Of course as we are talking about language contact here – Tagalog adjusting to Tausug or Manobo realities – what is produced is not merely a dialect of Tagalog, but a creolized dialect, almost a different language. Hybrid tongues. Tagalog as Filipino without being a hybrid is just Tagalog, with nothing truly National about it. Balagtas was merely a regional poet because his Tagalog did not have enough influences from other regions. Because the Philippines is a multilingual country, the true Filipino is a polyglot, and his language must necessarily reflect that.
What would this do to intelligibility though? Wouldn’t it only double the number of tongues to make us even more of a Babel?
As a matter of fact it leads us closer to understanding one another. We can already see signs of this thanks to President Duterte. Multilingual Davao and the many shades of the Cebuano-Tagalog hybrid widely spoken in it demonstrate best what I mean by the localization and hybridization of Tagalog, and while as a native Cebuano speaker he speaks the crudest form of the hybrid (the unstable codeswitched TagBis), the former Davao mayor nevertheless takes the hybridity of his tongue wherever he goes.
And that has included the national spotlight: thanks to his frequent (and often profane) use of them in his Tagalog, Duterte has made many Cebuano words and pronunciation peculiarities more popular among Tagalog speakers – ‘bahala’ with a glottal end, pisting yawa, buang, bayot, pataka.
He has done more in his one year of cursing in public to make Filipino more National than the KWF has in all its years of existence.
Ultimately this tells us that far from the classroom or those linguistic conferences in Manila that nobody really pays attention to, Filipino will be nationalized in the streets, by the Igorot speaking his Igorot Cebuano as he shares some tuba with his Manobo neighbour in Mecebolig, Kidapawan, or the old Karay-a lady visiting relatives in Pasay asking the Tagalog traffic aid where the nearest baraka is, or the volunteer teacher from Naga teaching T’boli children in Lake Sebu how to sing a song in Bikol.
The creation of an authentic national lingua franca is popular, not institutional. It is the dynamic bartering of regional influences, naturally reflective of our ever increasing cohabitation with and appreciation of cultures not our own.
And when we master one another’s tongues we are made stronger as peoples, because as Jose Rizal himself put it (and this time I do not make those two now trite quotes about the youth and rancid fish), ‘Man is multiplied by the number of languages he possesses and speaks.’
In Cebuano there is a less lofty but more pragmatic way of putting it: dili na ka mabaligya, it will be harder to sell you off in the market. You’d be able to understand the transaction already.
I think it is when we recognize our rich diversity as peoples like this – when the stuff of our yearly celebrations every August is the many cultures of our archipelago rather than this mothballed homogeneous lie of a Filipino identity we require our students to celebrate – that we can truly say our love for the country is genuine. We are a country of many tongues – Bayan ng Mga Wika – and I think that is very much worth celebrating.
Tribal Leaders in Kidapawan have raised an uproar over the regional hymn being mandated by the Department of Education for Region 12.
The leaders contend that the lines ‘mga Muslim, mga Kristiyano, at mga iba pang tribu’ reflect an ignorance in history and serve to marginalize the Lumad.
The full lyrics of the song can be seen here.
The Lumad are justified in raising this matter. The mere dismissal of the Lumad as ‘iba pang tribu’ just shows their othering, and their position in that sequence further implies their marginal position, mentioned merely almost as an afterthought. This is a gross injustice to the Lumad, who are Mindanao’s original peoples. This is why when I write about the tri-peoples of Mindanao I always write ‘Lumad, Moro, and Settler.’
The lyrics also show an ignorance in the sociopolitical complexities of ethnic and religious identity in Mindanao. The mention of ‘Muslim’ and Kristiyano’ only adds to the erroneous conflation of ethnic identity with religious identity. The more politically correct terms for the three peoples (at least in my experience) are Lumad or Tribal Peoples, Moro, and Settler. The Moro are the Islamized tribes but they are defined as an ethno-linguistic identity (a Tagalog who has converted to Islam can’t be a Moro).
The saddest part about this whole debacle though is that this is DepEd mandating it. It is the department which manages the country’s education system – the country’s learning and thinking – and yet it does not even understand the postcolonial and regional nuances of the tri-people arrangement. And because this is government we’re talking about, the mention of Muslim and Kristiyano may be taken as institutional religious segregation, a violation of the Constitutional provision on separation of Church and State.
This is far from the first manifestation of the ignorance of Philippine educators. For generations our teachers have called the regional languages like Cebuano and Hiligaynon as ‘the vernacular dialect’ (in the dismissively homogenizing singular). And I grew up hearing my teachers calling the tribal communities ‘indigents,’ the word ‘natives’ used in pitying condescension. ‘Settler’ and ‘Christian’ have always been conflated, and nobody ever taught me the audacity with which the Islamized tribes owned the colonial label of ‘Moro’ as their own.
If our own government and its teacher-bureaucrats aren’t even sensitive to Mindanao’s issues, how on earth do we expect our kids to?
Recently in Mindanao, local writers have been surprised to receive emails and private messages on social media from senior high school students about their life and work. These questions and requests for interview seem to be from requirements being asked in school, an innovative class activity, I suspect, by idealistic young teachers who want our young people to get in touch with our local literary scene.
This is of course unprecedented, specially among local writers, as Filipino literature in general is largely underrated, unread by the Filipino readership. This is particularly the case with the youth, which largely consumes foreign literature, and if there is ever local consumption it is limited to works of popular fiction, very far from the literary crop. Our writers rarely get so much attention.
How, you ask, did the writers react to this sudden surge of attention? Scorn.
Many writers decried the intrusive nature of the interviews. Others deplored how the students did not even bother researching basic information about them before asking. Still there are those who called on the teachers to teach their students to be formal enough and write a request letter. And others simply complained that with the barrage of interview requests, they don’t have time to write.
There is, first and foremost, nothing mature or professional about bashing senior high students on social media. If there are rude requests from them (and admittedly there have been), simply tell them off or ignore them without making it public that you have done so.
Then there is a certain arrogance to demand that any interview be conducted in formal terms.
This, I think, reveals the underlying elitism that so defines our literary – and our artistic – community.
The pervasive attitude among artists, specially writers, is that their art – and their dedication to the field of art – makes them important, somehow worthy of utmost respect and veneration. The artist is a sacred person according to the Filipino writer (many will always think of the celebrity of Neruda or the venerability of Hugo), and one ought not to treat them the way one would treat other, more ordinary people.
Filipino writers dismiss the dearth of readership they should be getting as the result of the unwashed masses’ lack of education and breeding. They scorn teenage Filipinos for reading Wattpad novels and Kilig Romances. Ironically they do so while espousing generally Gramscian ideologies.
The Filipino writer has long decried the lack of attention, and when she finally gets it, she complains it is not in the necessary note of reverence she thinks she deserves.
The truth of the matter is (and it is a painful reality I am saying as a writer myself), a writer who is not read is an irrelevant writer, and the vast majority of our so-called ‘literary writers’ are irrelevant writers who are not even read by one another. We are no important Hugos and Nerudas to whom formal letters of request have to be given so interviews can be asked, it is just downright arrogance to demand something like that when a polite, even if informal private message on Facebook, would have done.
There is even more arrogance in those saying students ought to research about the writers first. It assumes, first of all, that the writers in question are important enough to be on the books (trust me, even National Artists sometimes have very little information out there). They also forget the fact that in the Philippines, Filipino books and other material that deal with Filipino writers (academic journals, literary magazines, etc.) are both often prohibitively expensive (a 350 peso novel is average), and excessively difficult to find. I cannot even find anywhere the birth places of so many Filipino writers that I have to ask from common friends. This all just goes to show how out of touch our writers are to their own realities.
But I think the biggest manifestation of delusions of grandeur are in those saying they don’t have time to answer questions because they have to write. How utterly snobbish can you get. You refuse to entertain what can be your potential readers because you have to write stories and poems nobody will read.
It is very counterproductive. One of the frequent reasons cited by less egotistic writers as a reason why Filipino literature remains so inaccessible is because our writers are not introduced to our children. That is now being remedied, and even if the efforts are facing challenges, the sheer snobbery with which writers respond to them are far more damaging to the efforts than whatever glitches these first efforts may have.
We need our kids to start appreciating our very good body of local literature, but how do we expect them to like our work when their first experience of it is a writer publicly humiliating them on social media?