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Closing Buwan ng Wika with August politics

/ 12:14 AM August 30, 2018

Our 187 languages, like our archipelagic geography, would have made for a sound, logical and easily digestible argument in favor of President Duterte’s Charter change. And Buwan ng Wika would have made for a good rallying point.

More than 80 years since President Quezon declared two national languages that were not Cebuano, so many among us here in Agusan still bear grudges against this mostly Tagalog “Filipino” and everything else that seems to stem from the island of Luzon and events centuries past. Buwan ng Wika, this annual reopening of old wounds, would have served the divisive Mr. Duterte well, but it was business as usual for the septuagenarian: Metro Manila sunk underneath floodwaters, the President answered Joma’s allegations of a terminal illness eating the chief executive, and Teresita de Castro was declared Chief Justice. Falling between the cracks were Harry Roque’s fantastic daily spin, and the Tulfos getting away with P60 million and shaming doctors at the emergency room of the Philippine General Hospital.

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For a month dedicated to Wika, there is little discussion of language or languages in the Philippines. Buwan ng Wika is mostly a moot and academic celebration colored by dance presentations of students in traditional clothing—all in all a mere tokenism by its being only one month out of 12, and its being confined to schools, FYIs in TV documentaries, and comedy segments on Eat Bulaga.

And it doesn’t help that Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino’s chair, National Artist Virgilio Almario, insists on a “proper” Filipino that is frozen in the 19th century.

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Some linguists from UP are arguing for a rewording and reworking of Buwan ng Wika to “Buwan ng mga Wika,” noting the looming death of many of our languages and the prevalence of antiquated notions on language, such as Tagalog being a “superior” language to Bisaya, Bisaya being a (mere) dialect, and English being an infallible “universal” language “borrowed” from the Americans.

Attempting to change these attitudes is a tall order when, every start of the semester, I face college students who firmly believe all these old notions to be true, as they have been taught. For an occasion aimed at unifying Filipinos behind one language, Buwan ng Wika is pretty confused.

Perhaps unity under one banner, under one national language and government, is too much to ask for in this country—not in this late stage of globalization, the OFW diaspora, and Mr. Duterte, who, while he is the most popular president post-Edsa, has pretty much backpedaled on the promises that made him so loved by broad segments in 2016.

Had a systematic effort been made for “Buwan ng mga Wika,” Mr. Duterte’s big promise of federalism could have gotten a big push. The two ideas—how they both pursue, in a largely ideal sense, decentralization, the autonomy of regions and the rewiring of our ideas of “nation”—are just too parallel to miss anyone’s crosshairs.

But what happened in August?

August started with Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, a member of the consultative committee, clashing with Mr. Duterte’s aces, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, over their comments on how disastrous a shift to federalism would be.

Midmonth and soaked in monsoon rains, one of Xiamen Air’s planes veered off the main runway in Naia, causing delays and congestion and inadvertently exposing how easy it was to lock down the country’s busiest airport.

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Eid al-Adha was celebrated on a different date in Marawi compared to most parts of the country. And while the internet was going amok, spewing vitriol over Imee Marcos’ forced amnesia and the lackluster work on the SEA Games logo, a two-month Chief Justice was selected, taking her oath right after the three-day weekend.

All in all, August showed all the opportunities this administration was willing to miss. Critics of federalism were right all along. With its supporters rained in, ill or snarling at each other, perhaps federalism is really good only on paper, and catastrophic in real life.

DLS Pineda teaches at Father Saturnino Urios University, Butuan City. After finishing his undergraduate and master’s degree in UP Diliman, he decided to reside in his father’s hometown in Agusan del Norte. Tweet the author @sarhentosilly.

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TAGS: Buwan ng Wika, editorial, Filipino, Komisyon ng Wika, Language, opinion, Virgilio Almario
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