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Why we study Filipino (when we don’t need to)

/ 05:26 AM November 16, 2018

When the Supreme Court ruled that Philippine colleges may now exclude Filipino and Panitikan (Philippine Literature) from core subjects, the ensuing responses from citizens were a mix of strong criticism and passive acceptance. Frankly, as non-native speakers of the language, my peers and I are hard-pressed to find urgency in the issue. We’d like to think we can do good with high school-level balarila. We’re aware of the difference between ng and nang, though we rarely have much use for that this side of the country.

But, despite our distance from the language, we are disheartened by the possibility that Filipino would no longer be explored by young Filipinos in higher education. We’re even more saddened by comments that say it’s better to focus our resources solely on learning English.

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There is a profound significance in further studying and embracing Filipino, even after we’ve grasped its vocabulary and grammar rules in high school, and even after we’ve mastered English as the more universal medium.

In a practical sense, we are compelled to accept Filipino as our own, to cultivate it well aside from our mother tongue, because, for better or for worse, it is our national language. It’s not only a unifying symbol, but also an indispensable communication tool across our scattered islands and dialects. Adopt the language and you can travel the country (or ask directions), enjoy what it has to offer (from “Heneral Luna” to “Ang Probinsyano”), and participate in its movements (read, think, discuss, vote, give).

But more than its practicality, the value of Filipino is that it is uniquely ours as a people. And this isn’t even a matter of nationalism. You don’t have to be nationalistic to recognize this: Filipino is a vivid expression of our iridescent culture and identity, and no other language can do that job quite as well.

To brilliantly illustrate this, I always go back to an essay titled “Heart and Liver” by Dr. Resil Mojares, who was recently named a National Artist for Literature. In it, he ponders on how Filipinos originally considered the liver, not the heart, as the seat of love and the center of one’s being. The liver is, after all, much more versatile and complex than the heart. Because of this, many poignant expressions throughout our language are based on  atay  or  ati,  Philippine words for liver. Examples: dalamhati, pighati, atay ng lupa.

Fortunately, it’s not just literary luminaries like Mojares who espouse our language. A handful of younger personalities demonstrate this as well, helping my generation appreciate the Filipino language in its versatile glory.

On one hand, there’s the unabashed expression of Filipino love in the rhythmic lines of spoken word artist Juan Miguel Severo (“At patawarin mo ako sa hindi ko pagkamuhi sa ’yo, at patatawarin kita sa hindi mo sa akin pagmamahal, Mahal”). On the other hand, there’s the Pinoy brand of wit and humor in delivering a furious punch, like Lourd de Veyra’s one-liners (“Edsa Southbound = isang mahabang bituka ni Satanas”).

The beauty and power of the Filipino language were concretely shown to me when our college Filipino class tackled logical fallacies. This topic had previously been taken up in a philosophy class using English as the medium of instruction. But as our professor (hi, Ma’am Sharon!) spoke to us in fluent Filipino, she easily translated for us the fallacies in the Pinoy context, using Pinoy situations and expressions, enabling us to think about them more analytically.

Filipino is rich with nuance and meaning—our nuance and meaning. It is beautiful in its depth and breadth, and powerful in its malleability. It would be a shame if we merely left it at technical grammar lessons and surface-level reading.

But that’s exactly where we might break off if higher education institutions no longer acknowledge the value of the language. Past high school, there’s so much more to discover of Filipino—its meandering etymologies, its rhetorical devices, its stories beyond “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” (themselves translated from Spanish).

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The Commission on Higher Education asserts that the Filipino subject traditionally taught in the college curriculum is now accommodated in the additional years of senior high school. Here’s hoping that in this transition, our educational system continues to cultivate Filipino beyond its absolute basics.

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