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Sisyphus’ Lament

Netflix, not college, to teach Filipino?

/ 05:49 AM November 26, 2018

SINGAPORE — Netflix now features Filipino indie hits such as “Heneral Luna” and “BuyBust.” In supreme irony, our universities may scale back Filipino classes. These cannot be underestimated as mere language classes, instead of intimate venues to explore national aspirations.

Beyond the stunning cinematography, meticulous research and John Arcilla’s iconic characterization, we embrace “Heneral Luna’s” hugot lines, modern subtexts clothed in historical drama.

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“May mas malaki tayong kalaban sa mga Amerikano — ang ating sarili.”

“Mas madali pang pagkasunduin ang langit at lupa kaysa dalawang Pilipino.”

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“Bayan o sarili? Pumili ka!”

“Para kayong mga birhen na naniniwala sa pag-ibig ng isang puta.”

But will these lines provoke students 30 years from now?

Teens learning our national language grasp these with a familiarity that transcends subtitles.

But only in college would one relate them to post-Edsa politics and parallel messages in “Noli Me Tangere” and “El
Filibusterismo.”

Now step back a generation.

The Ayala Museum is showcasing National Artist Francisco V. Coching, King of Komiks. His intricate lines exude marvelous energy, even raw pencil sketches.

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One must read Filipino to fully relate.

But one only truly appreciates his art by visualizing a fledgling postwar nation where Coching drew tribal chiefs and bolo-wielding revolutionaries alongside cowboys and GIs, when komiks were rented for a few centavos from sari-sari stores.

Every literary memento demonstrates how Filipino classes go beyond language.

I learned to sing “Bayan Ko” as a 6-year-old in 1986, amidst Edsa People Power’s euphoria. My Grade 1 classes taught each line’s literal meaning.

My college self reflected more critically, relating them to movies such as “Sister Stella L.” and “Oro Plata Mata.”

One similarly revisits works from the poem “Isang Dipang Langit” to the deceptively childish song “Saranggola ni Pepe.”

Further, the true beauty comes when college students are empowered to write in Filipino.

In 2002, my alma mater Ateneo de Manila astonishingly banned a Filipino version of “The Vagina Monologues.” (The play has since been performed there without incident in past years.)

I was a UP College of Law freshman taking then Dean Raul Pangalangan’s free speech class. In my first pro bono case, I regaled student director Rabbi James Gannaban with classic legal quotes on how students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

They performed the play across the street from the Blue Eagle gym, in the Burgundy condo rooftop. I took some law classmates to show support, ready to play lawyer.

It was an unforgettable masterclass on the power of Filipino in college students’ hands. While portions performed in English sounded militant, those in Filipino celebrated femininity with a gentler, more flowery cadence.

I remain proud of both UP’s and Ateneo’s rich tradition of Filipino student theater.

Especially after pursuing law, a profession defined by English, I remain grateful to my Filipino professors for intertwining art and national values with language.

My Ateneo professor Christine Bellen, now a celebrated children’s author, took us all the way to contemporary feminist and gay literature. Then Filipino department head Dr. Benilda Santos contributed an essay to my student magazine Chinoy on growing up in the 1960s and becoming conscious of activism, down to trying a class on how to throw Molotov cocktails.

In Xavier High School, Eric Rosales introduced us to films ranging from “Batch ’81” to “Virgin People,” “Scorpio Nights” and “Segurista.” We still appreciate the cultural insight, beyond the nudity and violence our teenage selves initially fixated on.

I hope future college batches similarly explore Filipino backed by the full majesty of history and literature. Surely our universities must offer more guidance than Netflix.

As the Heneral admonished: “Ingles-inglesin mo ko sa bayan ko? Punyeta!”

React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan. This column does not represent the opinion of organizations with which the author is affiliated.

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TAGS: Filipino language, netflix, Oscar Franklin Tan, Sisyphus’ Lament
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