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‘Buwan ng Wika,’ ‘Linggo ng Hika’

When I was a child, a week on or around Aug. 19 was set aside to celebrate “Linggo ng Wika” (National Language Week), when we were encouraged to speak in Filipino and remember Manuel Luis Quezon as the “Father of the National Language.” I come from a school and a generation where English was the preferred language, and we were fined a few centavos for every Filipino word we muttered in school. Some naughty classmates would poke you with a pencil, or put their foot out into your path to make you trip and exclaim “Aray!”—resulting in your being punished in the form of a fine. When we became adults, “Aray!” was replaced by a crisp expletive.

It was during Linggo ng Wika that we learned the immortal words of Rizal: “Ang hindi magmahal sa sariling wika, masahol pa sa hayop at malansang isda” (He who does not love his native tongue is worse than a beast and a stinking fish). The most quoted and remembered line from Rizal next to “Adios, patria adorada” (Farewell, beloved land) comes from the poem “Sa aking mga kabata” (To my childhood companions) that he allegedly wrote as a precocious boy of eight.

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When I first read the whole text, I marveled at how this country bumpkin could compare Tagalog with Spanish, Latin and Greek. Only a few years ago, when I sat down to trace the origin of the poem to its source, did I discover that Rizal did not write “Sa aking mga kabata.” It was written by someone else, attributed to Rizal, and deployed to push for the choice of Tagalog as our national language.

Linggo ng Wika is no more; it has been expanded to a monthlong celebration now known to all schoolchildren as Buwan ng Wika. What replaced the former Linggo ng Wika, by order of then President Fidel V. Ramos is Linggo ng Hika (Asthma Week) that has nothing to do with Quezon, who succumbed to tuberculosis in Saranac Lake, New York, on Aug. 1, 1944.

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Looking for something to write for Quezon’s birthday this year made me look beyond his life and times into places named after him. After all, there is the province of Quezon, municipalities in Bukidnon and Palawan that bear his name, and, of course, Quezon City, which once replaced Manila as the capital of the Philippines and aspires to be, in 2016, the “City of the Stars.” Mind you, the stars are not the wonderful twinkling ones in the sky, but local movie stars. A city named after one of our greatest and most colorful presidents, a city that is associated with the heroism of Melchora Aquino (Tandang Sora) and the Katipunan, a city home to the main campus of the University of the Philippines, will brand itself as a pale local shadow of Hollywood.

Quezon City began as a dream: President Quezon envisioned a “Barrio Obrero”—a concrete expression of his social justice program. Alejandro Roces advised him to look for cheap land outside Manila to build low-priced housing for the common man. This suggestion led to the acquisition of 1,600 hectares of the Diliman estate at five centavos per square meter and the establishment of the People’s Homesite Corp. in October 1938. During one of his many site visits Quezon stood on a high point of the property and designated it as the future site of the Philippine capitol. Legislation then expanded the Diliman estate to include Cubao, San Francisco del Monte, Diliman and university districts from the original 1,600 hectares to 7,335 hectares with a third owned by the government.

Much has been written about the Daniel Burnham plan for Manila and Baguio during the early American period; we look at these wonderful plans and weep because they were not fully implemented. I should look up the Quezon City Master Plan by Harry T. Frost to weep some more. Frost outlined this modern dream city as follows:

“Quezon City, unlike Washington and the most recent Canberra of Australia, is an integral part of a great metropolitan district. When its boundaries adjoining the City of Manila were determined, 40,000 people already lived within its limits in an assortment of barrios and suburbs. At least a half dozen well defined but isolated communities were expanding rapidly and in an unrelated haphazard fashion.

“The farsighted purchase by the Government of a third of the land that was to be Quezon City, and the incorporation within its boundaries of other large undevelop[ed] tracts, has made possible the coordination into a broad unified plan of practically the only remaining residence properties near Manila that are susceptible of development on a large scale.

“The first objective in the planning of Quezon City is to set aside public lands for the future needs of the Community as a whole… The second objective is to retard the exploitation of the people by those who would gain control of public lands. No power to thwart unearned private gain from increase in land value on a large scale can be greater than which rests in the retention of the title in government lands. And whether or not slums thrive upon such exploitation, it is certain that the opportunity to prevent them is greater during public ownership than under private control of the lands.”

As we look back at the beginnings of Quezon City and compare it with the present, let us remember those broken promises and weep. Afterward, it is all right to hope for change sometime in the future.

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TAGS: Alejandro Roces, Asthma, August, Baguio, Buwan ng Wika, fidel v. ramos, Filipino, Jose Rizal, Language, Linggo ng Hika, manuel luis quezon, Quezon City, Tandang Sora
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