Filipino first

Published August 6, 2022, 12:14 AM

by Tonyo Cruz


Tonyo Cruz

Whether our friends agree or not, at the core of the arguments against more widespread use and study of Filipino and Philippine languages is overweening colonial mentality. They won’t admit it, but they have embraced the lie that our languages are inferior, incapable of development, and ill-suited as a medium for communication and instruction.

Such a belief harks back to the dark days of brutal early American occupation, the ban on Philippine symbols, and the imposition of the language of the new colonizers. The belief endured under the neocolonial republic whose economy is profoundly linked to the American economy and the economic order led by America.

As to why such a mindset and abiding belief in English has consistently failed to be a medium for broadly-shared prosperity for Filipinos, our colonial-minded friends offer no answer except for the tandem reply about the “damaged culture” of Filipinos. Sounds unfair, right? Who damaged our culture? Ourselves or colonizers? Whose culture is dominant or made and kept dominant?

I would always support any move to promote Filipino and Philippine languages because only our own language can best capture and express our aspirations as a nation, and our languages alone can be the medium for attaining national unity and even substantive democracy. Since the last century, corrupt and brutal officials have misrepresented their mastery of the English language as proof of their intelligence, and have used it to divide, to conceal, to pose. It would simply be more difficult to hoodwink Filipinos if the language of governance, justice, education, business, and media would be in our own language/s.

Employment contracts can instantly become readable, understandable and — most importantly — enforceable and amended, if necessary, if written in Filipino or the language of the employee or worker. This is especially true for minimum-wage earners and overseas Filipino workers.

Agencies of government, and the courts of law, would become more accessible, by adopting Filipino and Philippine languages. Whether to avail of a service or to secure justice, this should be enough justification, right?

Filipino and Philippine languages can be a medium of instruction for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, in much the same way other non-English languages have been able to teach billions. Those who argue against Filipino and Philippine languages are just plainly ignorant about the history and development of languages. Even the many varieties of English develop, borrow from other languages, and adapt to the times.

A Filipino, Ilocano, Kapampangan or Bisaya speaker can be as intelligent or even more brilliant than an English speaker. Intelligence has no language. What’s more, there have been many studies about the higher levels of emotional and mental intelligence of bilingual and multilingual speakers.

The inability to speak in English cannot be equated with a lack of intelligence. But that’s what has been the widely-held belief among the colonial-minded intellectuals who put English on a pedestal. That’s what has been their idea of bilingualism. Yes, English and Filipino would co-exist as national languages, but English as the preferred because of all sorts of invented reasons.

A senator’s rejection of English doesn’t mean he is stupid. He just prefers Filipino, in order to best express himself and to involve the overwhelming majority of Filipinos who can either speak or understand it. The violent reaction about his preference for Filipino bordered on self-hate and racism against one’s own language. It was portrayed as being stupid. That cannot be bilingualism. That policy can only be “English first” or “English only.” There’s not even a semblance of parity or equal footing. The English speakers think they are instantly better because they speak in Filipino.

This is obvious in the educational system. Only Filipino and certain social studies subjects are taught in Filipino. The rest are taught in English. This gives a false impression to children and the youth that their own languages are not fit for teaching. But ask any child or student which language is superior in quickly making concepts comprehensible, nine out of 10, they will pick Filipino or their language at home.

Perhaps our legislators could take other steps aside from adopting Filipino and Philippine languages. They could designate Filipino poet laureates on a yearly basis, provide more funds for the preservation and promotion of Philippine languages, grant scholarships and fellowships to Filipino writers, return Filipino language studies to college-level studies, and encourage authors to write STEM textbooks in our languages.

Let the debate continue. Surely, Filipinos and their languages will win this debate.