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The mother of all Mother Tongues: Language as part of the Bicolano Identity, Part 2

The MATATAG curriculum, if properly implemented, will make a huge difference on how well students are globally integrated. Global integration, in this context, would mean individuals having the capacity to communicate in a universal language such as English to be competitive economically and politically. Globalization is here to stay and will continue to drive how governments present a labor force that is easily integrated as moving pieces in trade agreements.

The new curriculum addresses reforms needed to prepare students for such global integration with learning competencies that relies on the English language to unlock career pathways. These English subject competencies focus on communication, information utilization, critical thinking and creative thinking, among other life skills from kindergarten through 10th grade. Life skills (thinking, personal, and interpersonal) are critical components for success.

Mother Tongue as a subject has been removed and replaced with a generic “Language” subject and it is only for Grade 1. Previously, mother tongue as the Language of Instruction (LOI) was mandated from K-3. The recent release of PISA scores showing Filipino students still languishing near the bottom proved that MTB-MLE did not improve children’s literacy in English and Filipino.

The debate about the utility of teaching the mother tongue in the kindergarten or college level will continue to rage between academics – purists, liberals, nationalists, and modernists. Of course, each will make a strong case for why it should or shouldn’t be. They’re not wrong but neither are they all correct. Their disagreements boil down to perceptions of reality, of what is important to them. The Philippines is a multilingual state having roughly 175 spoken languages/dialects.

With over 7,000 islands, Filipinos naturally need a unifying language for practical purposes. The nationalists who put together the 1987 Philippine Constitution mandated the use of Filipino as a language of instruction in the educational system throughout the nation alongside English. English was clearly included because in practice, many institutions use borrowed books from foreign countries particularly in the fields of science, math, law, and poetry.

Hence, Filipino (which is mostly Tagalog and part Spanish, among others) became the mother of all mother tongues. English officially became the second language. Dialects become the third language. The Bicol Region (Bicolandia) alone has 12 dialects – 12 mother tongues or native languages, yet Bicol Naga is what many consider as the region’s mother tongue. The notion of a disappearing native language (i.e., Bicol) is romanticizing it.

Ethnic languages are spoken at home (and the community) but not necessarily part of the school curriculum beyond grade 1 for practical reasons moving up to high school and college. Primary education is meant to prepare the student for secondary education. Having kids speak Bicol as their third language from Kindergarten through Grade 3 was not really value added for the majority of students for those who already speak the Central Bicol dialect.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that being well-versed in Bicol would help a student perform better in math, sciences and certainly, help in critical thinking or analogy. Translating concepts into the dialect runs the risk of missing a translation because the teacher might only be doing it from memory, as is the usual practice. Learning the dialect at home and in first grade is enough of an icebreaker to get kids to come to a comfort zone within the community. Beyond that is not desirable for practical reasons. Learning Filipino as a second language for Bicolanos is practical for cultural and general communication.

Language controversy is really nothing new and can be traced back to the beginning of the human race. Mind you and up to this day, it is unsettled as to the language spoken in the Garden of Eden. Christians claim that it was Adamic (Adam’s verbal cue to Eve not to eat the apple), but the Jews claim it was Hebrew (Adam called Eve by a Hebrew name – Isha & Chava).

The Italian poet Dante of the Divine Comedy fame, however, believed that “divine language” spoken in the Garden that got Adam talking was just influenced by it – and therefore by extension, Hebrew is then a byproduct of Adam’s invention. Meaning, the thunderous warning from heaven “don’t eat the apple!” takes precedence.

In the beginning experiment, there was only Adam, Eve, and the Devil. The instruction to Adam in God’s language was clear – “you can eat everything in Paradise, except the fruit of wisdom.” The Devil’s spoken language, however, must have been more powerful or enticing since Eve and Adam did the unthinkable. Paradise was lost with the original sin and the Confusion of Tongues continues with the constitutional provisions. Frankly, it was a good thing because by his disobedience, Adam paved the way for the thinking Filipino.

When the Philippine Supreme Court declared in 2018 the constitutionality of the K-12 education program, it also declared that the teaching of the Filipino language and Panitikan (Philippine Literature) can be optional in college. The “controversial” ruling was met with great dismay by many including the then senate’s knight in shining armor, Sen. Vic Sotto declaring among other things that the ruling was “unconstitutional.”

Sotto’s beef was that by making the teaching of Filipino and learning the Panitikan optional in college would doom the Filipino race. This is the same hypocritical guy who wanted to tinker with the lines of Lupang Hinirang. The rest of the inhabitants of the 7,000 plus island met the Supreme Court decision with a ho-hum yawn and rightfully so.

First, compulsory teaching the Filipino language and Panitikan in the primary and secondary level makes good sense. That is practically twelve years of trying to learn everything there is to learn about the Filipino language. Not to mention the year round learning from watching your favorite sitcoms: “Ang Probinsyano” or “Eat Bulaga” not to mention the side conversations during a Pacquiao fight or a Miss Universe Pageant.

The problem with Sotto is that he just cherry-picked a portion of the Constitutional provision to make his point but failed to see the big picture. Yes, the 1987 Constitution declares Filipino as the national language but also included English as the second official language “for purposes of communication and instruction” and included the regional languages as “the auxiliary official languages in the regions.”

In practice, the Philippines has many languages and dialects. The dominant languages spoken every day are Filipino, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Iluko, Bicol, and English. According to a Social Weather Survey back in 2000, over 85% of Filipinos can read and understand Filipino. The number of course is higher in Luzon (over 90%) given the proximity to the Katagalogan, and lower in Mindanao (~60%) where the dominant language is Cebuano. This is a good thing because the statistics show that the Filipino language is effectively used for communication. There will always be a debate regarding the nuances between Tagalog and Filipino but that is more for the purists to tackle. For the rest of us, we’re fine. (To be continued)


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