Umuna a Panangarkararuak iti Hawai`i

Umuna daytoy a panangarkararuak iti Hawai`i. Halloween, kunada, ket iti panagregreg dagiti bulong ti Oktubre, baliwanggaennakan dagiti agsasamusam a ladawan ti panangikomkomersioda iti buteng ditoy Estados Unidos.

Agkaraiwara dagiti nakabutbuteng a maskara, pinturado iti dara, iti nangisit, iti paripirip dagiti buteng nga awanan nagan.
Iti aruangan dagiti pasdek nga aglaklako iti bussog no la ketdi ta adda doliarmo iti petakam wenno iti bulsam wenno iti plastik a credit cardmo, bunggariaennaka dagiti balay dagiti lawwalawwa a manglanglangan, nanglangan iti kapitalisado a panangbutbutengda kadatao.

Malagipko ita: kastoy met a buya ti agprisenta kenka kadagiti mall iti Kamanilaan--isu met laeng nga isu a buya a natibnokan iti gulib ti puonan, ti buteng, ken kinaagum dagiti negosiante nga uray iti buteng ken pagsapulanda. No dadduma, dikan maamak a makakita kadagitoy. Ngem no dadduma met, kasla agtabugga iti sanguanam dagiti ladawan a makapasidduker ket anian!--anian!--ta mariknam met ti buten, daytay buteng a kaarngi dagiti kailian a tago-ng-tago amangan no matukmaan dagiti ahente ti imigrasion. Narigat a kasasaad daytoy--ti Haloween man wenno tay buteng a maideportar.

Gapu ta adda inaldaw-aldaw a Halloween iti pagilian a naggapuan: ti Halloween dagiti bagas a no kabaelam a gatangen ken kilokilo laengen, saanen a sakosako, saanen a kabankaban.

A Solver Agcaoili
UH Manoa/Nob 5, 2006

A Solver Agcaoili
Okt 29, 2006
UH Manoa, Honolulu, HI

Patutsada sa Kalayaan

Patudsada sa kalayaan
ang tawag sa lambingan natin
tayong dalawang
magsing-irog ng bayan
na nagpapatayan din
tulad ng mga wika nating
ating ginagamit upang
kitlin ang tinig ng bawat isa.

Katulad tayo
ng magkakambal
na anino
o masamang pangitain
o bungang-araw
na paulit-ulit
ang pagkakambal:
tumutubo sa kung saan
di dapat tumubo
at mangangati kung wala
sa panahon
tulad nang mahimbing
na mahimbing
ang tulog at kailangang kamutin
ang lahat ng mga anghel
na nagsasayaw sa mga bunga
ng araw at gabing
nagtatarakan tayo ng kutsilyo,
ikaw sa dibdib, doon sa puso,
ako sa puso, doon sa dibdib.

Nakakatuwa ngang pangyayari ito:
tayo sa iisang hangarin sana,
magkaugnay ang mga layon
sa pagpalaganap kung sino tayo
sa lupang wala tayong pagkasino.

Pero nasa iyo
ang makatang mandarambong
at ang intelektuwal
na kung mandarambong
ng galing ay talamak pa
sa buwan sa pag-angkin
sa ating mga damdamin.

Magkakambal silang sakim
sa lahat ng salita ng kasakiman
at nangangarap
na kitlin ang lahat
pati na ang ating hinaing.

Sayang ang makata ng bayan,
pumasok sa utak ang yabang
at hinayaan doon na maghari
ang engkanto ng kapalaran
at kasinungalingan ng salitang
kanya nang kinamkam.

Sayang din ang intelektuwal.
Sa utak ng iba siya nananahan,
sinasakop ang husay ng iba,
ginagawang kalakal ng kanyang
mga mapagharing kamay.

A Solver Agcaoili
U of Hawaii at Manoa
Oct 27, 2006/tinapos, Okt 29/06

The Unlikely Likelike Highway in Honolulu

It is a choke point, this Likelike, its name the opposite of the English 'like.' Okey, the pronunciation is Hawaiian, with the syllables repeated when sounded off. But visually so different from what happens, if you get the drift, when you get to this highway having this Likelike name.

For Likelike is some place people hate to go to, pass by, and get caught in. The flow of traffic is horrendously slow I can write a poem just by being angry each morning. Like this morning that at the early hours of sunrise, at 7:00 o'clock, the traffic flows so drudgingly slow and cars turn to turtles with their speed of between one to five miles per hour if you are not on a complete stop.

Traffic logic tells you of the culprit: two freeways converge on Likelike that has only three lanes so that from two freeways--the H-1 and H-3--with ten lanes combined, you are left with three at this Likelike choke point.

It is a horrific bottleneck, this Likelike chokepoint. When you are at some spots that are elevated like the one that is close to Leeward, you see the cars practically crawling, inching slowly towards the bottleneck until kingdom come. And the fast rising morning sun gives you all the glare you do not need to navigate the road awashed with the colors of the monring in these parts. When you reach the Pearl Harbor, you take in all the blue and blue green colors, take them all in as if they are food for your weary soul. You memorize the ripples of the water, calm and calming at this time.

Each day, I bear witness to this kind of an image of slowness, of drudgery. Each day I am bored looking haplessly and helplessly at this sight, and with the knowledge, certain and secure, that I cannot do anything to untangle the knots. I am wery because I could have spent this same time writing some pages or two for a novel I am have been working on, the novel about immigrant life in this land.

I look inwardly.

I look at our lives as migrants and immigrants.

Many of us here in the United States are living lives like that chokepoint in Likelike.

We begin from some ten-lane kind of enhusiasm, huge dreams, colorful ambitions. We even promise to our kith and kin that if we made it here, we will surely send them the mighty American dollars they need--because that is also what the kith and kin expect--the dollars remitted to them from abroad.

As I inch my way to the chokepoint, I imagine all the other migrants, immigrants, and exiles like me.

I imagine their families left behind, the children looking for the warmth of the love of their parents who are away taking care of other children or building other people's homes.

I imagine the nights and days the children would like to play their role as children before their parents and I can only swallow my tears: I choke when I think of these images even as I imagine my children trying to figure out the choking consequences of my absence.

There are nights I could not sleep as there are nights I am rattled off by a bad dream.

Once, I had a nightmare and I woke up in the middle of the night. I had to grab the phone and call home right away. Once too, I called up my wife in the wee hours of the morning to ask her to put a cross with her spit on the forehead of our youngest.

A, these dreams. They come in full color but they also come in black and white. Fear of the unfamiliar and the unknown is what grip the exile, any exile, in strange lands. Really now. Home is where you find rest and quiet.

I look at our lives again, and the lives of the other immigrants. I see the likenesses here, the parallelisms. Like this Likelike of a highway that you do not like, immigrant life--or that perennial eking out that chokes your life speed. The bottleneck chokes your desire to reach your destination soon and fast.

I think of a way to get away from this Likelike. I think of using the side streets of Honolulu to get to Manoa Valley where the university is, this site of sacrament for a wandering Ilokano like me--and Bien Lumbera the national artist has asked that question to me about my being a "prototipo ng Ilokanong lagalag," a phrase I like repeating, as if it were a kernel of a sermon.

But the side streets I have yet to learn.

A Solver Agcaoili
U of Hawaii at Manoa
Oct 27, 2006

When you are thinking of a poem

You could have said this straight to your son who has decided to take on the path to writing--and creative writing at that.

The last time you talked to him, he was absorbed in his first-ever novel project, one something close to erotic, and which he promised he would write in a couple of weeks for a start-up publication he has committed himself to write for. It is something that you tell to yourself as well: it is difficult to blog when you are thinking of a poem. Really so.

Of course, I had to rebuff him, reminding him that he has no right to write about the erotic because, well, he is 21, just out of college, and I thought he has not any iota of what life in the 'outside' world is all about.

He rebuffed me in return, saying, 'You do not know what you are talking about, itay.'

Oh yes, I said. I was thinking of this young man many years back when I would drive him to school. Or that first time, in high school, that he would take the ubiquitous jeepney by himself and his mom was so irrationally afraid her son would not know how to cross the street or much less read and understand what the green and the yellow and the red traffic lights are all about.

'I can do it,' he said. 'Much better than what you think.'

Ok, I said. I remembered the Bible, I remembered Khalil Gibran: 'Parents, you do not own your children.'

And then the following day, the son's blog just went blank, with only the fish in its ichtus-like idiocy seemingly swimming in an invisible vast sea of forgetting on the computer screen. I realized that the son just went black--preferring instead to concentrate perhaps on his first-ever romance/erotic/love novel.

How he easily left out that commitment to blog, I do not understand. He dramatically did this many times over, and sometimes, on a note assuming some kind of a staged/calculated performance level, announced his leaving the blogsphere
to go back to earthsphere for a time.

I cannot do this, this LOA from blogging. Like the daughter, I think, who cannot sleep without blogging all the things that went on with her including her enthused friendship with young television stars, singers, and classmates. She got a monicker from her mom because of that: our Lady Guard on night duty everyday that the Lord has made.

I think of my life as an exile, away from the blogging activities of children. Now I see: blogging is one way to validate my being an exile and to announce that I am not happy with being an exiel and that I am coming home to a land that will welcome me, that will give me home. I do not know where that land is but I am praying I would be able to find it somehow.

Blogging is my way of announcing my presence in the land of other peoples, the land I wish I could find some peace and prosperity, some quietude from the all-time quest for meaning and relevance, and well, yes, for that time and resources to keep writing and writing to my heart's content.

It is my way of coming to terms with that absence that has become everyday and which absence sometime makes me question many things.

I feel it in my bones, since blogging, like writing a poem, is a commitment to the everyday. I do not blog, I end up the loser, the night haunting me so, as if I have become less of a person.

Because blogging has become a second skin, this blogging as both blogging my thoughts or 'blogging into' other person's thoughts.

Because it is a ritual--a ceremony for welcoming the blessings of the morning, of each morning.

Because it is a rhyme and a reason for connecting with absence and allowing that absence to just simply go away and whittle off to some far off place somewhere you do not care to go. It is simply dismissing absence and permitting presence to come be present as Presence.

Most oftentimes, the thoughts do not go away and I just have to simply scribble it on anything I can write on: restaurant table napkins, toilet tissue papers for hand drying, the edges of newspapers and flyers, the back of some other people's business cards, the blank spaces of receipts and more receipts--anything, any surface I can write on.

With the computer, the blank screen has functioned that way, always inviting me to keep writing on, fill that blank space, fill it with something, inanities included, this inanity I am writing included.

Blogging is my way of catching on with my writing after losing so many hours to lengthy talks and meetings that always bore me to death, nodding my head to what other people say but I am also nodding my head to the thought about a thought that could become the kernel of a new poem.

It is the new poem--always--that gives me the kick, that kicks off the energy of my writing soul. I could have been born to write and I pray I will always be faithful to its demands. This writing, I have to accept, is a curse as it is a vocation, as it is a mission. You do not do it, you end up unhappy, useless.

This is why the son has to blank it all out--blank that screen--in order for him to write.

Now I understand many things--and better.

A Solver Agcaoili
UH Manoa/Oct 25, 2006
2:05 AM

This Sunday of the Salvific

This could have been a poem but you resisted the metaphor.

Or the play of language, the tropes of a regular Sunday resisting the Sundays that we are all going through now in preparation for the 2006 Nakem Centennial Conference.

There is that countdown feeling here, and the panic grows in the mind even in midnights when you wake up to think whether you have, indeed, put the name of the person who donated his rage to make you realize your own rage--or cou-rage, whichever is appropriate to the moment--to make the centennial conference works.

But now you also see that both rage and cou-rage can be present in your mind.

In all these, you have learned to sit down and relax in rare moments in the late nights in the university where only your office door is ajar to welcome the evening, and then, the midnight air. The other doors are closed before dusk sets in, reminding you that there is life--there ought to be life--after class hours. But here you are, still in your cramped office, sweating it out to make things work for the conference--this conference that will be the beginning of other Nakem Conferences in Hawai`i, in the Philippines, and in the World. You let the idea take root in your heart: That the Ilokano has to struggle it out and assure himself that his language and culture will survive, in the Ilocos, in the Philippines, in the world--or whichever he finds his memory intact.

As you listen to the chirping of the birds in late afternoons from Monday to Sunday, you learned to realize that you still have the energy to fight all that which is unfair, unjust, oppressive.

Perhaps you have seen so much of those that you can spot right away if you saw one such that the revolting feeling comes quickly to alert you into summoning the spirits of the revolutionary and tell you, Hey, hey, you do not allow the trampling to come about again, no more, no way, Jose!

It is resistance, you would say to yourself, this resistance that comes naturally as if it were a second skin.

It is re-claiming again--and again--our self-respect.

It is reflecting on that which matters because they last, because represent the sublime, the revolutionary, the salving, the salvific.

In all these is the rule of the many political games people play: humility, or the lack of it. This is what makes everything different.

Humility is that buzzword--a keyword too--in living life to the full in its everydayness. It is being rooted to the grounded, always and forever. For the word is the ground itself: humus, the ground, the earth, the feet planted firmly on the ground of everyday realities, realities that are as difficult as the text of life itself.

In your exilic life, now commencing the fourth year, you have seen the bigger picture: how people can be true to themselves. And there are many who still have this view of life, this sense of integrity.

But there are those who have lost it, Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike. Especially those who cannot identify with any of the ethnic identities they have become--or refuse to become. Or that ethnic identity they came from.

The deaf and mute and blind and ignorant Filipino-Americans are worst off here. They cannot navigate the gulf of contradictions in their lives and they cannot come into a synthesis either. In this war of selves and battle of identities, they are neither here nor there, neither Filipinos nor Americans.

You admit that these roles are not easy to come by and neither are they easy to play. In many cases, these roles are imposed or are simply products of the accidents of life. And there are deep sorrows here, that I know.

Then again, like the Bhutans, you have to raise the question, What to do? What to do?

We cannot just sit down and watch sun rise and set, day in and day out, you remind yourself, even as you count the hours for this countdown to the D-day of minds, the more brillinat ones, converging in the Nakem Conference for the first time.

You know there will be other times, but this will set the direction for all the other conferences and you grow weary even as you grow more prayerful, offering everything to the spirit of the future that is as past as the present, this fture that is unknown, like the past that is not familiar to you.

But even the present is unfamiliar as well, you console yourself. You realize the magic of moments and the miracle of moments, and the mercies of moments.

This realization is more than enough, you tell yourself. You say your little prayer as you take in all the birdsongs on Maile Way, the early evening tune in its mix of joy and welcome on riotous tree tops giving you company, their colors rich as ever and bursting even in the fall.

A Solver Agcaoili
U H Manoa, Oct 22, 2006

Little Joys, Big Joys

I remember that when I came to the United States to try my luck here, one of my sisters told me quite frankly: "You be ready to take in lots of pains. The sacrifices are in every nook. They are in each corner of the road you take."

I looked at her. I wanted to figure out if in this land that promises so much, we have to go through the pains of the sakadas. Or the likes of one character invented by a novelist, the character eking it out in the cannaries of Anchorage: Alvaro Cortez.

I was in Hawai`i at that time, passing by her home, on my way to Los Angeles where there I was to take the licensure examination, or the first of the many steps, to getting my teaching credentials so I could teach English in the United States.

It was fair enough that I got the warning, a kind of a reminder, from a sister who has been here for more than half of her life and who has seen what it takes to make it here, with all the emotional investments and entanglements involved.

In all these, the stories of exiles, migrants, and Filipinos in the diaspora came back to me in unhealthy profusion, as if warning me as well that the roads are not paved in the paved freeways of this huge land, the humungous roads ever-ready to swallow you up anytime.

I have read enough of the sakadas.

I have read enough of Bulosan, the Filipino farmers of Stockton, the cannery workers of Alaska, this last one introduced to me by a young novelist in the 70s when I was just a boy, past innocence but not with the child-like and peculiar love for any reading materials that I could lay my hands on.

I wanted to keep on reading and I remember that when I was in the grades, my textbooks would be my best friends, and in two weeks after getting them I would have devoured my books and would, by the third week, start to get bored with the rules of English grammar and sentence diagramming. Whoa, I would go to the library each day and there, I would be lost among the books donated by people from the United States, the hard cover ones, far more elegant than the mass-produced and visually inferior ones published in the home country.

It was in these wanderings that I stumbled on many of the writers I now call friends, an honor and a privilege.

One is Teresito Gabriel Tugade, who, even when a young novelist, wrote his name as T. Gabriel Tugade, the T with the period inviting some attention for a child like me but a child nonetheless who asked questions even if I did not get answers. Or I did not know where to get them. Since no one I could ask knew what that T was since in all the other writings that I would find, the T remained some kind a "Da Vinci Code-like" Templar symbol of the lost and those about to be lost--or those exiled who want more of it, this sense of exile, and the kind of tragic sense of the non-sense that goes with it.

I bumped into his book, the Puraw a Balitok, the first book that I bought out of my savings.

I am not quite sure anymore but I could have earned the book money from a prize I got when I won a poetry writing contest, my piece I had the opportunity to read on radio and heard by many Ilokanos. It was a my first poetry award, the price could have been P50 in those times, enough to last me for a week of good living in the small city where I came from, the city when the governor's capitol was still the dingy and dirty and filthy place surrounded by equally dingy and dirty and filthy sari-sari stores connected to each other by rusty nails and the will of their owners to survive.

All of these formed the background of my personal introduction to Tito Tugade whom I now call a friend. I looked for him long time ago but he hid from my view, having successfully hid from the view of every Ilokano writer for decades.

When I was in Los Angeles, I got a call from him, as if the call came from a place unknown and unfamiliar.

I knew him--this Tito Tugade-- from this relationship of absence, he as a novelist you cannot learn to hate because you like his imagination going wild. Like your very own wild imagination going wilder and wildest.

In the ensuing years that brought me back to graduate school and then to Ilokano writing, he remained absent.

But it is in that relationship of absence that I got to know him more and more, a kind of knowing generated by a reader who does not know the author--or a reader who has killed the author, metaphorically at that, in order for that author to come alive in the imagination, alive and kicking, and telling to the reader all those lies about the Alaska life of that Alvaro Cortez character in that novel about Alaska and all those cannery workers.

I did not know that the whole narrative exercise was all of an invention by an eager-beaver kind of a writer who was able to make you believe that the locale is something he knew so well.

I was jolted by the knowledge--a revelation from him and more from Loring Tabin and Sinamar Tabin--that this Tito Tugade who successfully fooled us about the Alaska locale had never been--NEVER BEEN--outside of the Sampaloc apartment where he imagined the place where the wandering character Alvaro Cortez went about looking for the gasat--the wonderful fortune and good luck--to come about.

The powerful transplantation of the Sampaloc locale of the writing of the novel to some places in Anchorage is an impossible feat. But the novel made it possible. And believable, which makes it a double feat. He has asked me to translate the novel to English and I took the challenge. Now is my time to get even.

You could not believe our first exchange, his call and my obligatory answer.

I have not met him, I have not talked to him before. The shock registered well to me and my voice cracked, not knowing how to handle this novelist on the other end of the line, some kind of a guy you knew from that novel but you realized you did not know him at all. If his call were an announcement that I had won the California lottery, I could have collected my winning really quick and packed my bag and go back to Marikina where there, life is definitely sweeter, simpler, more sustaining.

I told him: Hey, you came back from the abyss.

No, more than, he said.

The banter was just like that, as if we had known each other for ages even if the age gap is, well, a real age gap because, one, he was already a novelist when I have yet to create in my heart that illusion that I could write a novel's title perhaps better than Puraw a Balitok, and two, he is two writing generations away and had also claimed, in banter, that he knew Bulosan because they worked together in the farms of Fresno in California. That you cannot believe, of course, if you know your literary history well. And he did not know that I knew my literary history enough not to be fooled by him the second time around.

While listening to him, I was imagining his wandering Ilokano of a character in his novel. I liked the story of that character, this Alvaro Cortez, with the extraordinary gift to endure and persevere, and defining that, yes, yes, Ilokanohood, and Filipinohood for that matter, is a matter of the heart and soul eventually, not one of place, a territory, or a damn, damned, or damning country like the one we have got back home.

Since then, Tito Tugade has not stopped inspiring. Together with Manong Loring Tabin, Manang Sinamar Tabin, and other stalwarts of Ilokano writing, many of them the 'pagtamdan--the models', they have urged me on, egging me some more to keep on with the felicities and faith that creative writing demands.

So each day, I have to write, anything, even if writing stands in the way of partaking a good meal. For me, writing is life itself, like breathing, coming off as naturally as you inhale and exhale and in many ways, there is not much thinking involved especially when the issues are close to your heart.

I asked Tito Tugade to come and join us up in the Nakem Conference. For months and months on end he said, simply, in a non-committal way: Kitaentanto--we will see. Even the language, you realize, means simply No, if one were smarter. I broached this idea of him joing the Nakem Conference late last year and it was only about a week or so ago that he saw the importance of his joining us up so that finally, he stopped saying "kitaentanto" but now says, I am coming.

So we will have him in the Nakem Conference and I asked him to speak about "The Making of Puraw a Balitok." He said, yes, he will do it.

But then, I had his name listed in the conference website as Teresito Gabriel Tugade and right the following day, he called me up from San Francisco to tell me that he did not like the Teresito in his name but simply the letter T.

Ha, I had to beg the website administrator to go fix it fast; it is not a good prospect if he backs out.

So we are back to T. Gabriel Tugade of the "Puraw a Balitok" fame, the name without the Teresito.

He will surely hate me for blogging this.

But this will be a part of a T. Gabriel Tugade biography and I stand by my story. I swear.

Now I see, the sister is right. It is not easy going around in America's unpaved roads. You have to earn you life here or the means to pursue and catch the American dream. Like T. Gabriel Tugade who came back from the abyss of non-writing to, now, writing again. Or at least, inspiring us to write, we who have just come here to his own adoptive land, we FOP--fresh-off-the-plane--kind of immigrants waiting for our little joys, or big joys if we are lucky enough.

Ah, what little joys, what big joys to come full circle with this exilic life.

A Solver Agcaoili
U of Hawai`i at Manoa
Hon, HI
Oct 20/06

Governor Linda Lingle to Grace Nakem Centennial Conference

By A. Solver Agcaoili
University of Hawai`i at Manoa

As the Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program’s offering to the Filipino community of Hawai`i, the other States in the United States, and abroad, and in the effort to bring into an academic discourse the experiences of the sakadas and other immigrants, the 2006 Nakem Centennial Conference will be held for four days at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa. The conference is slated from November 9-12, 2006.

Governor Linda Lingle, the first-ever woman governor of the State of Hawai`i and advocate of the rights of immigrant communities, will be expected to grace the Nakem Centennial Conference during the Aloha—Dumanonkayo Ceremonies to be held November 9 at the Spalding Auditorium.

Other members of the State Legislature who have confirmed their attendance and participation in several of the panel sessions will join Governor Lingle in the ceremonies.

The conference is aimed to bring into focus the various critical practices of the Ilokanos in the United States, the Philippines, and other countries and to reflect on these practices under the prism of the nexus of cultures, of the urgent need to reaffirm minority cultural and linguistic rights in the face of the hegemonic positioning of dominant cultures, and of the need to articulate the silences in the narratives of struggle and survival of Ilokanos everywhere.

Governor Lingle’s administration, as in previous administrations, have recognized the contributions of Filipinos—and Ilokanos—in the development of Hawai`i.

Through the vision of the administration of then Governor Ben Cayetano, the centennial of the coming of the sakadas came into full swing, with 2006 as the banner year for a yearlong celebration that began in December 2005 and will end in December this year.

Governor Lingle, for her part, has inked sisterhood agreements with many local governments in the Philippines to help spur the exchange of goods and services between sisterhood localities.

The latest of these initiatives from the Lingle administration is the sisterhood agreement with the Province of Isabela, the Philippines. Governor Lingle and Isabela Governor Grace Padaca signed the agreement.

The Aloha-Dumanonkayo Ceremonies will mark the formal kick-off of the four-day conference that tackles the theme: “Nakem: Imagination and Critical Consciousness in Ilokano Language, Culture, and Politics.”

Scholars, researches, cultural workers, creative writers, media people, representatives of socio-civic organizations, academic leaders, members of the Hawai`i Legislature, many political leaders of Hawai`i and local government leaders from the Philippines are expected to take part in the Nakem Conference as speakers, panelists, moderators, discussants, and/or presenters.

Nakem Conference has drawn more than a hundred participants from the Philippines alone. The number of participants from the Philippines is based on the data from registration, the panel presentation proposals, and the abstract submitted to the Nakem Conference Secretariat.

Some other participants are coming from Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the United States Mainland, and Canada.

Also gracing the occasion is Dr. Bienvenido L. Lumbera, National Artist of the Republic of the Philippines and Professor Emeritus of the University of the Philippines. Lumbera, who received the Ramon Magsaysay Awards in 1993 for his pioneering work in the areas of communication, the arts, and literature, will deliver the main keynote address on November 10.

Joining Lumbera to give two other keynote addresses are Dr. Lilia Quindoza Santiago, an outstanding feminist poet, writer, novelist, and cultural critic of the Philippines, and Dr. Ma. Crisanta Nelmida Flores, a cultural mapping scholar specializing in Northern Luzon including Pangasinan Studies. Santiago, like Lumbera, is a Fulbright scholar and grantee. Santiago and Flores, like Lumbera, are also faculty members of the University of the Philippines’ Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature.

Giving assistance to the holding of this conference are various individuals and organizations. The organizations include: the National Foreign Language Resource Center, UH Manoa; College of Linguistics, Languages and Literature, UH Manoa; Center for Southeast Asian Studies, UH Manoa; Timpuyog: Ilokano Student Organization; UH Manoa; Student Equity, Excellence, and Diversity, UH Manoa; Leeward Community College-University of Hawai`i; Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline-Pilipina Rural Project; National Endowment for the Humanities-Office of Research Relations, UH Manoa; Department of Hawaiian and Indo-Pacific Languages and Literatures, UH Manoa; Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature-University of the Philippines; Western Union Financial Services, Inc.; Center for Philippine Studies, UH Manoa; Filipino Community Center; Filipino Centennial Celebration Commission; Filipino-American Historical Society of Hawai`i; and Friends of Operation Manong.

Two highlights of the Nakem Conference are a fund-raising concert for the Ilokano B. A. Scholarship Fund and a musical theatre workshop featuring Noel Espiritu Velasco, a prize-winning and world-renown Filipino American tenor, and Gigi Mitchell-Velasco, also an award-winning and world-renown mezzo-soprano. The concert, to be held November 12 at the Filipino Community Center, is dubbed “An Evening of Philippine Music and Classics.” The music theatre workshop, on the other hand, will be held on November 6, 6-9 PM, at the UH Manoa’s Art Auditorium.

The 2006 Nakem Centennial Conference is convened by Prof. Precy Espiritu and Dr. Aurelio Agcaoili, both of the Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program, University of Hawai`i at Manoa. The other members of the conference steering committee and secretariat are Dr. Josie Clausen, Dr. Raymund Liongson, Julius Soria, and Clem Montero. Apart from Liongson who is from the UH’s Leeward Community College-Philippine Studies Program, the rest of the members are on the teaching staff of the Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program, Department of Hawaiian and Indo-Pacific Languages and Literatures, UH Manoa.

For more information on the 2006 Nakem Centennial Conference, the musical theatre workshop, and the concert, you may log on to the conference website: or call the Nakem Conference Secretariat at the Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program, 808-956-8405. Email the conference secretariat at: or fax inquiries at: 808-956-5978.

Kuderong, Kuderong Kutkutangkutang

Kuderong, kuderong kutkutangkutang
Sol di ma sol, tambor mayor
Kutkutikot, sinamay immuttot!

The lyrics of a child's song is one from memory.

It is a site as well of the best in what is in the past, remote as ever, and one you can only revisit once in a while.

There is innocence here still, as in the rhythms of the 'kunkunduyot ikkatem ta maysa" when the world was not yet dependent on gasoline and crude oil and on the bullying tactics of the powerful countries and even those not-so-powerful but capable of making their nuclear bluff to scare the wits of the bullies out there. We want to get back to the times past many times when we get to be too weary to even dream.

Or if we can dream, we can hardly catch the dream any longer, nor do we have the energy to do so.

The words of the song rang in my ears in the aftermath of the 6.7 earthquake, strong enough to jolt us from our lethargy as peoples of the First World with our claims to invincibility. Filipino immigrants like us are more attuned to these rocking and jolting rhythms of the earth raped daily by our despoiling acts, our exploiting capability. The Philippines, in truth and in trope, is in the Pacific rim of fire and fire is both our foe and friend ever since, as in the fire of our wrath to drive away the conjugal dictatorship and the family corporations for jueteng and other forms of social fleecing operations masked off by the charade that the silver screen is really silver.

I sang this song--the "kuderong, kuderong kutkutangkutang"--while I navigated the dark freeway last night, the H-1 that leads to Waipahu where I live.

Even the twin towers dotting the Pearl City landscape, my constant and trustworthy reference point for preparing to take Exit 8 that hits right into Farrington Highway, were not there in the dark except for their dark outlines, with not a glow to announce their phallic capabilities for standing tall and proud against the hilly earth and against the wide skies of this western part of Honolulu.

This was a sad night, with the darkness reigning kingly and supreme and with us Hawai`i mortals bowing to its absolute power, with only the light of our hopes and minds giving us the flickering light of the soul that does not want to give up.

Many times I allowed the "kuderong, kuderong kutkutangkutang" to sink deep in my mind, my soul, and my heart, as if I were a man who was afraid of the dark and had to whistle in order to scare the ghosts away.

It was difficult to drive in the dark.

That realization became my metaphor: to navigate the dark is not as easy as one would think it is. Last night, I reminded myself: go, go navigate the dark and the unknown but pray and hope and trust in the energies of the universe, in the abiding spirit of life.

In the dark, we need the light, and as much light as we ought to have.

I learned my lesson for the day: know when to sing the "kuderong, kuderong kutkutangkutang."

A Solver Agcaoili
U of Hawaii-Manoa
Hon, HI
Oct 16, 2006

Pitch Black and Third World in a First World in Honolulu

(Note: It is pitch black here in Honolulu as I began to create this piece in my mind by groping for the right words in this whole day of darkness and gloom; it is Third World in a First World in Honolulu on this day, October the 15th, 2006 anno domini.)


I cannot believe what is happening. Yesterday, I was sharing my thoughts with a stage artist, a Mexican-American who is into one of those Filipino plays on their run for the centennial celebration, the play presumably discoursing about identity and poking fun, light at best, at the foibles of being an immigrant, as stranger-coming-into-a-homing, in a strange land that is the Hawaiian islands.

Our talk was about how we have unabatedly pursued a ‘disconnect’ with nature, with us raping and raping our natural, cosmic, and spiritual resources at the speed of light. An artist through and through—a freelance photographer on the side—the stage actress is on the lookout for a way by which we can inculcate the values of ending this disconnect with the universe and permitting the connection to come about again by a committed and critical and conscientious education of those who care to listen, of those who see these alternative ways of ‘seeing’ and ‘seeing clearly’ our relationship with the universe. “I would want a school in the middle of the wild, in the deep of the forest, in the mountain fastnesses,” she told me.

“A cooperative learning would solve issues about management and curriculum,” I chipped in, imagining the possible in the bold and honest effort to re-create a world different from the one run by the bastards of the universe who cannot see the social injustice of one world having so much while another world has so little.

We talked more about how we would put up the school, away from the reality concocted by the media, a reality grounded in fear and more fear on the big screen and on the idiot box, in print media, and now in cyberspace. We would do a Thoraeu through and through, with his Walden Pond intact.

We said we would honor the universe, revere its forces, bow down to its command to make us realize its terrors and surprises.

The good thoughts about the universe and our being part of it is one good cosmology we need to go back to, we both agreed, as if in one sacred covenant. We are two fools expanding the notion of exile from our own exiling experience, she a Mexican-American in touch with her Chicano roots, me a Filipino, newly arrived in these islands and groping in the dark in terms of the “Hawaiian ways” but in touch as well with my Filipinoness while open to the possibilities opened up to me by this land of my exile, by this new experience I call 'exile.'

I told her about the Ilokanos having a lot to do with reverence for the universe--their reverence and awe for the Apo Init, Apo Bulan, Apo Daga . The sense of atang for the dalapus, for instance, is clearly one of connection and connectivity. All these and many others come into a full view to me now, including the sacred and the sanctified in the “Baribari, Apo, umadayokayo!” and the “Dayudayo, Apo, umadayokayo.” The calling out of someone’s name—the calling back of that name to call out the wandering kararua so that it would come back to the spiritual body and then to the physical bodyr—is one other thing that makes me see the clearly now.

I went home, contented that I am not alone thinking thoughts like this, that recognizing our being exiles in the universe is one step towards healing this disconnect that has given us so much dis-ease and un-ease.

And this morning, we have this earthquake that gave us the real meaning of panic, this morning that we in Hawai`i have yet to shake off sleep from our bodies.

I play with stereotypes here, with Ilokanos in their hard, guttural r’s, pronouncing the letter as if some food is stuck up in their esophagus.

That gives away accent, as if accent is the mortal sin of those who cannot speak the kind of English Simon Cowell parades and promotes on national television.

I remember that Ana Marcelo the Filipino food culture scholar from Sacramento and I have had a long exchange of ideas on the issues connected to our Filipino identity and our accent and we both laughed at the thought that there is much ignorance here on the part of those who have the temerity to say that they are more superior because they cannot be caught with their Filipino r’s. Linmarck Zamora, the creative writer from these islands, had accounted this in his “Rolling the R’s” oeuvre. And the reminders are all over you can hardly miss them. The only way out is to accept that as we keep on trying, we become more of a phony, and eventually, a true fake, which is worse.

A regular visit to the swap meet which on this Sunday, the 15th of October, would have moved me to hoard the leafy greens would not help either but would reinforce my Ilocos Norte Ilokano;; this swap-meet rite would have me forgetting that I have gone away from the barrios of Laoag and that now I am here in the United States.

Having done that, I would go home with my loot. I would consume all those leafy marunggay, saluyot, camote tops, bean tops, and bitter melon leaves and my r’s will not leave me but stick up with me forever. The green leaves are the cause of my mind not adjusting to all those soft consonantal sounds that can only come with swallowing up all those half-an-inch thick Angus steak that could have been good for a family of six in the home country but is served for one person, just one person, over here.

No matter, the swap meet deos not happen today, as in the many communal gatherings that had to be postponed because of the earthquake that struck in the early morning while I am doing my morning meditation on my bed, recalling that indeed I am lucky and blessed because I woke up again to a new day, to this new lease on life.

The soft music, an instrumental rendition of a chamber orchestra in that complicated of composition the tail-end of its name I only hear to be in G flat minor or some such sound, lulls me a bit and that the lulling came from the rocking of the bed that bore my weight and the weight of my unfounded worries as I, together with the steering committee of the 2006 Nakem Centennial Conference, prepare to meet head-on the demands of this international gathering of scholars, academics, researchers, and creative writers, all knowledgeable about what a heritage culture and language are.

But today is a bit different.

The early morning earthquake gives us aftershocks, real aftershocks, those little earthquakes that accompany the first big one with that huge bang that made my nieces and nephew running out of their rooms and my sister, in the restroom, running out as well to say her prayers for redemption of all mankind.

Some other forms of aftershocks are shocking. Suddenly, the radio goes dead, the lights goes dead, and then comes about an eerie quiet, the quietude of the late hours when I do my spiritual reflection and re-connection with the universe and its energies. Out of frustration, I said: “This is Third world.”

Suddenly, people cannot cook food.

Suddenly, coffee aficionados like me realize that here we are, with all the resources of this country and nation to move the whole earth to bow to its democratic dreams and in recognition of the wealth and the power that comes with its superabudance and wealth—suddenly, we are helpless, unable to boil water to have that abominable instant coffee, the poorest of the poor substitute of the real one that comes from the barako in Batangas or Benguet or from the mountain beans of Kona.

I remember the barrios in the Philippines and the ability of these barrios to survive under the circumstance. Like all the folks there, I could have scoured for wood and sticks and all those discarded cardboards to light a fire to induce that cold water to simmer and then, after some time, I would pour the coffee and then stir the coffee to coax the aroma to come and fill the whole hut, up to the yards, up to the neighbor’s hut.

But, here, in this First World becoming Third World, I cannot do this.

As soon as the brown out became complete—no, they call this ‘black out’ over here even if it happens during the early morning unlike in the Philippines where distinctions are necessary between ‘black out’ and ‘brown out’—stores of all kinds closed shop, from the horrible fastfood chains dotting every highway and freeway and street corner to the grocery stores and supermarkets. And the gasoline stations too, unable to pump gas when the power is off, an irony of the first order that makes me realize that we need gas to pump gas.

I run to the university at two but I look at my gas gauge. No luck. I have only a fourth, just enough for me to get to the H-1 and then H-2 that I need to navigate before I hit the University Avenue exit. If for some reason I get stuck up some place, I have to call the towing company that will fleece me once again with my hard-earned money. I go to all the gas stations and spend a fourth of my one-fourth and did not get a drop of the fossil fuel from Iraq, who knows.

I decide to come back and nurse my disappointment.

From the rows of unread or half-read books on my shelf, I take up Gabriel Marquez’s “Innocent Erendina and Other Stories” and the more I realized how pathological this world has become, with Erendina’s grandmother acting as her pimp, pimping her to all the men who would care to pay up for a rendezvous with an innocent heart, this Erendina who cannot even hurt herself.

At five, the power comes back after ten hours. I hop on my white Toyota 4runner, the old and trustworthy care that has kept me company as I relocated my psyche and my body and my dreams in this new work I have got in the university.

I run to the first gas station I bump into. No luck. I go to the other one on the end of the road towards H-1, the freeway that sees me through everyday of my working days, and there, the line of cars snakes onto the parking lot of the other commercial establishments.

I fall in line. I wait for my turn, patiently recalling that other places could have gas rationing but here, in these parts, I have only a line. I count my blessings. I look at the hills in the west, towards the sea of Kapolei, and the dark is gathering there.

I run to the university afterwards. Pitch blackness meets me up on the freeway after Waikiki but I go on ahead, gassing up a bit to get away from the rain and the fog that clouds my windshield.

I reach the university. It is pitch black as well. I go up to my office and deposit my books. I got out and meet the dark mountains from the fourth floor. I fill my lungs with the clean air from the rain and allow the cold of the downpour to creep into body.

I hop back into my car, and I remember that here, in this new islands of my dreams and desires, I am—I will always be—and exile. In pitch blackness like this, I long for the light of dreams pursued—and soon and fast.

A Solver Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI
Oct 15/06

A Sort of Resonance

It had come to this, in this new world you find yourself, as an afterthought.

This sort of resonance is many things including this long road you are in, like an extension of your present world, its stretches expansive that the eyes get tired looking on ahead. You would rather close you eyes and imagine the meaning of quiet reflection, peaceful silence, and that wonderful, restful sleep. You want to go home fast, to your temporary home near the west hills, towards the Kunia area where the last pineapples are being tended and then, in two years, the uneven terrain of beauty and grandeur and morning dew and wideness galore will be no more. You will see the ugly houses of realty barons and their thieving ways.

You stay in your car, hands on the steering while all the time. You try to be alert even if the tiredness is beginning to reside and indwell in your eyelids.

You look at your wristwatch, and oftener now you do that. The road does not offer any salvation.

You hear your stomach growling.

You try to find the connections in this seeming bizarre bazaar of fortune and its lack. You left your university at 3:30 PM to run to your health care training class. You get out of that class and head right into Dillingham hoping that you can have some minutes of high speed I-90/Artesia freeway run till you reach Nimitz but the traffic jam stops you on your tracks and holds you back and makes you curse in the language of your mother, the curse crisp and pithic and real, for once. Not affected but with blood in the spit that comes with the cursing with all the passion that you can muster. You realize you curse like a Tondo man now, the Tondo where you lived for some time, many years back in your younger life when Marcos was still the monarch and his lady was still queen of the heavens and the stars.

This sense of deja vu that you feel now is an I-5 in California where you came from, that freeway that does not seem to know no end. You are not moving in this long wait and you count the hours: from 9:30 PM and it is 2:00 AM the following day and you are still here, about five or so miles away from where you began. It is the same long hours you are putting in to help put together this Nakem Conference.

There is beginning, for certain, in this ordeal and you overheard your friends telling you about a pedestrain overpass knocked down by a crane.

In the Mainland you imagine yourself now: Each early morning drive to your teaching job you start off with the kick of the morning coffee to wash off the sleep in your body and flush it with a visit to the gas station to fuel your car and discharge your system's liquid so you will be comfortable looking at the endless road ahead as soon as you snake through the entrance from your small town side street in Torrance and get into the motion of speeding up, like the rest of them the motorists who, like you, are all running away from the humdrum of a Monday through Friday job that promises some dent in the montly mortgage that, you count your fingers now, you will be able to pay past retirement age.

This is America, you remind yourself, and this is the United States. You can assure yourself that you are now living the American Dream of bills and more bills--and they do come regularly even before you ever get hold of your take home pay about half of which goes to inanities like taxes that do not go away. You remember the questionabe wars in many countries and you remember your taxes and their connection to wars and violence.

But that is not the point of your story tonight. Tonight, as in the other nights, you force yourself to have more of the adrenaline rush as you think of meanings hidden in the sentences you are reading, the sentences in the abstracts and presentations that will form a volume of your conference proceedings. You try hard to guess, dreaming of magical capabilities, imagining the power to make some kind of an abracadabra to account sense or its absence in some convoluted passages.

It is the same convoluted passages that you have seen in Honolulu in the past three months that you have been here after you have decided to come to stay here and find something concrete, something with meaning, something closer to the promise of memory. For it is memory that has redeemed you in the last three years that you have come here to wonder and wander, to see what this land can offer, and to roam its landscapes without any of those fears that have something to do with border checks and immigration police raids.

You have seen some of these--and their ability to shake the knees. In New Mexico, at the Columbus International Border, you have seen how two Hispanics have been caught pants down when they could not show some kind of a picture ID establishing their eligibility to stay in this place and work their way to staying here forever.

Your story does not cohere. You are tired, with all the editing that you are doing these last two weeks or so. You look at the flickering light on Kuykendal and you imagine the notorious sound of the newly stalled two giant aircondtioners right across the entrance to the other staircase that leads to your fourth floor office where there the green mountains with their thick garments of foliage greet you with the healing energies that you need.

It is work you have come here, for sure. But it is also a commitment--and a vision. You look it that way. You say a little prayer and close shop for the night in this late hours that you own the whole of Spalding and the other building next to it.

You pray for grace, for endurance, for perseverance, for humility--for all the things that you will need to make you understand things, to make you see the bigger scheme of things. You pray for light. You pray for wisdom.

You pray for that willingness to serve, to help form minds, to instruct even as you instruct youself of the hard lessons you learn the hard way today as in the past and, perhaps, just perhaps, in the future.

A solver Agcaoili
Oct 14, 2006
Hon, HI/UH Manoa

Nakem and Its Anti-thesis

I could have composed this as a letter to myself.

In the heat of all the preparations for the 2006 Nakem Conference--in the frenzy of what to be done from the smallest task to the biggest--I can only sit down in my little corner, down here at the Spalding overlooking the Manoa mountains. I smell the clean and crisp air that moves freely, as if in wild abandon, among the leaves of the April showers. Their blooms in the fall are not as riotous as in the summer, but the petals are there, in their hues of yellow and white and baby pink, the clusters reaching out to the blue skies. It is fall in the country of my voluntary exile but here, in these islands, the tropic of cancer is the ruler, permitting the sun to come as expected each day, liquid sunshine or no liquid sunshine, the daily sun like a faithful lover.

It is late in the afternoon now. The young dusk is around the corner, in the nooks of cold buildings that dot the landscape in the foot of these mountains. Did they call this part The Manoa Valley, the old Hawaiians who were one with nature, they who saw that the connection of the human spirit to the spirit of the earth and the universe must remain so?

I look out the window now, and my view is blocked by the window pane, moist and hazy because of the eternal whirring of the Panasonic that seems to have declared that it is both the alpha and the omega of all the air that is conditioned by this whimsical manipulation of man the rapist of that which is cosmic.

I feast my eyes on the mountainside, its verdant hue a kind of a shawl to drive off the cold of the coming evening. The tree tops are veritable crowns in that most glorious of crowns: luscious leaves and luscious leaves circling and circling to trap the energy of the coming hours, right before the October moon peeps from behind the hills farther west. I look out the vast expanse before me and I sigh: what smallness, I tell myself.

I am small in this huge universe and my sighing is huge, aware that in a few days, this panic on panic that I feel gets to be real. 2006 Nakem Centennial Conference is not for the weak of heart and soul, I realize. It is for the visionaries, those people like Raymund Liongson who in his youth had seen what it takes to fight, shouting on top of his lungs all the social injustices he must have witnessed in our old Ilocos when our small city was still that respectable city of light and more light as its name suggested. He ran those streets with the red paint that announced to all those who cared that in the land of our birth, in the land of our umbilical cords, something was wrong, something was awfully wrong.

Early this afternoon, something cropped up in the mail, something out of the blue, some uncalled for message from some unthinking soul and there, there was Manang Precy Espiritu who was just by herself, her cheerfulness a bit snagged somewehre else but carefully handing to me one letter from someone with a claim to power but whose ability to do things with words is not in keeping with someone of his stature, he a symbol of authority, he who represents us all and not only his lackeys. This lousy soul without the 'nakem' did not understand perfectly well the meaning of coming together with all the 'nakem' around. He should have known that celebrations--all celebrations--are symbolic and the play of meanings in them are all of a play, in the playfulness of a play. But this one letter Manang Precy handed to me was a verdict of the most terrible kind. There was hesitance in her hand and I saw that, but there was firmness as well, aware of the possible difficulties ahead, aware of the consequent hurts and wounds, aware of the scars.

This is one price we have to pay, I tell myself, in silence as in pre-thought, if ever there was one. Of course, I write this now as an afterthought.

I read the letter and I saw in there the voice of an emperor without any clothes, naked in his impossible grammar of self-importance and pompousity, naked in his illusion of grandeur. What tough luck! I pray to the air, to the lord of the skies, to the kind earth, to the early afternoon sun.

Some minds could not fathom the 2006 Nakem Conference, I thought, as if we owe it to him, to them, to all the capitalists out there who almost always forget anyway that their profits are from all of us, we consumers who patronize them, directly or indirectly. There is greed here, there is ingratitude. I tell myself, once, twice, thrice--sayang.

Evening has come and the dark has claimed its reign all around me. I look at the cross before me as I type this. A man hangs in there, aware, in a symbolic sense, of what I am going through to come together again, call that energy back in order to get out of this snag, this knot.

Some people could be so almighty they have forgotten what power is, and how corrupting it could become. Some people do not learn their lessons, I suppose. And they grow old without grace except the self-respect they probably have bought from some place else.

I look at the dark. I look for healing in the dark mountains, darkened by the delusions of some people with lots of misplaced feelings of self-importance. Kawawa naman da tanga. Mulengleng a talaga.

A Solver Agcaoili
Manoa, Oct 12, 2006

On Asking the Right Questions on ‘Who the Fil-Am You Are, Really?’

There is a play within a play in “Who the Fil-Am I? or Never Judge a Buk-buk by Its Cover-cover” by Troy Apostol. While it is not an easy read because of the various registers in the language of the play—or better still, languages within the language—you see here right at the start as a matter of psychological strategy the self-questioning and self-representation of the many characters. We do not get to like all of them at the same time. But we realize that there is a place for empathy, and its relevance in that collective act of recognizing the children of immigrants who try to live life the best way they know how in the land of exile. It is true that in the play they finally make the definitive journey—a calculated technique, but clearly a motif—from which spring the many realizations and self-examinations and self-discovery that will come about as a result. There is a return in the journey, a coming back to oneself, a kind of a homing after wandering and wondering and willfully asking that question “Who the Fil-Am I?”

But back to the playfulness of the play itself.

The main characters exhibit—do they wear their identity as some sort of a badge or an ID card here, with that characteristic picture to match the name and the man in the picture?—impossible names: Tomas Immakulate Consepsion for the “White American,” Malcolm Immansipacion Proklomacion for the “Black-American,” and Roland Conjuncion Juncion What is Your Puncion for the “Local Hawaiian.” What is in these long names we do not know, we cannot tell—and we can only come up with a guess. Do these long names account for that which is not fixed in the immigrant, that thought that does not have any clear ground but is always shifting, changing, mutating—that condition in the exile, in the Fil-Am, in the immigrant, in the second and third generation offspring of immigrants? Tomas knows something, remembers the sound of the language of his ancestors, while Malcolm is trying to know even if he does not know the lingua: "I can’t spit the lingua and I ain’t big on doing the church thang, but I do know some history, so let me ask you this: Have you ever stopped to think that maybe your God and your western mentality is the same kind of colonialist bullshit that fucked up the Philippines in the first place?"

Roland remains the ‘local boy’ with the local ways, even in speech and thought.

Tomas, as the more advanced of the three in terms of this sacred act of going back to where they came from—this rite of re-rooting, this ceremony of connecting back to the energy of the community they have lost—insists on the importance of returning to that indwelling which language provides. And not any language, but the language of the ancestors. Here we see Tomas with this conviction that borders on an absolute valorization of the windows and worlds opened up by the language of the ancestors: “A people’s language is the saving grace that binds them together through sex, age, and economic strata.” He goes sermonic, as if in that church pulpit, and proclaims: "In the turbulent socio-political climate of today’s America, and how they are viewed negatively by the global perception, Filipino-Americans must retain the knowledge of their language. In that basic respect, they retain what is truest and most honorable to their people and their culture, lest they fade into the nebulae that is America."

Tomas caps this priestly exercise by saying that “Filipinos must know their language in order for them to stay truly Filipino.”

As the three Fil-Ams search for that which makes sense to them, the country of their ancestors searches for that which makes sense to it as well. There is nurturing in the image of women struggling it out. There is despair and disappointment and death in the men who make sure that self-questioning and realization will not come about—or will come about after self-destruction has happened, as in the case of the useless husband.

Who the Fil-Ams are they, these characters? They are those who ask the right questions. Never mind that the answers come late in the day, as long as the questions are asked again and again. And phrased properly.

(This piece is part of a Viewer's Guide for the play, "Who the Fil-Am I? or Never Judge a Buk-buk by Its Cover-cover" by Troy Apostol. The play runs in October 2006 as part of the offering of the Kamu Kahua Theatre, Honolulu, HI)

A. Solver Agcaoili
U of Hawaii-Manoa
Hon, HI
Oct 12, 2006

Alimpatok iti Panawen ti Ariangga


Maysan a siglo nga ikutko daytoy a paulo ti daniw.

Ngem diak man mapagsusurot dagiti balikas a gumawgawawa a paaramat tapno mapartuatko daytay lubong a baro a sagut dagiti letra, timek, kaibatogan.

Dagitoy dagiti residente kadagiti nagbabaetan dagiti sao, kas iti nagbabaetan met laeng dagiti ulimek iti panagariwawa ti makelkellaat a rikna gapu iti kinaulimek dagiti rabii a sumangbay iti idda, iti appupo, iti saklot dagiti agtagtagibi a darepdep tapno iti kasta ket maipasngay iti maminribu a daras dagiti katawa, paggaak, ken ragsak nga agliplipias.

Mangngegak ti ariangga.

Sumuknal daytoy iti naiwawa a nakem ket sadiay, iti pannakapukaw ti simbeng ti panunot, sadiay a sungbatanna dagiti akusasion: Dimo ammo ti agalimpatok!

Diak ammo ti agalimpatok iti laksid dagiti di maiduri a panagganas dagiti timek a makikinkinnamat kadagiti sariwawek a rikna, dagiti estranghero a rikna a sagpaminsan a makikinkinnammayet iti lino, ti makusen a saksi dagiti apros, arikap, panagsukisok ti bara iti ungto ti ramay kadagiti dissuor ken tanap ken bubon dagiti kiki, dagiti ariek, dagiti rugso?

Aa, kunam sa.

Aa, ta iti panangsippayot ti silnag ti ubing a bulan iti nalawa a tanap ditoy Manoa, buyaem dagiti mangrabrabii nga agtamed iti law-ang nga adda iti mangisungsungsong a sellang!


Alimpatok iti panawen ti ariangga! Kasla man daytay panagtibnok iti buteng ken gagar, ni patay ken ni anges, ni lasag ken espiritu!

Ta iti alimpatok, adda sadiay ti nainsagraduan a pannakilantip ti lasag iti lasag, ti sellang iti sellang, ti ariangga iti sabali pay nga ariangga. Tibnok met laeng daytoy ti biag ken pannakatay iti maminribu.

Ta awan panaglantip no awan matay--kas iti kinaimposible met laeng ti panagbiag no awan pannakatay dagiti babassit a darepdep ken an-anek-eken ti bagi ken barukong ken luppo ken puot. Iti alimpatok a makapuottayo iti sabali a puot: daytay puot ti basol nga isu met laeng a puot ti salakan.

Alimpatok iti panawen ti ariangga ti daniw a di napauluan, ti daniw nga iti naglabas a dekada ket kasla man laeng nakagalgalis nga idea wenno metapora wenno signos wenno simbolo wenno bugas dagiti makabiag a balikas, dagiti makadunggiar a balikas, dagiti makapadara a balikas, dagiti makapalaing a balikas.

Alimpatok iti panawen ti ariangga ti adda iti aringgawis dagitoy a balikas: saan a maikutan ti appupo ngem addada iti kasla temtem a barukong a mamagpabara iti isip, muging, bibig, pus-ong.

A Solver Agcaoili
UH Manoa
Okt 11/06

Kuntimpas Domino

Kuntimpas domino.

Anian a lagip ti gubuayen daytoy a sao kaniak, siak a nakamuttaleng iti manggargari a bantay ditoy Manoa.

Rabii ken aldaw, kuntimpas dominO amin nga adda iti pusok nga agar-arikap iti ayat manipud kadagiti balikas dagiti napaumel nga idda wenno pungan wenno siled a sagrado gapu ta ti laeng arasaas dagiti ulimek ti mangngegan.

Rabii manen ditoy ket ti lagip maipapan iti kuntimpas domino ket tumrarong iti barukongko, agruting ditoy a kas bukel santo agrangpaya a kas kadagiti arapaap dagiti duogan a banyan iti Beretania wenno iti Ala Moana wenno kadagiti rangrangkis nga agtunda iti Tantalus, daytay wanawanan a mangitunda kenka iti mangliwengliweng nga espasio ti langit ken taaw, daytay espasio nga awanan iti rugi gapu ta awanan met iti patingga.

Wenno awanan iti patingga ta awanan met iti rugi.


Kastoy ti biagmi ditoy, dakami nga exilo, dakami nga agbirbirok iti kaipapan manipud kadagiti saning-i a dimi yibit, kadagiti sennaay a dimi naganan, kadagiti iliw a dimi buniagan.

Lipatenmi ti agipeksa ta adda babantot kadagiti sao iti aldaw ken agmatuon ken agsipnget a panangdagdagullit kadagiti ariangga, iti man lagip wenno iti akto a pannakasaksi kadagiti masipngetan nga ub-ubbing iti paggaayaman.

Butbutngento dagiti nataengan dagiti agar-ariwawa nga ub-ubbing--ket mapabutngan uray dagiti ariwawada agingga a dagiti ubbing ken dagiti ariwawada ket agbalin a kari dagiti sumaruno a bigat a maipasngay kadagiti kapiniaan iti Kunia, kadagiti silalamolamo a bara ti pus-ong iti Waikiki wenno ti mababain nga isem iti kursada dagiti rabii ti panagmaymaysa.

Ipakdaar dagiti nataengan dagiti testamento dagiti antigo a panagsegga iti ipapanaw a panagsubli met laeng.

Ibagadanto ti panagruar dagiti mangmangkik ken al-alia kadagiti aggaarimutong a kulalanti kadagiti narurukbos a kaykayo a pinarukbos dagiti dara a nagsayasay kadagti nagkauna a naipatli, iti man gubat, kas idi.

Wenno iti panawen ti kappia, kas ita.


Kuntimpas domino.

Sapaek ti sumrek iti pangisuruan tapno manipud iti siririkep a tawa ket padanonek ti raya ti init nga ibakkuar dagiti turod ti tanap ti Manoa.

Nakakagay dagiti turod iti berde, kasla nakapagimeng kadagiti bulbulong dagiti nalalangto a kaykayo a makigingginnargari iti pul-oy nga isarua ti baybay iti umabagatan.

Tuparen ti ubing nga init ti sarming ti tawat ket bilangek dagiti rabii a diak makaturog, dagiti rabii nga agpatnag nga ar-arapaapek ti kayat a sawen ti kuntimpas domino.

Anian! Mapuyatan ta mapuyatan ti agpatnag!


Liputandak dagiti pasamak.

Liputandak dagiti padas ket kuna ti nabaliwangga nga angin iti pantok ti pasdek a pagbuybuyaak kadagiti umaddang nga umasideg iti altar kadagiti sirok dagiti narukbos a kayo.

Ditoy met laeng ti pagbuyaak kadagiti agkurno iti darang ti init, kas iti maysa a lalaki iti pannakiinnalana iti makigingginnantil nga aldaw.

Timudek dagiti timek iti kaunggak. Kunaen dagiti timek: Kuntimpas domino, kuntimpas domino.

Agwalangwalang ta agwalangwalang ti kaririknak.

Agkuntimpas domino iti agmatuon dagiti mangurkuranges a ragragsak.

A Solver Agcaoili
UH Manoa
Okt 11/06, 7:45 PM

A Father Writes to His Son who Writes

This is for you, son, and to all the sons out there who are trying to find their piece of earth under the scorching sun.

It is late night here in this land of exile and I am supposed to go home and sleep the sleep of the just.

It has been a long day going through the motions of preparing for what could be the biggest gathering of all creative writers, scholars, and academic people from the Philippines, Japan, US, New Zealand, and Canada. It is our Nakem Conference and it is going to be next month and we are all frantic now trying to think clear thoughts about what we have yet to do. For many days, I created poems in my mind, no, I do not stop being a poet even if I do not post the poems in my blog.

I do not begin to be a poet either by thinking of myself as a poet but by looking at life with kind eyes, with caring eyes, with critical eyes.

I see many things anywhere, wherever I am and these that I see are the very stuff of what I write about.

They are all the nuggets of my poems, as in this endless banqueting that I have to attend to in Honolululand where the rule of the game seems to be one where we live to see and be seen, in banquet halls, in hotel halls, in ceremonial halls where self-respect and the act of buying it are also part of the ceaseless ceremony of self-actualizing pursued the wrong, unpoetic way. There are so many causes here, many causes that the people are prone to align themselves with. But many of these causes are the prosaic ones, one attuned to self-promotion, to self-advertisement. I have come from another part of this country, from some part of the Mainland where there, Pinoys do not go through the same motions as they do here but nevertheless eat up each other as well whole and entire. I have heard well-neaning friends say, as a result, and as their warning to me to cure my naivete: "Do not align yourself with these groups that are meant to buy people some sort of cheap self-respect, self-promotion, and self-advertisement."

I must tell you I have learned the hard way as well, and being a writer, in the Mainland and here, has helped me a lot in equipping myself with the skill to distinquish statements that are calculated for some form of argumentum ad populum for selfish reasons. I puke, and I cannot go home unless I am able to write about these to remind you of your duty to write and to write with integrity, honesty, sincerity. Write by not thinking of self-promotion, self-respect, self-advertisement. In effect, write with the humiity of the intellect, the mind, the heart, the soul, the spirit. Write with extra-sensitivity. All the other good things will be yours as a matter of consequence--not as a matter of purpose and motive and hidden intention. The humblest poet and creative writer is still the best poet and creative writer wherever he is. In my writing life, I have tried to follow this as my precept, my dictum, my golden rule.

Here, in Honolulu as in other places, it is the same thing, and it is also different, this foibles of people, writers or no writers. It is one of those universals of frailty, some form of fallenness from grace, if we see the perspective of some of the existentialists whose works you might have read. Ceteris paribus, you can look at redemption with kind eyes. Come to think of it--It is really how you look at the possible poetry of your daily life, one that is rooted in the way we come to terms with the here-and-now.

There is no escaping here, son, except to face head on the challenge of the metaphorical, the symbolic, the relevant, the meaningful. This is what poetic truth is all about, the truth that the person who writes is constantly pursuing.

There is sad poetry in all these that I see and I remind myself always. As I get to see more closely what flimsy fibers Pinoys are made of, I think of the redeeming poem that I can write.

There are writers here who are pretenders, and poets too who are prostitutes of phrases and the way we parse the beautiful and the truthful and thus, they are liars.

This is one thing that I am afraid of, son, when you told me you are going to finally heed the call of the wild, the strange, the unfamiliar--that you will take up the pen and try your hand at writing and take up the road less travelled and be ready to starve. I am afraid you will not have the strength to go hungry for some time. Nor do you have the ability of the stomach to erase the pangs of hunger at will as we struggling writers are wont to do each time we remember that we have yet to take our meal.

Now, I could have gone home to sleep but here I am writing this piece in the hope that you will see in this the duty what I feel about writing as a mission--this duty to write and not because I have taken the complex that says that I have been ordained to write. No, the sooner that you realize that we are just people who have the duty to write and that our identity is that we are a people who happen to write, the better for your soul.

I know you will make if you will try. Just persevere.

UH Manoa
Honolulu, HI
Oct 10/06

Preliminary and Exploratory Notes on the Modernization of Ilokano

Aurelio S. Agcaoili, PhD
University of Hawaii-Manoa

(This work is part of a larger work on Ilokano language, literature, and culture. The Tawid Magazine serialized a popular version of the work in its magazine and in its e-zine; another electric form is found in the author’s website).

O. Preliminaries

These are my own peculiar way of looking at the lively and dynamic exchange of ideas on the Ilokano language at this time. The aim of this paper is to look at this lively and dynamic exchange and refer them back to what has happened in the history of the Ilokano language, the developments of the culture, and the discourses that have affected how we have received and respected and reclaimed the Ilokano language. While the issue on reception is bound-up by the circumstances of birth, the issue on respect for the language is contentious depending on the ‘ideological and cultural’ mindset of the Ilokano in question. The crucial issue that relates to the ideal of ‘reclaiming’ the language is one of a dream, and in the diaspora, the difficulties are ever more present even if we can also say that the Ilokanos in the Philippines are not in a better position to say that they are, in fact, committed to the reclaiming of the language for themselves, for their people, and for the future generations. My hope is to offer some cursory ‘notes,’ some ground to cover in the continuing and evolving discourse on what needs to be done to make Ilokano both a language of the present of the Ilokano people and a language of their future.
There have been a number of positions, voices, and attitudes and all of them are salutary. They all point to a mind that is thinking, reflecting, ruminating, and caring.

For me, serious thinking is thinking hard and critically and allowing reflexivity to come in and reside in the soul, the spirit, and the heart where fusion becomes the principle of each second of our thinking life.

On the matter about the issues relative to the ‘modernization’ of Ilokano language, I have been a witness to such serious thinking by way of the various positions, voices, and attitudes of writers, cultural workers, and thinkers of the Ilokano language. I have seen so much quality in them. As a teacher of this language and one of its practicing users as a writer, there is so much privilege in my having become a witness to this ‘renewed’ interest on things Ilokano even if I would also say that despair and frustration ought to be recognized in other areas such as the teaching of the language in basic education; the lack of respect accorded to the language by the very policy makers of culture and education in the Philippines—by the people in power who should know better; and by the neocolonial attitude of many of its inheritors, both young and old, in and outside the country. To date, to my knowledge, there are only two schools that currently have a program in Ilokano language teaching: the University of the Philippines-Diliman, in the Philippines, and the University of Hawaii-Manoa, in Hawai`i, the United States. While students of Philippine culture in the Philippines can work their way to some form of a ‘specialization’ in Ilokano by way of their courses and their research, such ‘specialization’ takes the form of working through a more elaborate, perhaps less committal, recognition of the importance of Ilokano in the larger scheme of things in the educational directions of the country. The University of Hawai`i`s bachelor’s program in Philippine Languages and Literatures has more teeth in providing a clearer, committed, and conscious direction to the teaching of Ilokano (Cf. Espiritu 2005).

These attitudes, voices, and positions have so much quality that we are reminded that all is not lost, that there is much relevance in this collective act to resist the onslaught of a neocolonizing power that plans to stay forever in the minds of the many who have learned the difficult lessons about the terrible impact of ‘language and culture homogenization’—this systematic act of state power and its agents and executors to make people think only ‘mass’ thoughts, one authored by the center of power and authority. There is a bonus in these attitudes, voices, and positions: there is care, there is a caring disposition which we all see in Roy Aragon, Joel Manuel, Joe Padre, Jake Ilic, Jim Raras, Jim Agpalo, and Nid Anima.
There are, of course, other previous voices we can allude to, refer back, and 'archeologize' and fall back to for guidance: Juan SP Hidalgo Jr, Greg Laconsay, Joe Bragado, the 'Bannawag voice', and scholars from the West who have taken upon this task of helping us help ourselves by looking into how our language behaves. We name some: Prescila Espiritu, Carl Rubino, and Lawrence Reid.

1. The Urgent, Critical Points

In the current exchanges, much of it by way of various blogs, I summarize the themes and provide my own view and/or response to the issue raised:

a) On the 'abecederia' or kur-itan or kurditan or alibata

Various literatures would tell you that the terms for the alphabet are many such as abecederia, kur-itan, kurditan, and alibata. Abecederia is Hispanic, kur-itan is of the Ilocos Norte variety, kurditan is Ilocos Sur (as seen, for instance, in the Candon, Ilocos Sur variety of Reynaldo Duque), or alibata is Greek-Arabic-Hebrew before it ever became Tagalog, or Filipino, or Ilokano as it came from aleph and beta. We note that there is an interesting story on the alif-be-ta/’alibata’ genesis of the Tagalog which can be seen in Paul Morrow’s account in which, quoting Paul Verzosa who became a member of the National Language Institute of the Philippines, coined the term ‘alibata’ at the New York Public Library. Morrow cites Versoza further, saying that Versoza “based it on the Maguindanao arrangement of letters of the alphabet after the Arabic: alif, ba, ta,” with the letter ‘f’ dropped “for euphony’s sake.” Morrow, of course, does not buy this strategy for inventing the unnecessary, as is the case of Verzosa’s, and does not use ‘alibata’ in his works on the Philippine baybayin.

A quick glance at the intersection of at least three languages such as Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic would make us realize the play of concepts somewhere. We see that aleph and beta—the first two letters in Hebrew and Greek, with Hebrew Romanized and sounded off as ‘alef’ and ‘bet’ and Greek Romanized as ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’—could have been fused somewhere to account a latter rendition of the Arabic alphabet, with the first three letters alif, ba, and ta, which, if we believe Verzosa, could have been the basis of the Maguindanao alphabet. Granting that this route to the ‘alibata-ization’ of the purported ‘national language’ at that time, which was, by force of linguistic hegemony, clearly Tagalog, we see that in one instance, the fusing of the sounds allowed the process and power of neologism to come in to account a new linguistic and cultural human experience, for the benefit of the Tagalog language and, without perhaps intending to, at the expense of the other Philippine languages. The sounds, when combined, were made to behave in a Tagalog and/or Ilokano way, hence the word 'alibata', clearly, aleph-beta/alif-ba-ta, mispronounced and miswritten as it were, but now clearly appropriated. The notion of abecederia is the same thing: the a-be-ce of the Spanish language.

Every language is a sound, or more linguistically and anthropologically appropriate, a system of sounds. And the way to account the sound/s in a written form is arbitrary, convention-bound, historical, and cultural. In short, written accounting calls for a system, hence, some sense of constancy. And yet, to be democratic and just and fair, it must be an open system to admit change, some kind of a change that adds quality to human life.

We note here that the aleph-beta are the first two letters in the way the letters of the Greek-Hebrew alphabet have been ordered; the Arabic language appropriated this, in some sense, which is the reason why we caught it as well by force of trade and commerce, possibly by way of the Arab and Indian traders, which accounts for the Sanskrit influence of our language, such as the Ilokano word 'arak'. A documentation of this linguistic and cultural route would be an interesting area of research.

Every 'alphabet' is a linguistic, cultural, and historical convention. And it is also a political act and fact. This means that at some time in the past, some people have tacitly agreed to work things out this way and their way of 'working things out' this way became the convention. In acknowledging the ‘conventional’ in every language, we learn to accept that the way to ‘modernizing’ Ilokano is not through linguistic dictatorship or cultural authoritarianism. There is some kind of a political unconscious in every language and we must, at all times, be wary and ever ready to unmask those aspects of that political unconscious that are meant to deceive us. For language, as it were, is already a lie. We are to create another one and we are done in.

Any attitude that points to a generous and genuine idea of what democracy is, in concept as well as in practice to account an orthopraxis of what we are and what we want to be, ought to be the guiding light, our guiding light to modernize the Ilokano language. When we dream and pursue democracy, we extend that, in toto and thus without exception, to all that which concerns 'life': social, political, economic, cultural, and linguistic.

b) On the letters of the alphabet

There is today a very strong exchange of ideas on the new letters being recognized, for instance, by the Filipino language being passed off as ‘the national language’ even if it continues to also pass itself off as ‘the Tagalog-based national language of the Philippines’ and the incursions the various media, the internet included, into the consciousness of Ilokanos. This ‘globalization’ of sounds—and by extension, segments and elements of languages from all over the world—has created some kind of a linguistic, cultural, and more specifically ‘phonetic’ need to recognizing these new experiences, thus, the need to accept—or reject as the case maybe—these new sounds representing, in a micro-scale, new letters.
My take on this issue is simple: we take all of the sounds. And we have to be bold and daring to do so. In some ways, writers and cultural workers like Aragon, Manuel, Agpalo, and Padre have joined the fray to re-visiting and re-thinking about the letters of the kur-itan/kurditan and their position of accounting new sounds is the right way to go.
In a shrinking world, we cannot deny the drone and dreariness of the 'globalized' sounds of the present, this Present as Presence suggesting sounds from Czech Republic to Hezbollah in Beirut, thanks to the far-reaching arm of CNN on our cable. So what is the way to go? Admit Z in zero; X in X-ray, J in Jesus and Jerusalem, Ch in China, C in pancit Canton and Castila, and all the others. In this way, you enrich the language. Our ethical act should be one that enriches us all and not one that renders us impotent, inutile, and impoverished.

c) On Ilokano being pure

This is an impossible position, and the facts of linguistic and cultural exchange and diffusion do not warrant such a position from some quarters suggesting that we have to guarantee the purity of the Ilokano, the same kind of purity that it had in the past. That idea about Ilokano as a completely fenced off, completely insular, fully isolated linguistic phenomenon, clinically deodorized and Lysol-ed/Gladed is untenable. The facts of the case about Ilokano having had an encounter with various cultures and languages show otherwise.

We need to admit that this position contains some form of ignorance; we need to unmask this ignorance and unravel what a mangled faux meditation on what a ‘pure’ language and ‘pure’ culture ought to look like. To look at one’s own language as having some kind of ‘pristine’ quality is laudable but when the facts of the case say otherwise, we cannot hold on to this illusion for long unless we want to go through the motions of ‘compensation', one way of self-defense in order to hide what we lack. A language is not made richer because it is pure; a language is richer because it is able to meaningfully mediate the world for us to see and see with clarity of vision.

There is no pure language—and neither is there a pure culture, unless that language, in fiction as well as in fact, is so historically and geographically isolated that its speakers have not have any form of contact with other speakers of another language since time immemorial. All of human acts, customs, traditions, and languages are 'polluted'. Here and there we borrowed something and we never returned.

d) On ket/ken—and other remnants of the Spanish language

I present an argument here: That the way to go to modernize the linkers and/or conjunctive markers `ket' and `ken' is not to go back to the way they wrote two generations ago, with their Spanish penchant for the impossible 'Q' for 'quen' and 'quet'.

The way to go to modernize our language is to adopt the 'k' sound more obviously in keeping with the kur-itan/kurditan phones and with the more contemporary usage of many publications, to include Bannawag, Sirmata, Tawid, the Bible with many versions and other textbooks and literary materials. Here, widespread usage dictates.

We have to accept the dynamic of language use and usage: that those who use it in writing will eventually win out, at least for a time, until some other stronger forces will challenge that and unless a real, hard to undermine-kind of standardization has been put in place. The English language went through this a lot; its history of appropriating words and concepts from many source languages is a fountain of lessons for Ilokanos. The argument about allowing linguistic defilement to destroy what the Ilokano language has got is not in keeping with what happens everyday.

The clinicalized and deodorized way of looking at the Ilokano language is borne by a certain nostalgia for that which is untenable and illogical today, but nostalgia nonetheless for a time of that past that is not any longer our own time in the first place. And this time is not even ideal because it evokes the real defilement that we have to resist, and keep on resisting—this colonization and neocolonization of the Ilokano mind.

The principle for relevance of the praxis of language is its ability to express the mind-set/s, world-view/s, and perspective/s of the current users and not the way some people two or more generations ago thought of how the language ought to look like and to be written. Appropriation is the key: we borrow, take it as our own, and do not, not ever, return.

One thing that ought to govern us all in the collective attempt to 'modernize' Ilokano is to figure out a way to economize the way this language expresses itself and not to be extravagant with the expression. With the stereotype about Ilokanos being spendthrift and tightwad, why put in 'qu' when you can use 'k' instead, and more direct at that? Modernizing language is making it short, simple, and to the point.

2. Languages in history/history and language

Old languages tended to be represented in long ways and forms. They can even be reduplicative, verbose, ornate, florid, snaking unnecessarily towards hills and valleys and plains of thought instead of following the route straight ahead. Newer ones tend to economize their expression. Think of text/texting as a form of language. We see a lot of possibilities here.

This is also the principle of good writing, which opens to us a new way of looking at the literary. The 'Qu' is unpoetic; 'k' is. For one, poetry seems to be more exciting because it follows this rule on economy of expression. The prosaic—is—prosaic. That is why it remains true to say that: a good short story should have, first, the kernel of a poem, and, second, the kernel of a novel. The cue and clue here is the required economy of expression as part of the aesthetic strategy.

One example I could tell right off is Roy Aragon's "Indong Kagit". That is one perfect short story: poetic, and containing your novel's seed of creation and construction; his could have been one chapter of a good novel that indicts our society's injustices. The stories that are coming out, for instance, are not in accord with the notions of 'modernizing language' but following the prosaic excursions of the 'scientific world' that tries to explain everything even if some things need no explaining anyway.

Or we revisit the classic Johnny SP Hidalgo piece--classic because it is a pillar in short story writing--"Bituen ti Rosales." We read up on the grammar, the semantic promises, and the vast semiotic possibilities of that piece and we see that here is an aesthetic landmark whose meaning/s escape/s us all. I have probed Hidalgo's art and it escapes me. I have written about his poetic project in his poems and in his paintings and both escape me--the poetic in the painting and the painting in the poetic.

Here, it is not a question of going through the 'motions of Bannawag orthography' and allowing it, before our very eyes, its collective act of 'defiling' our language. Bannawag has its own interests to protect. To accuse this popular magazine of defilement—a magazine that has become an institution in Ilokano literature—is not according to form. Here, we see Nid Anima's impossible--impossible because it is ahistorical--concept of 'defilement'.

We account the subtexts here: (a) a pure Ilokano language; (b) an undefiled Ilokano language; (c) a pristine Ilokano language, untouched by human hands, colonization, pollution, diffusion, cross-cultural encounter and exchange. Tell me about the Ilokano/Tagalog word 'arak/alak' and let us see whether the illusion of grandeur about a pristine and pure and primeval Ilokano language holds water.

We need to see the wisdom of the present, that wisdom that we use to write the words in question. We need to drop the Qu in quen and quet and put ‘k’ instead for the reason that the more economical the expression, the better is the possibility that communication happens. Do we ever recall why in the documents the "Qu" form of our linker and conjunctive marker had become cumbersome, until probably the 60's and so the documents would shorten them, writing them as simply 'Qn' and 'Qt'? This, to me, is the clue to orthographic economy.

Why bother going back to the Doctrina Christiana's imperialist and colonizing agenda when we do not need it in this respect? Unmask the empire and the colony—and in extensu, the imperialist and colonizer in sheep's clothing in the Ilokano language. It is high time that we did this. If we do not do it now, when are we going to do it? We take only what we need along the way as we march on, together with our Ilokano language, to the beating of the drums of Ilokano language modernization and development.

3. The question of a ‘pure’ language and debunking Anima

If we look closely at the arguments presented by Nid Anima in his one-man act of crying foul against the defilement of the Bannawag people of the Ilokano language, we could come up with a riposte that argues as well that his position on the Ilokano language does not offer a plausible perspective on how we are to view the language and how are we to develop it. His position, thus, flawed as it is, eventually self-destructs.

There are certain things that we have to look into here—in the way he presents the logic of his argument.

One, his guerilla methodology or his lack of method in pursuing the logic of his cause, if he has any—or in pursuing both his logic's end and his cause.

Two, his position lacks a neat and nifty understanding of what scholarship ought to look like such that we can hardly believe him when he tells us things that are not backed up by solid research but by ‘impressionistic’ impressions.

Let me point out the facts from the paper he read at the 2002 GUMIL Filipinas-GUMIL Oahu Conference held in Honolulu, Hawai`i and which was reissued by Jim Agpalo in his blog,

a) On the Jose Villa Panganiban directive, he says: “A directive by the then Director of the Institute of National Language, Jose Villa Panganiban, brought about the cause of protest. This possibly occurred in the late 50’s or early 60’s.”

Here we see a classic Anima way of putting ideas together in a manner and fashion that is truly convoluted. If we go back to the meat of the two sentences, we do not know exactly what is being referred to. Is he referring to the Panganiban directive or to the protest that came after or both?

Why, for heaven’s sake, did he use the phrase “possibly occurred in the late 50’s or early 60’s”? How are we to believe him if he cannot even tell us exactly where he is getting his facts? “Possibly” has a lame reference—it has empty claims. It is at best impotent in the context it is used by Anima.

b) On the scope of that directive, he says: “The scope of that directive embraced as well as encompassed all local languages and dialects, including Ilocano. (JVP) theorized that the local dialects derived their origins from Bahasa Indonesia, which uses the letter k, and thus must conform—for authenticity’s sake.”

Here we go again. We see here a confused mind and a confused reasoning. Does Anima really know what he is talking about? Does he know the basic difference between a language and a dialect?

In the first instance, he talks about the Panganiban directive “(embracing) as well as (encompassing) all local languages and dialects, including Ilocano.” In the next instance, he talks about “the local languages (deriving) their origins from Bahasa Indonesia.” We cannot argue along fuzzy lines.

c) I am skipping his vengeful afterthought on Bannawag. The Bannawag people can defend themselves.

d) He then talks about the genesis of the ‘Iluco’ language, which he inconsistently referred to in the first part of his argument as “Ilocano”.

He talks about the flaws of the Panganiban directive, thus: “One, the Iluco as much as Tagalog language did not derive from Bahasa. Rather, they came of their own. They thrived, grew and flourished under Hispanic influence. Two, if the Iluco dialect must be subject to influence at all might it not be better if the influence is wielded by a superior language and not an inferior one? Between Bahasa and Spanish or English, there is no doubt as to which is more superior: it is quite obvious.”

Anima is confused about the Ilokano language “coming of its own” like Tagalog. Here, we see an Anima illusion of grandeur: that once there was a pristine and primeval language we call “Iluco,” his own term.

In the next breath, he speaks of “Iluco dialect.” Here, we see clearly a confused reasoning, sans logic, sans a solid understanding of the concepts of Linguistics 101 that any Tom, Dick and Harry could take in college. He cannot distinguish clearly between “language” and “dialect”—or cannot even explain in what contexts these are being used. In another breath, he speaks of “superior language” such as Spanish and/or English and an “inferior one” such as “Bahasa”.

What are his standards for saying that a language is more superior to the other—or conversely, more inferior to the other?

Here we see a neocolonial mind and mindset in operation, and without that mind and mindset knowing that it has been colonized anew. And then, what “Bahasa” is he referring to? Does he understand the very concept of “Bahasa”? Does he know that “Bahasa” is not only for Indonesia?

e) He talks about the “English language” growing by accretion—and then the dynamic of this accretion such that “the word coiners arrived at the exact term required.”

He then contrasts this with word coiners of the ‘Iluco’ language, saying “their counterparts in Iluco does it through sound association and arrive at something absurd and ridiculous. For instance, they adopted football into putbol. There is nothing in this word that denotes and/or connotes with foot and ball. Ditto with birth certificate locally represented as bert sirtipikit.”

Anima is clearly confused here, mistaking “accretion” for fidelity to the character and behavior of the word being borrowed such that it ought to have that character and behavior as in the original. No change, no manipulation, no linguistic intervention is ever allowed here. Wrong move, as appropriation does not operate this way.

4.0 Initial notes on enriching the Ilokano language

The formation of affixes, the coining of new words via word combination, and the invention of new ones are a product of the times: they are needed which was why they have to be thought out and put out before language users to use—or even to dismiss. To account sound association as ridiculous is to miss a fundamental point in appropriation as the key element in the concentric development and progress of a particular language.

Appropriation—also called borrowing and then owning it without returning to the source—makes sense only when what is borrowed is made to act and behave in the way the borrowing language acts and behaves.

We think of the borrowed words of English here—the words borrowed by the English language from so many sources and which it never returned but eventually made to behave as its own. Did the words ‘completely’ and ‘totally’ and ‘fully’ retain their spelling and pronunciation? Some, but many did not. What was more important is that all of these borrowed words had to conform to the acceptable sound system of the English language.

Anima, in his confusion, denies this same thing to Ilokano. Think of a bundle of contradictions here and we see in the twisted logic of the Anima conference paper that purports to teach us a lesson or two on the “defiling” of the Ilokano language.

What about his claim about football and its rendering into Ilokano as ‘putbol’? And that ‘bert sirtipikit’? I say: why not? His notion of connotation and denotation totally misses the point on appropriating. Do the Japanese have a term for ‘computer’? The answer is, yes, they have. The Japanese term for ‘computer’" has been derived from the English ‘computer’; it has been rendered in the way the Japanese language is sounded off. Who determines whether ‘bert sirtipikit’ will not work? Oh, well, the community of Ilokano speakers determines which lexicon is kept and which one is dropped or thrown away. If they will consider this as something that will make sense to them, they will keep it. Otherwise, it will go the way of words rendered obsolete.

f) Towards the end, of course, Anima’s way of writing, with orthography all his own, is being offered as the salving and redeeming in Ilokano language and writing. Anima says: “I have taken the first step by writing my first book in Iluco, Tartaraudi Ni Bucaneg, in the only manner it should be written. If you adopted the same in the writing of your own books, I strongly believe you and I can restore Iluco to its proper place.”

The huge problem with Anima is the huge ego in his huge project with no regard for the diachronia of the Ilokano language. He has forgotten many things including the fact that in the attempt to offer something redeeming and salving, dictatorship has no place. What he does is to dictate to us the “correct and proper way” to write in Ilokano—and this “correct and proper way” is arrogantly passed off as the Anima way. And he says, "This is the only way to do it." He invokes Bucaneg, of course, forgetting that Ilokano scholarship is not even too certain of Pedro Bucaneg. In fine, he invokes Allah. But this does not make his argument divine and coming from the heavens of his cloudy thought.

5. Responding to the commitment to modernize Ilokano

Why we need to respond to these detailed issues being raised is a commitment to ‘modernizing’ the Ilokano language. By modernization, I mean here the need to adopt the language to the changing needs of the times in order to account the experiences that are currently not ‘sayable’—both in oral and written form--within the context of the linguistic system of Ilokano. The resurgence as well of interests on things Ilokano in the Philippines and in the diaspora is also a factor that adds up to the urgent need to respond to these issues about the language and the culture in the language.

In the many gatherings that I have had the privilege to be part of and participate in the discussions, some as a speaker on the many topics of interest to these participants, the issue of standardization of the Ilokano language has always been of special import to me. It was at the University of the Philippines’ College of Arts and Letters that I had had the first chance to look at the Ilokano language with a certain self-reflexivity.

As is the case of every person born to the language, you get the feeling, high and intoxicating but as empty as an empty boast when you know full well that you have been, by the force of the historical accidents of your birth, to the language born. You get the feeling that you have the privilege, the perk, the pelf—and you can wag your tail and do not care about the world, not a whit. Like a lion, you roar, but the roar, you realize much later on, can suggest some bluff—or could be a real bluff.

When I got to teach a doctoral course on Ilokano literature—yes, Virginia, the literature of the Ilokanos is being taught at the university, in the undergraduate program on a cycle, on a rotating basis; in the master’s program; and in the doctoral—I felt panic as if I have not known what panic was all about. It was, in a tongue-in-cheek way, panic on panic. What to do? The teachers and scholars and writers would be in my class, some of them my colleagues in the department, some of them from the other topnotch colleges or universities. They all came to University of the Philippines-Diliman for the fact that UP Diliman, of all the many universities of the country, has the best of the intellectual resources of the nation, the republic, and the country all rolled into one. The social and intellectual expectation was too much to bear. That gave me the jitters. I did not want to make a fool of myself.

So I had to scour the UP Main Library. I had to look in every corner and when I could not satisfy my curiosity, I went to the Rizal Library of the Ateneo and to the National Library on Kalaw.

In these libraries, I realized many things. At the National Library, I saw a bundle of “Revolutionary Papers”—was it RPI that they called then? —a Katipunan set of documents attesting to the membership of the signatories of the documents to the nationalist movement. One of the membership documents I saw was one signed by an Agcaoili, in an elaborate handwriting, and saying that it was signed, as with the rest of them, in their own blood.

At the UP Main Library, I read up on that famous debate on the Ilokano language by the “Ilokanistas” of old, in the 30s, 40s, and onward. I saw the Ilokano version of the “Silaw” series of novelettes, the same kind that we would revive as Lailo Romances of the ICRI Writers Cooperative, or Juan SP Hidalgo’s literary projects, or another by the Milan Enterprises. At the Rizal Library, I saw Santiago Fonacier’s unreadable—read: unreadable, and unreadable because the Ilokano rendering is too darn bad and incomprehensible—translation of the Noli and the Fili.

This knowledge of the Katipunan documents from the National Archives of the National Library would forever haunt me, and in my writings, in poetry as in the short stories and my ambitious novels, this would inform and shape my aesthetic lifework forever.

In all these old documents, I have come across the Ilokano language written in the way people in those times would look at the grammar and semantics of their own knowledge of who they were and what they wanted to pursue.

In short, I saw all those “qs” and “cs” and all those Hispanicized expressions that, even if they contained some sense of clarity, were also inviting confusion. There was some elegance in the nostalgia of a “beautiful Hispanic past” if this were romanticized and idealized as some kind of a period of Ilokano history where only the good and beautiful and the true things happened.

But the social reality was not so.

The Spaniards betrayed us by conniving with then imperialist upstart United States and we know what the deal was: $20 M dollars for our liberty, for that one fat chance to declare our independence from Spain.

No, the Catholic Spaniards had more sinister notions about empire and religious mis/evangelization and setting us free would make a mockery of their “superior status” as a colonizer, this status the very reason for some of us unenlightened Ilokano scholars and writers to keep on holding to our “qs” in the “ket” and the “ken” and the “cs” in the “caramba” and “carajo”. But who says “caramba” and “carajo” still? I have not heard this in Vigan in a long while and neither in Laoag. Let those who have so much love for the useless remnants of the language cry foul and say, “You, you arrogant young people who never respect the past.”

I imagine I would answer back to the accusation to that charge of linguistic betrayal: “We are easing out the ‘qs’ in the ‘ket’ and the ‘ket’ and in other words because we know more of the social and linguistic history of the Ilokano language than those who insist on the relevance of irrelevant fossils.” I would also add: “We want to think—and we want to think clearly so we want to simplify our Ilokano language the best way we know how. As it is, the language is already difficult to learn even if you speak it. Why add another cross to the already heavy cross of learning your own language because in reality you do not know enough about it?”

That answer, of course, is also addressed to me. I do not know much about the Ilokano language. Perhaps I know enough to have that empty boast and that empty stance. But I am willing to listen and learn if somebody can pinpoint to me a clear logic for doing so, with proofs and persuasive argument. So do we need nostalgia as a principle in the accounting of what ought to prevail in standardizing the Ilokano language?

What do I tell the people who ask about standardizing our Ilokano language? Do I see a problem here? What can I say as a writer? What can I say as a teacher of the language?

I have only one answer: We have a tacit standard Ilokano. Discover it, use it, and listen to it so you can help out in the evolving of a richer and more dynamic repertoire of the language.

And I tell them as well: What we need to do is reaffirm its power and its legitimacy—and we go from there. I admit there is no explicit standard at this time. This is the reason why there are these varying voices, attitudes, and positions. Then again, have we arrived at a point where we have a sufficient repertoire so we can now move on to standardizing our language in an academic sense?

So what do we do with the borrowed words? I argue for the need to spell the borrowed words in accord with the spelling and phonetic system of the borrowing language. This argument is based on the urgency of going through appropriation in a manner that is historically appropriate.

In particular, it argues for the illogicality of retaining the spelling of the borrowed word in Ilokano when such a word admits the possibility and actuality of a spelling in accord with the spelling and phonetic system of Ilokano. It argues further that there can be exceptions to this rule, but the exceptions are, by themselves, exceptions.

6. Appropriating appropriation

In the act of appropriating—a technique, method, and theory espoused in hermeneutics—there is a certain dynamic that needs to be understood properly: that when an existing language happens to not have the term/word—in classical philosophy, these are not the same but I am using these in a generic sense—for a new experience and that another language happens to have it, or happens to have invented it ahead of the others and that invention has gained currency, then we do not have to crack our head to avoid borrowing it but simply borrow it. Coming up with our own is a waste of time, and there could be some cognitive, epistemic, interpretive, and linguistic problems generated if we keep on trying harder just to 'remain faithful' to the terms or words or concepts of the language we are borrowing from.

In a tongue-in-cheek way, we have a running joke about the Tagalog language trying to be faithful to the words afforded by Tagalog, but as always, one cannot always succeed, as is the case of the following foreign words: chair, men's brief, and ladies' underwear.

Your guess is as good as mine in terms of what impossible terms could come out: salumpuwit for chair because we do not want the Spanish cilla/silya. But what about the translation issue about ‘men’s brief’ and ‘ladies' underwear’? People have laughed at this cheap form of clowning that is based on a fallacy of accent and amphibology, in a sense, and one can be irreverent here—but this whole exercise is for a not-so-good fun about translation and its horrific incommensurability problems.

The "Pilipino" method of "kung anong bigkas, siyang baybay--the manner it is spoken is the manner it is written"--is not a franchise of Pilipino or its genesis, as claimed by the uninformed advocates of what Tagalog is in terms of the r/evolution necessary to account a national language for the Filipino people.

That procedure has been used by many other languages long before—and is easily documented by going back to the history of a word or a concept for that matter—and as the whole thing is seen in the context of a bigger dynamic we could call "a study of the history of ideas."

The idea for adopting the spelling and pronunciation of a foreign word in the manner and form a term/concept a word is spelled and pronounced in the borrowing language is the way to go.

Why so?

One, the word/term borrowed gets to assume a more 'naturalized' position/entry in the lexicon of the language and thus, would not any longer looking strange, foreign, and 'unnatural/unnaturalized'. This will pave the way for it to become totally 'natural' in the borrowing language.

Two, this approach would make the borrowing one of ownership, which is a condition for the term/word to get to become a 'natural' lexicon of the language.

Three, the appropriation becomes complete as the borrowed word/concept/term cannot be returned as it has been spelled by the borrowing language such that, the language from which the original word came about cannot any longer claim as its own even if, conceptually and linguistically, it came from it.

When a foreign language/term/concept is retained, you will encounter many problems such as:

a) Can the phonetic system allow it to be pronounced in the original way it is pronounced? It is likely that the borrowed word is pronounced differently, as is the case, of "computer." Check the English dictionary and you will see that the way it is pronounced in its roots/etymology is not the same way the resulting word is pronounced, and this resulting word 'computer', for instance, could not be pronounced in the same way in Ilokano. Our Ilokano ‘r’ is not the same as the English ‘r,’ whether American or British.

b) Can the spelling system allow it? It is unlikely that the spelling system allows it and that is the reason why the borrowed word must be spelled as well in the same spelling system of the borrowing language.

The 'reintellectualization position' of some philosophers of the Ilokano language does not hold water in toto: in some ways, that position can hold but in more ways than one, that simply cannot be sustained.

The gains are less than the losses. And if they do insist on this--on retaining the original spelling of the borrowed word because of (a) nostalgia for things American and Spanish and what not, including perhaps Arabic now where many Ilokanos go and return to the Ilokos with their Arabicized concepts and/or (b) respect for the language from which the word is coming from--then they must account a new phonetic, lexical, and spelling system; and then they must account as well how to go about appropriating in a true fashion a new concept to account our new experience without importing extra-linguistic variables.

7. A take on ‘reintellectualization’

One issue at stake in all these debates, argumentation, and never-ending proposition-espousal relative to the 'standardization' issue of the Ilokano language is what Joel Manuel calls 'reintellectualization.'

Of all the many younger thinkers and tinkers of the Ilokano language—and we thank this present generation of writers, educators, and cultural critics of Ilokano language and literature for taking on the cudgels of showing care and commitment for and in the name of our people—Manuel stands out.

I would come out with a random naming now of who is in his own class, veritably some of our best, with a portfolio of work/s to show that can even shame the older generation, well, some of them, who never read any other works anymore apart from their own and the manuscripts that they are asked to judge, believing that Ilokano literature is in accord with their own and only own image of what literature and art and aesthetics should be, their fossilized view of literature really fossilized. These new thinkers and tinkers—critical and creative—include: Roy Aragon, John Buhay, Arnold Jose, Pete Duldulao, Daniel Nesperos, Aileen Rambaud, Jim Raras, Dan Antalan, Ariel Tabag, and now this Jake Ilac. The fingers are sufficient--you can forget the toes or the Meralco posts in Manila’s crowded streets where Ilokano is spoken side by side with Tagalog, Cebuano, and English, as in the crowded streets of Los Angeles, San Diego, Honolulu, London, New York, and San Francisco.

What do they have in common? They love the language, they play with its possibilities, and they have no love lost in the foreign language and they can even write in it including that Tagalog being passed off as Filipino.

At one point, and as a result of such act of loving and caring for the language, Manuel proposed a method and methodology to the 'reintellectualization' of Ilokano, an intellectual position picked up in some way, in the way I would reckon the blogs and the exchange of ideas in them, by Aragon, Raras, Agpalo, and Joe Padre from Los Angeles.

Let us recall the linguistic, and may I say, ‘intellectual’ position of Manuel to, using his term, ‘reintellectualize’ the Ilokano language.

He says, based on the published/blogged account of Agpalo in “There are proposals for us to use the f, v, c, n, x and others. This is based on the Spanish. Oh yes, this is good because this will intellectualize more the Ilokano language. Like the following: unibersidad-universidad, pasilidad-fasilidad, interaktibo-interaktivo, eksorsismo-exorsismo, kualifikado-kualipikado, rebolusion-revolusion, pormal-formal, birhen-virgen, tekstura-textura, ekspresion-expresion.”

To explain his point, Manuel comes up with an elaborate technique and I quote him in the Ilokano original: “Kayat a sawen daytoy nga amin a natawidtayo a balikas iti Espanol ken English ket marespetar ti pannakabalikasna ken agingga iti kabaelantayo ti ispelingna, saan a kas iti inaramid dagiti Tagalog a nangikkat iti f, ken dadduma pay. Kadagiti napalpalabas a tawen insublida ngem kasla nakupad met ti Liwayway a mangipatungpal iti dayta.” (This means that all words that we inherited from the Spanish and English must be respected in the way they are pronounced and as far as we can accept their spelling, unlike the way the Tagalog removed f and other letters. In the recent past, the Tagalog returned the letters they removed but it seems that Liwayway is too slow to follow that.)

And then Manuel talks of how the revered Juan SP Hidalgo uses the same approach in Rimat, a magazine, now defunct, he used to edit: “Kas iti ar-aramiden ni Apo Johnny (sic) Hidalgo iti Rimat, isubsublinan ti respeto kadagiti balikas a binulodtayo, daytoy ket para iti in-inut a (sic) reintelektualisasion ti Iluko.” (Like what Johnny Hidalgo of Rimat is doing, he is giving back the respect to the words we are borrowing, and this is for the gradual re-intellectualization of Iluko).

The intent of Manuel to speak about ‘reintellectualization’ is laudable.

But there is a huge problem here: his notion of ‘reintellectualization’ follows the same Bonifacio Sibayan notion in his mistake to make Pilipino and its schizophrenic twin Filipino ‘intellectualized’, forgetting that each language, by its very nature, has its own sacred and secret way of intellectualizing the world.

From a philosophical point of view, ‘intellectualization’ suggests the ability of a language to explain what the world is all about, the world in general, in its most lucid and metaphorical sense, in its complexity, in its everyday and extraordinary nature.

I do not understand, therefore, why any language, for that matter, needs ‘reintellectualization’ from the outside, suggesting that the world created by the Ilokano language, for that matter, needs to be ‘reintellectualized’ from the outside and to do so, as claimed by Manuel and Hidalgo, following the Sibayan bluff to make the schizoid Tagalog-Pilipino-Filipino appear like that of any ‘intellectualized’ language of the world, and by that, we can presume, Sibayan was bluffing his way to make one mistake after another because, in his mind, he was looking to Spanish and English as his ‘intellectualized’ model of what an ‘intellectualized’ language should be.

My take on intellectualization and that abominable term ‘reintellectualization’ is that of the inherent quality of any language to have an ‘intellect’, a word from middle English, old French, and obviously from Latin, from the verb “intelligere” forming a past participle, intellectus. Here we see cognates: ‘mind,’ in its most generic sense, and obviously the adjective, ‘intelligent.’

My worry with Sibayan’s schizoid approach of Tagalog spinning off, in a rather forced way, into the schizoid Pilipino/Filipino, is that he did not have enough trust and confidence in what the Tagalog language could do, and rather than admitting that Tagalog—or that language form, Pilipino/Filipino, rammed into our throat—did not have the contemporary terms to account the contemporary experience of the Tagalog people/Pilipino people/Filipino people—what are we really here, who are we?—he called for ‘intellectualization.’ He argues that unless we can have knowledge—and his notion of knowledge is in the academic sense, and in terms of degrees from the baccalaureate to the doctorate—fully mediated by the schizophrenic Tagalog/Pilipino/Filipino, we can never, according to him, reach an intellectualized ‘national language.’

The question here is: Does the Tagalog language lack the capacity to discuss and explain in an intelligent way what the world is all about? Or was it the case that Sibayan was so linguistically and culturally handicapped when he was confronted with the ‘astronomical’ ‘astronomy’ issues related to the planet Pluto as it is the case now? Has Sibayan forgotten the bigger issues related to the sociolinguistics of the national language and the abominable history of our colonial mis/education via, and because of, the foreigners’ language/s? Here we see that Sibayan did not do his job well: he simply did not understand what intellectualization is all about and here comes this concept again about intellectualization that means only borrowing someone else’s terms in the effort to intellectualize/reintellectualize your language.

Now the huge problem: we are following the same Bonifacio trap and calling, among others, to ‘reintellectualize’ our own.

At best, this is ‘bad trip’—as the vagabond intellectual would call as it suggests the low regard, unconsciously and unintentionally, I am sure, Manuel and Hidalgo have for the Ilokano language. One big problem I have is that I cannot even believe before my very eyes that they do know the consequences of this concept of ‘reintellectualization’ as they are both pillars in their generations of Ilokano language use, being both top-notch literary figures in their own league. We do things with words—and Manuel and Hidalgo might have unconsciously and unintentionally forgotten this reality with words—and language for that matter—as our own mode of action.

The equation being proposed is that ‘reintellectualization is equal to retaining the spelling of the borrowed word as much as you can—an equation clearly proposed by Manuel, following Hidalgo, and in some light, by Joe Padre, one of the better exiles in Los Angeles who think thoughts in clear terms about what and who we are as a people with a language worth our loving wherever we are. Aragon takes up this proposal, and Agpalo as well, and both experiment with their works.

The equation lacks conceptual validity: what Manuel is doing is not ‘reintellectualizing’ but allowing the Ilokano language to open itself to the possibilities of appropriating words that we do not have to account our new experiences.

And this is not peculiar to Ilokano language alone, as this is being done by all languages—and they do not call this ‘reintellectualization’, a demeaning word, subservient, colonial and colonizing, and carries with it the burden of allowing oneself to become an appendage of another linguistic and cultural empire. In the end, we have allowed this new hegemony, cultural and linguistic, to come take hold of our minds, our intelligence, as if our Ilokano language does not and cannot reveal a mind and intelligence.

I could be accused of nominalism here, that philosophical position as ancient as ancient Greece, that position that holds, among others, that the ‘name/nomen’ counts—and is the only things that counts—to account reality.

Then again, I am holding my ground: what Hidalgo, Manuel, Agpalo, Aragon, and Padre are doing and proposing is not intellectualizing but appropriating, that phenomenon in which borrowing is necessary, even expedient and urgent for the ‘contemporizing’—modernization—of language, speech, concepts in order to account contemporary experience by borrowing words, terms, and concepts, and making them your own, and not returning it.

Wrong diction there by the ‘reintellectualization’ group of philosophers. This school of thought follows a Sibayan empty boast of the need to intellectualize and reintellectualize Tagalog. That is Sibayan’s conceptual problem which we should have not picked up and repeated. Let Sibayan’s Tagalog/Pilipino/Filipino commit the blunder there is in evolving a truly Filipino language from a false rhetoric of what ought to constitute a ‘national language’.

In appropriating, we do not have to be subservient to the language we are borrowing the terms from and not returning but claiming it as our own.

We need to be careful here with the registers of the terms we are using, as these registers carry with them the weight that is not only linguistic but extra-linguistic as well: historical, cultural, economic, political, and philosophical. No, we do not allow this to happen again.

But let us see some merits in Manuel’s procedures for appropriating, and I have been doing the same thing myself, in a number of my writings, both in Ilokano and Filipino (not Sibayan’s impossible Tagalog/Pilipino): n, x, f, z, ll.

But you have a problem here: you cannot use them all in all instances when their sounds do not allow for a complete entry into the phonetic system of the Ilokano language.

The first duty is to be faithful to the existing phonetic system and what that system can allow. And when, in the pragmatics of our speech and language, when that sound that we are introducing is not really there but needs to be there, then that is the only time for us to introduce a new ‘phone’, a new sound, but always in keeping with other linguistic and extra-linguistic variables.

The clue here is an intelligent, critical scrutiny, and not some borrowing that is not well thought out, a method and procedure to borrowing that wants to respect the term/word of the language where that term/word was borrowed by not changing it at all. In appropriation, there is more to just respecting the original term/word without taking into account the phonetic system of the borrowing language and its structure of accounting sense and meaning.

As well pointed out by previous critics of the Tagalog language being passed off as Pilipino/Filipino, the problem with the Tagalog imperialists and advocates of hegemony is that they forgot the history and the political imagination present in the word “Filipino” to account both the nation and the people—and thus, the national language, such that, in their ignorance of the dynamics of such a history and political imagination, they rammed into our throats their term “Pilipino” to account for the language and “Filipino” for the people—or is it the reverse now?

If you look at the “Filipino language” program of many universities in the Philippines and abroad, we see clearly a schizophrenic program run and managed by people who have no clear notions on what linguistic imperialism and hegemony are all about and what constitutes linguistic democracy. And these are the Tagalog “imperialists” passing off new notions of “linguistic and cultural empire” without intending to but doing it just the same anyway.

We are crying foul about linguistic empires and emperors and here, in our own midst, are the new linguistic emperors and their linguistic empire. We do not want to repeat the same mistakes even if we want to dream of a richer Ilokano language, with vaster possibilities for the future generations.

It is easier when you do not have the sound and you include that sound in the current phonetic system as is the case of x and z. I use both to account the Ilokano examen, examinasion, text, texto, textual, zero, zeta, zigzag.

The reason is simple: we do not have the x sound, and the ‘ks’ combinatory might account it but it is not it and here again, you are using two letters instead of one, a real waste of ink, energy, and mind

And the z? Oh, put in there, please.

But does this work with the other sounds, with all the sounds we are borrowing? No. Our duty is not to betray what the Ilokano language offers. Our duty is to make it richer, fuller with meaning, and more open to the vast possibilities of the present and the future.

8. Tentative Notes to a Conclusion

One of the better metaphors and paradigms to understand the r/evolution of Ilokano language is from the religious literatures particularly the main religious texts of the established and organized churches.

In August, the writers Lorenzo and Sinamar Tabin, now based in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Unites States of America, gifted me with their latest translation work of “The Book of Mormons.” While I have not had the chance to look closely at their strategy for translation, I have an initial assessment, however tentative this is: that the translated work has the same elegance of language of the original work.

I am aware of the philosophical issues of translation, even the linguistic dilemmas that every translator has to face and resolve right on the dot.

My experience as translator and as a translation consultant in a number of organizations both government and private and both in the United States and the Philippines has given me a vantage point that made me realize that, to quote one of the pillars of Ilokano Literature Juan SP Hidalgo Jr in our long distance telephone conversation on September 20, 2006 “to translate is as difficult as to write an original piece.”

I remember that in my work as an associate of the Institute of Creative Writing of the University of the Philippines, I was tasked to render to Filipino the Ilokano poems and short stories selected for inclusion to the annual National Writers Workshop.

I admit that some of the entries were good that I did not do much except to discover ways to have the worlds created in these pieces commensurate with the worlds in the translation.

But some were also not so good, and I did not have much choice except to render them better in the translation without losing sight of the core of meaning in the terrible Ilokano original.

My dilemma was whether I would have to endorse a not-so-good work as part of the National Writers Workshop or simply say “No Way Jose!” and our space for inclusion in the national discourse on writings from the regions would disappear fast.

I held out, following more of the strategy for recognition for many of our rising younger writers. I did not mind the mediocrity of some of the works but moved on from there and tinkered with the translation to let it appear that some of these works has some luster, quality, brilliance. I did not tell the younger writers this strategy. I preferred to not offend them at the early part of their thankless writing career in Ilokano.

I thought that my translation was a ‘better’ rendition of their mediocre original—and some writers even had the temerity of saying that my rendition in Filipino/Tagalog was far off from the Ilokano original.

The lesson I got from here is that: a bad original can be rendered good in the translation but you may be accused of making worse than the mediocre original.

I remember that to defend myself in these literary and translation assaults, I had to give a long lecture on the hermeneutic basis of my translation technique and strategy. I do not know if I made sense but I thought that having heard me made the young writers and teaching fellows realize that I learned my hermeneutics well and that I was not absent when I enrolled for my linguistics course.

This leads us to the strategy utilized by the Watchtower Bible Society that published what would popularly be called as the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ version of the Ilokano Bible.

This Ilokano Bible published in 1987 and is widely used by the Ilokano congregations of this religious group in Hawaii and in the Philippines, has the permission as well of the Philippine Bible Society, a kind of a symbol for authoritativeness in the translation.

If we look closely at this version of the Bible—and I must say that I am not a member of the Jehovah’s Witness but I share their passion for getting at the heart of the Word of God in its most general sense—we see two complementing strategies for the two covenants.

The Old Testament has all the orthography of the Ilokano-Spanish variety, with all the c's and q’s all over. The New Testament, however, has evolved a form of writing that is more recognizable today by our access to what may be termed as popular literature: comics, novelettes, the popular magazines, documents, newspapers, and the media.

Those in their twenties today, I am sure, cannot read the Old Testament in that form, and from a visual standpoint, the spelling would not work as it would not register well. Reading is essentially visual and seeing a word being written sometimes reminds us that somewhere that word spelled wrongly visually hints that.

There is an emotional and psychic investment in reading and I would say that I will never read Shakespeare again if the condition for reading him again is to read him in the original medieval Anglo-Saxon spelling used several centuries ago. No, thank you. That kind of English does not sit well with how I look at the literary.
This, I think, is one problem that the ‘reintellectualization’ philosophers of the Ilokano language has to contend with, a position that we see in the extremist position of Nid Anima and tempered, in some ways, by the more enlightened position of Juan SP Hidalgo, Joel Manuel, Roy Aragon, Joe Padre, Jim Raras, and Jim Agpalo.

I surface here a linguistic issue, one that calls for regression rather than progression, a return to Old Testament orthography in an effort to enrich the Ilokano language, forgetting, and being blind to, the rich possibilities for progression to commence with the New Testament approach.

Let me be clear here: I am not espousing the Bible per se.

What I am putting forward is the trope, rich and enriching, that this Bible presents to us from a linguistic standpoint. And this linguistic issue concerns us as this presents to us alternatives to revisiting the manner by which we write, in a modernized way, the Ilokano language.

I am certain of the issues of the content of translation. One issue I have been harking on, for instance, is that point about the “Our Father”, a key prayer in many feudalistic, medieval and patriarchal religious groups.

One thing, for instance, has always made me extra vigilant: In the original Aramaic in which that prayer was recited by Jesus, was there a gendered reference to a God that is all-powerful and almighty? I have a guess: the gendering and sexualization of a God is a result of the gendering and sexualization of that world invented by the West, a world categorized and hierarchized in terms of the male gaze, oblivious of other possible, and perhaps more fecund, gazes.

The same alternative gaze--or gazes--is what we need to properly revisit the issues connected to the standardization of the Ilokano language.


Agcaoili, Aurelio S. “Notes on the Modernization of Ilokano,” series,; also serialized in Tawid Magazine, September- November 2006.

Agcaoili, Aurelio S. “Linguistic Democracy, Identity, and Nationhood,” in A. Agcaoili, et al., Eds. Salaysay: Essays on Language and Literature. Quezon City: Kaguro & Miriam College, 2001.

Agpalo, Jimmy. “Ti kurditan, ortograpia, lenguahe, kdp,” serialized in; also, Tawid Magazine, August-November 2006.

Espiritu, Precy, “2006 Nakem Conference to highlight Ilokano language and culture,” The Weekly Inquirer, United States of America, 27 Oct-2 Nov 2005 V1N18, (B1).

Foronda, Marcelino Jr. A. “A Bibliographic Survey of Iloko Linguistics, 1621-1974 with a Preliminary Bibliography of Iloko Linguistics,” in M. Foronda Jr. Kailokuan: Historical and Bibliographical Studies. Manila: Philippine National Historical Society, 1976, (pp.74-133).

Manuel, Joel D. in Jimmy Agpalo,

Morrow, Paul, “Baybayin—The Ancient Script of the Philippines,”

Honolulu, HI
Oct 10, 2006