Ilokano Language Struggle

Ilokano and Amianan Studies:
Philosophical, Cultural, Linguistic
and Epistemological Considerations

Aurelio S. Agcaoili, PhD
University of Hawai`i-Manoa

Paper presented at the 2007 Nakem International Conference, Mariano Marcos State University, Batac, Ilocos Norte, Philippines, May 22-25, 2007

The paper proposes perspectives and paradigms through which Ilokano and Amianan Studies could be drawn up as a mode of knowledge critically reflecting the varying experiences of the peoples of Ilocos and Northwestern Luzon, this latter place made up of various linguistic and cultural experiences but shares Ilokano as its lingua franca in public life and in governance. Arguing from the framework that a real, genuine, and liberating studies on the Philippines cannot come from a hegemonic position provided in a two-tiered way by the “Englishization” and “Tagalogization” of Philippine national and communal experience, the paper sets to put together some arguments for the urgency of Ilokano and Amianan studies as an antidote to the systemic erasures effected by nationalization, neocolonization, and globalization.

These forces have stifled the growth of creativity from the various cultures and languages of the Philippines. Four perspectives—philosophical, cultural, linguistic, and epistemological—will be used to generate the argument needed to advance the claim that studies about the Philippines cannot afford to be a totalizing political exercise in the name of the Philippine nation and Philippine nationalism without at the same time scrutinizing the linguistic, epistemic, and cultural effects of such a totalizing exercise.

Philippine Studies as a Revolutionary Perspective and the Search for the Epistemic Roots of Ilokano and Amianan Studies

There are several ways by which we can look at Philippine Studies (PS) as a paradigm of knowledge, with the concept of paradigm here used following the Kuhnian second sense, “paradigm as shared examples” (1970: 187) or “exemplary past achievements” (1970: 175).

What we have here is that even with Blumentritt’s ethnolinguistic excursus and that of Jose Rizal, we can only have some sort of “Pilipinolohiya” (“Pilipino + lohiya”) that was aimed, at best, to look at the universe of Filipinos as colonial exhibits against oppression; or colonial trophies, with the stress on the “barbarism” and “savagery” of a people as in the St Louis Fair of 1904 in Missouri complete with villages and peoples imported from the conquered Philippine Islands; or that idea of the search for origin, some kind of a genealogy to spite the colonizers’ aim of ‘civilizing’ us, as in the claim of Rizal that the people of the Philippines come from the Malay race (Azurin 1995: 9).

Such slanted aims of Philippine Studies as a mode of knowledge, and as understood in the past, do not warrant a new model of Philippine Studies that we are trying to evolve today. With the University of the Philippines on the forefront for its conceptualization during the turbulent 60’s and 70’s and graduating many of the current scholars who can readily show the change in the cognitive frame being used in those two models of Philippine Studies, we now have a perspective of Philippine Studies that is both critical and committed—critical of the modes of producing and reproducing knowledge about the Philippines and committed as well to the production of a dynamic and continuing because always-exploratory knowledge of Philippine society, its people, its cultures, its languages, its politics, and its economic life.

The stress on the exploratory, tentative, and open-ended nature of knowledge resulting from this view of Philippine Studies is required by the admission of the interpretive nature of all human knowledge, with the recognition and admission at the same time of the mediating power of human language in all these forms of human knowledge.

For the interpretive view of human knowledge grounds itself with the urgent and expedient need to acknowledge that human knowledge, in all historical times, has always been marked by a certain historical ‘situatedness,’ by the requisites of time and place, by the requisites of actors and actions commingling and coming into a human enterprise but always understood, however tentatively, by the prevailing mode of human communication we call human language, thus, the human language that is a dialect, the language that is used in its ‘everydayness.’ Because it is the everyday language—the dialect—that speaks us, that speaks to us, that speaks with us, and to whom to do we also speak about, speak to, speak with, and speak from. Our everyday understanding of the world is thus always-already a result of, and made possible by, this everyday language—thus, in fine, there is no everyday language opening up a world to everyday knowledge that is final, complete, immutable, incorruptible, unpolluted, and pure.

All these factors, when considered with intellectual integrity, helps us realize that Philippine Studies is not about essentialism and about absolutes, but about the desire—the rugso and the derrep—to get to have both a theoretical and practical basis of understanding the world, the self, and human experiences.

The ground of the revolutionary is the need and the desire to keep on renewing our understanding of the world, with the renewal mandated by surprises and terrors of change, but always measured by our ability to come to terms with the constancy of that change, always on the ready to confront it, resist it, rework it, subdue it, or accept it. To understand the evolutionary frame in which Philippine Studies has gone through for the last 150 years of so, we can speak of a heuristics here, a broad segmentation defined by the requirements of social change: (a) a pre-revolutionary, pre-liberating model and (b) a liberating model.

In 1974, the University of the Philippines approved what it called the Ph.D. in Philippine Studies, a multidisciplinal graduate program, with the principal objective of “train(ing) students who are able to look at Philippine problems from a multidisciplinary point of view” in response to the need of the Philippines for scholars trained along multidisciplinary lines” (Bautista 1991: 24).

From a formal academic perspective, this visionary direction taken by the UP at that crucial time in the 70’s indicates the maturation of the same radical and revolutionary ideas the 60’s fermented among the ranks of those who had the courage to say that there was something wrong with the country and that something had to be done. While this institutionalization of this perspective augured a new way of looking at the things that concerned the country, we must understand that this new way finds its roots and connection with the earlier revolutionary struggles of our people that included, among others, the need to break the colonial ties that bounded it with the colonizers.

IAS draws its energy and √©lan from this same revolutionary and radical tradition. The sporadic revolts from the Ilocos is not one among and of the Ilocanos alone, this we see clearly in William Henry Scott’s Ilocano Responses to American Aggression, and in Resistance and Revolution in the Cordillera edited by Delfin Tolentino Jr. (1994) particularly Scott’s “Igorot Responses to Spanish Aims: 1576-1896” and “Bontoc Uprising of 1881,” Luis Talastas’ “The Battle of Lias: Resistance in Eastern Mountain Province,” and Fay Dumagat’s “The Role of the Itneg (Tinggian) in the 1896 Revolution.”

Here in these accounts and many others are the historical, ideological, and liberating relationships among the various cultural communities and indigenous peoples of Amianan, who bound by both the wind direction and by a culture they share with the earlier Y’ami/Ami/Yami peoples and enriched by Hindu, Buddhist, and Arabic culture they have come into an encounter with. Where then do we draw this concept of Ilokano and Amianan Studies in the context of the evolutionary developments of Philippine Studies, with its clearer and clearer direction towards knowledge that is liberating, with the idea of liberation from the very notion of what, in Ilokano “wayawaya” is all about.

The stress on the concept of wayawaya here is accidental and is traceable more to the acknowledgement of Ilokano as a lingua franca in these parts, with the idea of lingua franca tentatively removed from the colonizing intents of dominant languages. For the making of Ilokano as a lingua franca in Amianan is not a result of a legislative or an executive act, and if at all there is manipulation somewhere, these manipulations are not clearly intended but came in as a result of the exchange and diffusion of ethos and language, including the movement of commerce among the indigenous peoples.

For clearly, the Ilokanos are not better off economically from the other indigenous peoples in Amianan, with the people’s resources far more diminished than the IPs in these parts, which was why one of the main reasons fro outmigration is clearly the Ilokanos’ need to clear a new land in order to survive, coax it to fertility and then own it, and then build a semblance of the community they have left behind, by, among others, naming that new land with the name of the community they left behind, thus, a Kavintaran is not far off as a community somewhere in Nueva Viscaya.

What do all these things mean?

Simply put: the Ilocos is not separate from the larger terrain of the Amianan, both as a physical and geographic reality and more so, as a psychological territory of diffused experiences and a long memory of cultural and economic relationship. This simply means that the broader framework for Amianan Studies includes studies about the Ilocos, about the BIBAAK peoples (a term used more as a cultural organization in Honolulu and in San Diego: Benguet, Ifugao, Bontoc, Apayao, Abra, Kalinga), and about the peoples of Amianan that outmigrated or have gone to other places and evolved their own communities in these new lands they have settled in. In the end, the IAS is not simply about a local area of studies, but an area of studies that is beyond an area itself but includes those that speak to these and about these peoples and hoping that these peoples will in turn speak to and about IAS.

To evolve an IAS whose subject matter is clear is far easier, one that can faithfully speak to and about the peoples in the Amianan.

But to demand from the Amianan peoples the same sensitivity and sensibility does not come in conversely, as this comes with some epistemic duties based on, largely, the ability to get into metanoia about what a liberating and critical and committed knowledge is all about.

For today, the records are coming in clearer: that so few of our peoples in Amianan have the courage to own up their cultures and languages, with the Ilokano peoples the number one of those who have the lack of wisdom to deny their Ilokanoness. The empirical data are coming in handy, and the accounting of our community activities can only come logically.

How many of the Ilokanos, for instance, have the courage to own up their language?

The answer to this is a kind of a chasm, a divide and rule thing, a consequence of the this new mode of colonization all non-Tagalog peoples are going through at this time.

The challenge comes from the report of academics, from the ranks of public school teachers who say that their pupils and students no longer take pride in their being Ilokanos. Mabainda nga agilokano—they would be embarrassed to speak Ilokano—the teachers would say. This is a concrete report, as factual as one can get.

But real problem comes in when we ask teachers how many of them—these teachers who are making the report—have had the boldness and daring to own up their Ilokanoness.

Indeed, how many of our teachers can speak our Ilokano language with flair and elegance, the educated and formal sophistication that demands a continuous reflection of the vast possibilities of the Ilokano language? How many of our teachers can ever speak the Ilokano language with pride, and with a full acknowledgement of the terrors and surprises the Ilokano language offers?

How many, may I know, of the teachers in our ranks, of the teachers here present in this conference, can speak with pride, of the literary history of our people?

How many, may I know, of the teachers attending this conference can be seen reading Bannawag, Tawid, Saniata, Rimat, and other magazines in Ilokano without feeling insecure, ashamed, embarrassed, promdi, baduy, udong?

How many, may I know, of the academic leaders and cultural workers present in this gathering can speak with confidence and expertise, what our Ilokano writers writing in Ilokano, Tagalog, English, Spanish and many other languages are writing?

How many know Leona Florentino and her sorrows, her daring and her artistic way of owning up her own brand of feminism? How many know Ursula Villanueva? How many know Antonio Rubio? How many know Juan San Pedro Hidalgo Jr.?

How many know many of our hypervaluated writers writing not in Ilokano but in Tagalog and in English, and in a more remote past, in Spanish?

How many know of the Basi Revolt and its translation into a series of paintings, in panels, and displayed, in bad condition, at the Burgos Museum in Vigan?

How many know how our writers continue to plumb the Ilokano soul by plumbing his own soul as well?

How many of our otherwise promising writers we are losing to other trades and industry because we do not read, because we do not take pride in the Ilokano work that we read if we ever read at all, and because we do not care whether the Ilokano language will ever survive and thrive in the next five years?

Many of us academics, teachers, educational leaders, cultural workers, and even government men and women are ignorant of so many things Ilokano even if we are not supposed to be because we are supposed to be knowing better than the average man or woman on the street. History has given us all this rare moral and political obligation, born of our special blessings, to become witnesses to the Ilokano culture and language—to witness to its truth, to witness to its sense and meaning, to witness to each vast possibilities?

But how many among us, indeed, are taking this vocation to witness with truthfulness and courage?

How many of us can ever say with pride, that yes, I am an Ilokano scholar, and I know my Michel Foucault and Hans-Georg Gamader and Jurgen Habermas and Pablo Neruda and Virginia Woolf—and yet I know as well the critical works of Lilia Santiago, Roderick Galam, Adel Lucero, Mario Rosal, and Noemi Rosal, and the masterpieces of our younger writers such as Herman Tabin, Hermie Beltran, Linda Lingbaoan, Aida Tiama, Roy Aragon, Ariel Tabag, Cles Rambaud, and Prodie Padios?

How many can rattle off Hidalgo and his short stories, his novels, his paintings, his poems, and his translation works?

How many have read Greg Laconsay’s translation into Ilokano the former President Ferdinand Marcos’ Today’s Revolution: Democracy, where in there, he translated into a beautiful Ilokano concept what consciousness is all about?

How many can talk of Rey Duque’s early love poems and his mature love poems, Pel Alcantara’s intellectual because intellectualizing poems and short stories? O, how many do we ever know at all? How many know that 100 years ago, Williams came up with a book on Ilokano grammar? How many know that there are many versions of the Christian Bble in Ilokano?

How many know that Precy Espiritu wrote not only one but two books on Ilokano grammar in the last 15 years?

These itemization of what we know and what we do not know is an attempt at accounting and soul-searching. We can easily quote some obscure author in English. We can even quote Willie Revillame from his daily inanities on his inane “Wowowie” and his making a spectacle of lady dancers who do not only know how to sway but also know how to economize on clothing and making commerce out of this daily barrage and deluge of the non-sense. But pray, tell, how many of us know something about our own revolutionary history?

Where would education begin and where would it end?

Are we to exempt our biologists here their ethical duty to not to know about our language, our people, and our culture?

Are we to exempt our educational leaders from not knowing about cultural and linguistic democracy and the cultural and linguistic genocide that is happening to our people at this time?

These issues about the Ilokanos are the same issues affecting the other 2 Ks in the Amianan: the Kordiliera and the valley of Kagayan. I am using the K-form of the sounds in the areas of the Amianan for mnemonics: the Kailokuan, the Kordiliera, and the valley of Kagayan. This simply means that we ought to ask the same set of questions, and using the same measures, must also account the other IPs from Amianan.

But back to the issue of linguistic and cultural genocide and how it is affecting us as a people.

My clear take on this is this: that we must not allow this linguistic and cultural genocide to continue.

The message I am telegraphing is univocal and does not admit of other interpretation: we must put an end to all the forces that are making us as a mass-herd, as a people that has come to value forgetting, as a people that does valorize truth-telling but believes that there is redemption in becoming a party to all this masquerade that is happening all around us.

While in other parts of the globe, there is that humble recognition of the failure of the past, in the disturbing and deadly consequences of ‘massifying’ people and making them speak and talk and see the world only in one and only one language, and in the systemic rectification of the errors of the past by making ‘official’ the other languages from their regions that deserve no less attention than the already ‘officialized’ one by virtue of giving citizenship to this language, we are here in this country trying to make good with the fascistic possibilities of an ideology that did not and will never make our minds and imagination productive, that ideology that has something to do with a singular and only a singular language that encapsulate all what we are.

The idea of a national language is an ideal, as I have always said so in many of the works I have done. But the idea is one that ought to follow the spirit of the fundamental law of the land, a provision, that to me, need no further violation as we have already violated: (a) that this national shall be called Filipino and (b) that this should be a product of all our existing languages. We need not say more on this, even with the errors of history on our side.

The big trouble comes in when in the pursuit of the single linguistic symbol, the terrorizing meaning and effect of that one word, “single,” is masked off with faux unity and faux national cultura and everything faux that attend to it. There is something wrong here and scholars must do two things: (a) help in the unmasking of these lies peddled to us in the last 70 years since Manuel Quezon signed the Tagalog based on, among other things, accommodation and boasting by proponents and the stupid timidity and culpable acquiescence of uninformed and ignorant Ilokano and Cebuano representatives ( Cf. Gonzalez 1990).

I take issue with Tagalog as a national language. It is unconstitutional.

I take issue with Tagalog being used as a mask to account the idea that there is now the existence of a Philippine national language which is called, among others, a schizophrenic name P/Filipino by one academic at the University of the Philippines. It is not morally right and correct.

This linguistic and cultural schizophrenia must be diagnosed, named, and unmasked—and its prognosis stated: it is making a rapid genocide of our Ilokano culture, of our Ilokano language, of the languages and cultures of Amianan.

Now, where does Ilokano and Amianan Studies come in in this linguistic and cultural struggle for freedom, for autonomy, and for authenticity?

The trouble with the isomorphism—this idea that Tagalog=P/Filipino—that has happened in Tagalog as a national language is that:

(a) it has made Tagalog as a triumphal language, marching and marching with the feet of victory, and gaining advocates and adherents, and a military and a navy and thus,a ever-ready to wage a war against all of us, we who speak differently, we who see the world differently;
(b) it has positioned Tagalog as the political and cultural and economic powerhouse, with more profits for movies, magazines, schools, and other media when these are in Tagalog at the expense of the other languages, with more political power for academics and other cultural leaders who can speak Tagalog masked off as P/Filipino, with superiority claims for all other peoples who can speak it;
(c) it has made other languages inaccessible, more remote that ever, because their existence do not matter even if Tagalog advocates speak about a token attitude by including a word or two from language A, another two or three from language B, and another four or five from language C;
(d) it has made many Filipino linguists on the national language blind, preferring to wallow in the blessed thought that to maintain the isomorphism that Tagalog is equal to P/Filipino is a convenient position and a comfortable intellectual discourse;
(e) it has made Tagalog literature as the canon for anything Philippine in of poetics and the linguistically aesthetic, with Tagalog writing being used as a measure for many things, including the perks and pelf that go with Tagalog writing, and including the awarding of National Artists for Literature—practices that are not only tyrannical and undemocratic, but also anomalous in a country that acknowledges the blessings of diversity and multilingualism.


From this perspective, we see clearly the political and epistemic position of IAS. It is not going to allow knowledge that is microwavable but resists all forms of knowledge that offer convenience and comfort, but not critical enough to admit its fundamental lack of integrity and truthfulness.

It is not going to allow the repetition of lies, but will unmask these lies in an effort to forge a broader view of the universe and human experience by using a critical lens to account what makes truth and meaning matters.

In the end, we will speak here of an IAS that looks at the universe of the peoples of Amianan from a political, cultural, and economic perspective: (a) a federated part of the country with full autonomy, with its lingua franca, with its politics that is grounded on a caring concern for the power of the people to define their own destinies in their own terms; (b) an Amianan made up of diverse cultures and peoples and languages, but unifies, in a certain way, by a lingua franca enriched by the languages of the various IPs; and (c) an Amianan that becomes its own hub of investment and commerce, and that has the capability to trade, as in the past, with other nation-states, other federated communities of the Philippines, and among its IPs.

IAS is a whole new epistemology, a new vision, a new way of looking at things.

IAS is a door to liberation, to social redemption, to cultural affirmation of what are the people’s cultural and linguistic rights.


Azurin, Arnold Molina, “Mga katiwalian sa ating kamalayan tungkol sa kaalamang bayan,” in L.Q. Santiago, Mga Idea at Estilo. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1995, pp. 7-20.

Bautista, Violeta V. and Rogelia Pe-Pua, ed. Pilipinolohiya: Kasaysayan, Pilosopiya at Pananaliksik. Quezon City: Kalikasan Press, 1991.

Gonzalez, Andrew B. Language and Nationalism: The Philippine Experience Thus Far. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila UP, 1980.

Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. second ed, enlarged. The University of Chicago Press, 1970.


Isagani R. Cruz said...

I presume that you know that I once nominated Juan Hidalgo for a National Artist Award, that (together with Soledad Reyes) I authored Ang Ating Panitikan, which is one of the first college Philippine literature textbooks to have many more texts from languages other than Tagalog than from Tagalog, that I authored the CHED memo that says that students should write their term papers in the Literatures of the Philippines course about a writer from their own region, that as DepEd USEC I institutionalized the use of the regional language as medium of instruction in the 1st 3 grades (the current policy). You cannot accuse me of marginalizing non-Tagalog languages or literatures. I am the principal signatory of the petition against EO210, which is aimed at destroying all Philippine languages (Tagalog, non-Tagalog alike) in favor of a foreign language. I think you should rethink your position and join us, because if English becomes the only medium of instruction in the country, it is not just Tagalog, Filipino, Pilipino, or whatever that will disappear, but Ilokano, Cebuano, and every other Philippine language. We are not enemies. We are comrades in the fight against a common enemy. - Isagani R. Cruz

Tony said...

English is not the enemy here, but the perpetuation of Tagalog masked as P/Filipino and passed off as a national language. If anti-EO210 position is merely to resist English, what then is their (the signatories) alternative. Sadly and worst, isn't it P/Filipino? What's the difference?

Usigan said...

Mr. Isagani Cruz, the problem with you people who advocate the use of Tagalog is that you claim not to marginalize non-Tagalog tongues when in fact you are marginilizing them. Though I presume that you are not aware of this. By pushing for the legislation of Tagalog as the sole medium of instruction in schools all over the Philippines, you are thus limiting the use of non-Tagalog tongues into home use only. And when this happens, people will want to use their non-Tagalog tongue less and eventually no one will use the language and it will become extinct. What we, the Ilocanos, are asking is that due recognition should be given to our language because, accept it or not, Ilocano is in fact a historical lingua franca in the country, especially in Northern Luzon. This came about not through a legislation but through a natural process we call migration. Aside from being a lingua franca in the country, it is also the lingua franca of the Filipino diaspora (specifically to the United States), with 9 out of 10 Filipino-Americans claiming Ilocano ancestry. We are also asking that Ilocano be taught as a separate subject in school to strengthen the knowledge of the youth about the language. Why is this important? First, it gives the language a status aside from home use, which will eventually ensure its survival. Second, it ensures that Ilocano will evolve into an intellectualize language with terms for modern concepts. And third, it is important to speak your mother tongue in the most eloquent and proper of manners. What is the essence of speaking a foreign language like english and tagalog efficiently, if you speak your mother language in a manner like the carabaos do?