The esteemed Bien Lumbera has said it at the 2006 Nakem Conference, with clarity of insight, that the awarding of the National Artist for Literature--a shameless and embarrassing preserve of the English and Tagalog writers--is an anomaly.
That, in my view of how the politics of culture and language is in the Philippines, is a sentiment that should awaken us all to the fact that in the cultural and artisitic life of the homeland, someone--some people--has shanghaied this honor and a cabal of pretenders to serving as the givers of this honor to whoever they pleased must be made accountable to this injustice that has gone on and on for years and years.
In a plenary address by Lumbera at the Nakem and published in "Essays on Ilokano and Amianan Life, Culture, and History," he mentioned the stalwarts of Bisayan, Hiligaynon, and Ilokano literature unable to even get past the recognition of the selection committee, a number of them given that token honor as 'finalist' or 'nominee' while the English and Tagalog writers have lorded it over, with their brand of aesthetics brokering what, in their own view, should be the 'national literature.'
The anomaly is glaring--and one reason brought out by Lumbera is the problem of access by the selection committee to these works. A well-meaning but uneducated solution proposed by many of the monolingual scholars is for these 'regional' writers to have their works translated to the languages the members of the selection committee know.
Translation is in itself laudable. But if the duty to translate what could be called part and parcel of the body of national literature is on the 'region' where these writers come from, what another form of anomaly is this? What another form of creative burden? And whose perspective is this demand to be seen? The lords and masters of national life are again demanding from us this servile, subservient, adipen-like, duty to give them hook-line-and-sinker what they want.
There are two question needing answers here:
1. How is it that the members of the selection committee are people who know only Tagalog and English?
2. How is it that the burden of translating to Tagalog and English is now in the hands of the producers of that body of literature? How come that this same burden is not asked of the Tagalog writers to translate their works to say, Ilokano, Bisayan, Tausog, Aklanon, or Maranao?
Again, we speak here of entitlements and privileges accorded for all times to Tagalog and English. And these entitlements and privileges, to say the least, are not just and fair.
One argument put forward by an academic why he advances the cause of Tagalog is that it is a language with its dictionaries, advanced grammar, informed scholars devoted to it, and its voluminous literary production. But of course! Here again, the little emperors say they have clothes but the light of day tell us they are as naked as the day they were born! Roy Aragon says of them: 'silalabus'. He has another more interesting term: 'butobuto a silalabus'.
The academic, of course, has forgotten, that in 1937, the major lingua francas particularly the first three (Visaya/Sebuano, Ilokano, and Tagalog) were almost in the same footing, with Visaya/Sebuano leading the pack by a good edge.
It was in 1937 that Tagalog was 'selected' by a language institute formed during the Commonwealth administration of President Manuel Quezon, with that language eventually declared as the 'national' language. With 70 years of government backing, support, and institutionalization--not to mention the taxes of non-Tagalogs to develop not their language but the language of another, we wonder how much can we push the argument of that academic who must have been afflicted with the myopia of the victor, seeing only himself with the lens of his eyes filled with the pus of the wounds he inflicted on the other regions.
In this linguistic and cultural revolution--a revolution that should make us sit up and be serious with our creative notion of what a 'nation' should be--we are putting forward the idea that for 70 years, this linguistic and cultural injustice has become the staple of the Filipino minds from the basic education to the university and only a few a making a whimper.
What is so sad is that even topnotch Bisayan and Ilokano academics, scholars, and cultural leaders have been hoodwinked into believing that this ambigiuous Tagalog masking off as P/Filipino is indeed the national language.
This cultural blackmail must be called as such--it is a blackmail that rests on what Tagalog can offer at this time after 70 years of getting all what the other languages did not get--nunca, zilch, ibbung. My grandmother has a way of saying about this: the other langauges did not get anything, 'uray no lugit'.
To add insult to injury, a cursory auditing of the topnotch linguists and writers of the country are clearly a party to this systemic marginalization of the languages of the Filipino peoples other than the sanctified Tagalog.
If the same kind of support, institutionalization, and propping up were done to Bisaya and Ilokano and the other lingua francas, could it have been possible that they now have their own developed dictionaries, literary writings, and grammar?
Despite the total absence of government support, with only the commerial interests of media kingpins providing some faux motive to cultural and literay development and promotion, Ilokano, Bisaya, and Hiligaynon have come to stay. The Bikolanos have, during the past years, realized that they are dying and now they have begun to go through the rite of self-resuscitation, that through grace and gifts, have come to their senses that the last spasms of death need not happen.
One conceptual culprit is the continuing use of "regional literature," a concept that is applicable to all literatures but Tagalog and English. The Palanca as an institution is guilty of this, with its token recognition of the 'regional literary productions' in Ilokano, Sebuano, and Hiligaynon, and the literary work confined to the short story.
Something is wrong here. Tagalog is as regional as Tausog and Ilokano and Ibanag.
The more applicable term is this: 'literature from the region'--and this term applies to all, English included.
For English is a regional preserve of the regionalist we call academics, some better educated political leaders, the priests and their allies, the elites, some passable artistas with the penchant for some cutesy-cutesy ways, the nuns in their mossy convents, the colegialas with their pretensions to taking part in the rigodon de honor and the polite society that uses English among themselves and talks in Tagalog to their househelps and modern-day slaves.
If there is something that we can deduce from all these at this time, it is this: that veritably the declaration of Tagalog as the basis of the national language is a ruse, a lie, a manipulation and that this isomorphism that holds that Tagalog-P/Filipino is one sure way to our marginalization and then to our cultural and linguistic death.
Ask the Ilokanos who are embarrassed to admit that they are Ilokanos.
Ask the Ilokanos who say they only know English.
Ask the Ilokanos who claim they only know Tagalog.
A, these mistakes will go on and on and on.
A. Solver Agcaoili
UH Manoa/May 4-07