At the 2007 Nakem International Conference held at the Mariano Marcos State University in Batac on May 22-25, so many things happened. The euphoria and/or its absence after the elections was a given so that at the banquet held with solemnity and sacredness at the newly-refurbished Fort Ilocandia in Currimao, some personalities were missing.
On the second day of conference's plenary session, Dr Lilia Santiago, Dr Ale Visaya and I dished out three perspectives on the directions Ilokano and Amianan Studies is taking. Lilia talked about translation and its promise; Ale talked about the role of the universities in the regions in advancing IAS; and I talked about the philosophical ground of this 'new' knowledge Nakem Conferences is advancing, a new knowledge about us 'peoples' of the Amianan.
During the open forum that lasted beyond the allotted time, one young and rising scholar on Philippine culture and currently assistant professor of the University of the Philippines stood up to ask, with finality, what would become of "Tagalog" a.k.a. "Pilipino" or "Filipino." I am rephrasing him, of course. The gist of his question, the first of the many questions that would come after, was related to the place of the 'national' language in Ilokano and Amianan discourse. There was an unsaid text, a subtext insisting spelling out--and I spelled out for him, for Professor Boy Iniego Jr.
When I was putting together the final list of those papers accepted for presentation at the conference, Boy's two proposals came: one on translating Arguilla's 'local color' issues and another, this time a film called "Manang Biday."
We had only a room for one paper from each presenter; we already had about forty papers at that time and so many abstracts had yet to be evaluated, tweaked, returned, critiqued, or asked to be revised.
I asked Boy to please rush the translation of his abstract, originally written in Tagalog, into English. I told him that some scholars from abroad were coming. I reminded him that some of these scholars did not know Tagalog--or that they did not care to know.
I think of that session now--and I imagine the tense moments Boy held his ground when the moderator asked him that the session was about to be over and Boy said, terse and clear, "Hindi puwede." I could imagine the words that were not said, but they were there, taking their space in the exchange, "I am not going to allow this discussion to stop. I want to say my piece."
In the exchange I had with Jane Rodriguez Tatel, also of the University of the Philippines, and one of our rising scholars on the 'ili/pagilian' and now on the 'burnay,' she said she admired the boldness and daring of Boy, how he stood his ground, how he retained the fire in his speech and talk and silence to which I told Jane, "Yes, indeed! If only we have the minds of people like you!"
Boy, Jane, other UP Diliman scholars present at the Nakem and I had long years of having been together, some of us members of the teaching staff of the same department, others becoming our colleagues because of scholarly pursuits and interests. Some of us were linked up by the same professors and thinkers--not mental technicians--who molded us in and outside the classroom.
I was at the podium, with the big, bold "2007 Nakem International Conference" behind me, the billboard an exercise in artistic imagination. Boy was in the middle aisle in the gallery where the microphone for the Q&A was.
Earlier, I had strained my vocal cord with my usual fire-and-brimstone way of speaking which some people mistake for rage, anger, and lack of civility. Not many people know that I teach senior citizens how to act on stage and that to have a commanding voice is the only way to get the primo dons and prima donnas of Honolulu to act.
I looked at Boy after listening to him, as intently as I could.
We were probably thirty meters away from each other but both our voices were booming. Boy's had a faint trace of crackling, almost tense, but certain as certain could be with meanings he wanted to share. My voice was giving way to same coarseness I felt when during the second day of the EDSA People Power II, Veneracion Rallonza and I took part in emceeing, making sure that those collegialas who came to throw their support for the new revolution against the corruption and excesses of the Erap administration did not just go there to kibbitz and to be seen on national television.
"No, Boy," I told him. "No. Ilokano and Amianan Studies are for all languages of this country, no more, no less. We want to be poorer, we permit one language to be lost. We cannot afford that.
"Nang-iwan ang Tagalog, Boy. Iniwan ang iba pang wika sa Filipinas. Pinahalagahan lamang ang sarili. Pero ang politikal na posisyon sa wika ng Nakem Conferences at ng Ilokano and Amianan Studies ay ito: Na walang iwanan. Na lahat ay nagbibitbitan. Na hindi niya uulitan ang gahum na ginagawa ngayon ng Tagalog na nagpapanggap na Pilipino/Filipino. Hindi."
A Solver Agcaoili