Imagining the Ilokano and Amianan Nation: Toward Cultural Democracy, Linguistic Justice, and Cultural Pluralism
Aurelio S. Agcaoili, University of Hawaii-Manoa
The Issues Raised and their Context
My paper takes on the theme of this 3rd Nakem Conference, “Continuity: Linguistic and Cultural Diversity in the Imagined Amianan Nation in the Homeland and in Exile.” In particular, it offers as problematiques various concepts that, I hope, will help shed light on the issue of advocacy Nakem is advancing, and this issue is anchored on the need to resist and insist on the necessity for a just and fair society for all peoples of the Philippines, a just and fair society that includes as its cornerstone, the indispensable need to pursue the ends of linguistic justice and cultural democracy. I will argue that the shaping and reshaping—and thus, the forming and re-forming—of an Amianan Nation made up of the many nations of this geographic part of this homeland is the only way to pursue the ends of linguistic and cultural justice and, thus, the ends of cultural pluralism as a democratic way of life for all our peoples. Our position at Nakem, this movement that we have put together and which now solidifies our view of ourselves and which provides a counter-hegemonic discourse to the hegemony that is making us forget who we are, is clear: that Nakem is our contingency—our very own ‘politics of contingency’ (Ahmad 1996) —our very own counter-hegemonic strategy to resist the erasure of our languages and cultures, and our insistence of our right to exist as people mediated by our languages and cultures.
There are two takes that I want to be clear about: resistance and insistence (Agcaoili 2007). Both takes are intricately linked, one needing each other, one never standing apart from each other. Resistance, in my view, gives a symptomatic account of what is happening in Philippine society, whether this concept of ‘Philippine society’ is viewed from the homeland or is viewed in exile and diaspora. The symptomatic account gives us as well the creative rage, the same critical energy we need to battle for every inch of cultural and linguistic space we need to affirm our existence as real nations in this Nation and State we call, accidentally, by historical force, the Philippines. For even the name of this country is imposed upon us by a history we only have had so much the opposite of ‘voluntas’, that, with an innate gravitas, we took in stride. But today, this gravitas has to be summoned again, back to where it should belong in the effort to call out our names that have been hijacked by the contemporary conspirators against all the lesser of us, the lesser because we are not at the center of power, because we are not at the vortex of Manila empire, because we are not at the center of this Tagalogistic hegemony being imposed upon us, with the collusion of our economic, political, and cultural leaders.
The second take, insistence, gives us the knowledge to figure out and map out the path to redeeming ourselves from the onslaught of everything opposite what is just and fair and democratic in all three structures of our society—the political, economic, and cultural—structures that have all been used against us without us realizing it, and which, because we have lacked the courage and the critique, we somehow took part in being used against us by our very own blessing and permission.
For we permitted in our classrooms the banning of our native languages in the name of two hopes: (a) the hope that our school children would speak the colonizers’ English so they would have an advantage in seeking power and financial gain via employment in the institutions of the nation that are being used to guarantee that such unjust linguistic and cultural arrangements would continue, and (b) the hope that our children would speak the language of the nation herein framed, constitutionally, by ignorant advocates of the national language as Filipino but in reality is just a legal maneuver to deter our resistance to unmask what is in this name we call Filipino. Our combined effort to unmask, of course, leads us to the lies of the 1934-1935 Constitution, so that when we look into the proceedings of that Constitution, we uncover here the ghosts of the past, the ghosts lurking from behind and looming large before us, the ghosts reminding us that we have been robbed of our human right to speak our own languages and that we have the basic and fundamental right to allow our productive traditions to not only live and thrive and continue to shape and form the world view of our future. We speak here, of course, of the ‘panagkakannayon’ of our histories, our stories, our senses of selves, our senses of being, our senses of becoming, our dream of a world of not one speech but many speeches, of a world not massified by the inane ‘Wowowee’ and the equally inane ‘Eat Bulaga’ that have become our cultural fare for anything we can call ethnic pride and the systematic rendering into a national spectacle of our misery, sadness, and incapacity to get out of our collective Calvary.
One reason for all these is that we permit them to happen, and in the constancy of that permission, we have learned to like ‘the way things are’, we have began to forgive the perpetrators and have, in fact, learned to love them and welcome them in our midst.
The final proof of this is the educational system—that bastion, supposedly, of our critical gifts and our only institution that can offer us hope to look at things always with new eyes, with a renewed view of the world each day, with the insight to make us commit ourselves to the future whose beginnings are not separate from what we are pursuing at present.
The educational system of this country has colluded with all our other institutions to make us be ashamed of ourselves when (a) we cannot speak and write and read and listen in English enough, and (b) when we cannot speak Filipino as the national language enough.
The educational system –our main cultural institution—has served as the conduit of this shame, making us look at ourselves with unkindness and embarrassment and inferiority courtesy of the little emperor and the little colonizer that we have allowed to reside in our soul and mind.
For indeed, the empire is back, and is back hitting us, and he speaks English with his capital and military might and economic superpower and all the injustices that can go with what it had got against us to make us kowtow to its wishes.
For indeed, too, the colonizer is back, with his view of the world as triumphant as the emperor in him, with his willing ally the neocolonizer, he who speaks the language of the Tagalog nation, and since we have found out that this Tagalog nation is just like us that dreamt of freedom and democracy from the emperor and the colonizer, this Tagalog nation had to extend to all the ‘nations’ of the Philippines and has to be imposed as exemplar par excellence by the politicos who want our votes and who want as well their pork barrel, hence, the equation, mystical as it is mysteriously mistaken and is part of the history of political malpractice: Tagalog=P/Filipino.
The politics of the official curriculum (Shor & Freire 1987) from 1935 onwards, when Tagalog, in principle, was given the army and the navy by a Tagalog President, Manuel Luis Quezon, must be indicted as the genesis of all our woes, as that curriculum did not give us a chance at all to prove to the nation, much less to the world, that each of our languages and cultures have the right to exist side by side with us as part of our basic human rights. In that curriculum since 1935 and until today, no Yogad can ever have a full claim to his own very language and culture though he first learned to look at the world in kindness and relationship and truth. To speak, thus, of a Yogad curriculum or an Ibanag curriculum, much less of an Ivatan curriculum, is an impossible speech for the curriculum makers; it is simply not within their view, not within their sight, and with the emperor’s and neocolonizer’s qualifications on their sleeves and resumes, the curriculum makers cannot see the world using our eyes: they do not have the eyes that are our eyes because they did not recognize our ontic worth (Who are we, by the way, from the Othered nations of this Republic?), and since they did not recognize us (Why would our existence be necessary when only one existence, that of the Center, is sufficient to declare ourselves a Republic?).
The logic of our past is convoluted.
We permitted this logic to happen and to rule over us for almost eighty years since the Quezon-Recto collusion of the root cause of all the linguistic and cultural evils of this country—a single phrase, not even a sentence, but that phrase, is as well our death sentence, us people of the Amianan, us people of all other communities in the Philippines that did not belong to the axis of politics, economics, and culture.
We are to be blamed, partially, as part of a deal to be a signatory of the social contract, that sui generis, is flawed as the veil of ignorance is not ignorant but arranged to give privilege, benefit, and entitlement to one language and one culture—the Culture of the Center of Power and Commerce and Economics, and all the others are simply exhibits in the museum of our nation’s colonized lives. Indeed, there were benefits, because a Visayan can become a maid in Manila if she were to speak acceptable Tagalog in much the same way that a classroom teacher in the country can be a good nanny in Singapore if she spoke acceptable English.
There is a double whammy in all these, and the Othered languages and cultures of the homeland can never win: they got no army, they got no navy, and no legislator, so far, has given these Othered language and cultures the benefit of the doubt except for some consuelo de bobo from the ranks of the more enlightened ones who can only rattle off the virtues of federalism as the structuring principles to save us from ourselves—from this continuing ‘Tagalogishization’ and ‘Englishization’ of our minds.
Even from among our ranks, there is a certain ‘darkness’ we have in our heads.
Some of our advocates of alternative education and cultural cross-cultural sensitivity and competence, for instance, cannot yet see clearly the necessity to offer an alternative to our view of the world in our homeland by revisiting our living traditions. Some even have the temerity of invoking the ‘nation’ and ‘national language’ against us as if we are not part of the nation—as if we have successfully seceded from the larger community, and as if our languages do not have any place in the formation of that canon we call simply, for want of any better term, ‘national language’.
We question, of course, what this national language is all about, and lacking in anything new, we declare: the national language being rammed into our throats is simply Tagalog renamed, for political neutrality, a wise move from the operators of our miseducation. You cannot make a language by giving it another name. For one, we are doing injustice to the Tagalogs by a systematic hoodwinking of them as their language now is no longer Tagalog but Filipino, with an ‘F’ from a former name with a ‘P’. The Ilokanos of Hawai`i would call this ‘wais’.
Now, let us unmask what has happened, with our collusion and connivance: a language was renamed, and gave our blessing, and lost our head, and we want this fact of losing our head to be handed down to our children and to be perpetrated forever. We lose our head, we lose our language, and we lose our own sense of self, our sense of the world, and our sense of community. The only reason why we do not know our Amianan selves is that we do not know enough of our Amianan languages and cultures.
This is plain enough—and simple to understand.
But it is difficult for the Ilokano, for instance, to be told that he is not Ilokano enough to be able to understand with self-reflexivity, his Ilokanoness. For Ilokanoness—as in being Itawis or Dupaningan Agta—is not simply speaking one’s own language everyday and using it as if it were a tool to be discarded. The truth of the matter is that we are our own language and all the thinking that go with it, all the self-reflections, the contemplation, the solitude, and the culture-making that attend to our respective languages. Being able to ‘use’ our native language in a survival mode does not give us the full birthright to that language even if, indeed, we are born into it.
Ownership of a language and the culture that it mediates demands much more.
It demands our recognition that our language affirms our ontological existence—that we are Kiangan because we speak the Kiangan language, that we are Yapayao because we speak the Yapayao language, that we are Ilongot because we speak the Ilongot language.
This ontological constitution can be extended to account our Amianan selves: we are people/s of the Amianan because we speak any of those 48 Amianan languages. It is just accidental that by force of the energy and dynamism of history, Ilokano has become the lingua franca in these parts. But let it not be said that Ilokano becomes the colonizing language; let it be said of the reverse: that the resistance and insistence of the Ilokano language to affirm its own existence is one example any of the Amianan languages can revisit—and perhaps follow—to resist this rampart neocolonization of the Center of Power, Commerce and Culture that is happening before our very eyes. Let is be said as well, that through Ilokano as the language franca of the Amianan, the other 47 languages will find their way back to the mainstream of our Amianan lives, as was shown in the work of Robinson on the Dupaningan Agta (2008).
And we allowed this to happen, and we continue to do so, not from a victim’s point of view, but from a resister’s: we resist this incursion of our sense of self by the Other self that has rendered us the Othered self of this homeland. The project to other us peoples of the Amianan, we now know, is the same project that has made us—all other peoples of this country—second class citizens of the Republic.
The Project to ‘Other’ Us
Let it be said that the concept of ‘nation’ that framed the search for a ‘national language’ prior to and during the 1934-1935 Constitutional Assembly—with the Assembly a political act during the Commonwealth Period, a regime under the watch of the United States, that, more than 30 years before, declared to colonize the Philippine Islands at the cost of 20M dollars that they paid to then colonizer, the Spaniards—is a 19th century fossil which Quezon himself has held onto fiercely, saying, that he imagined a nation like Germany, England, France, and Spain, that spoke, singly, in a ‘national language,’ with German for Germany, French for France, Spanish for Spain, and English for England (Agcaoili 2007).
The temptations of a national language for the Filipinos came from that view, and which, judging from the outcome of the proceedings of the 1935 Constitution, paved the way to what is now called, in juridical terms, ‘Filipino’ for the Filipinos, as per the proviso of the 1987 Constitution, that was in tandem with President Corazon Aquino’s idea for anything nationalist during the euphoria after EDSA People Power. This neat and nifty way of resolving the multilingual and multicultural condition of the Philippines is a remnant of that view, and which to this day, continues to be the view of even the most ‘educated’ among our lot, with ‘national artists’ in support of Tagalogism supporting that view, under the guise of a monolingual nation speaking together in monolingual tone and temper and making everyone virtually a lobotomized citizen, each mind going through a brain surgery in the name of a nation that is monolingual in its conception of itself. Such is the lot of our people—such is our lot still, making each one of us Manilenio and no less, in speech as well as in thought, with that brainwashing slogan to boot that is meant to erase the multilingualism and multiculturalism that we are: ‘isang bansa, isang diwa’ (one country, one thought), with ‘diwa’ here an essentialist reduction of all our languages into one language we call ‘Pilipino’ during the Marcos regime, and ‘Filipino’ during the Aquino regime. The movement thus from Tagalog to Pilipino to Filipino is the same movement based on a ruse and a trick—and the trick has as its tacit aim of making us speak the same language, that, in reality, does not speak the many of us but only the few, if speech here is understood to mean a truly intellectualized one, minus the shallow discourses of politicians and their allies who believed that to speak in one language at the expense of the other languages is the key to nationalism and national life, thereby effectively excluding the many of us—Othering us, with us becoming the Other if only to account who we are in the project to nationalize everything from animal (the carabao) to language (Tagalog, then Pilipino, then Filipino).
We remember, of course, of the ruse that justified the American aggression that ended in the American colonial project taking its hold on the peoples of the Philippines, with the public schools ascertaining that every child spoke a version of English depending on the language of the place, and the private schools, the bedrock of everything that spells ‘elite’ becoming an appendage to the longer view of transforming every Filipino a virtual brown American.
The ruse is couched in less colonial terms and more in terms of a ‘big brother’s act’ of exercising his newfound imperial and colonial kindness fresh from its history of struggle and, eventually, independence from the British. It is this same parallel narrative that we take as the starting point for all that we would like to tell—in speech as in practice: imperial Manila cannot continue to be our ‘big brother’ forever if we are not going to allow it because allowing it to happen reduces us into a pandering pawn for anything and everything Manila and this neocolonialist attitude grounded on the discourse of the neo-colonizer that is further grounded on a misreading of our multicultural condition as a country. It is high time we wrote our own ‘modes of refusal’ to inaugurate our very own ‘rational protest’ (Barry 1996) against those forces that deny us our own existence in our own languages and cultures. For there is no existence that is meaningful and relevant for our own ethno-cultural and ethno-linguistic communities except that which is mediated by our languages and, therefore, our cultures.
Language and Culture as Fundamental Human Rights
UNESCO declared 2008 as the International Year of Languages. It did so for a reason: the numbers are alarming and we cannot continue to be triumphal and say that it is only the national languages and the international languages that matter. Of the almost 7,000 languages in existence today, more than 3000, about half, is about to die in 200 years if nothing is done to make them thrive and survive. In the Philippines, linguistic data tells you of 175 languages, one of the most diverse in the world. But of these, 4 have gone extinct, and there are many candidates. As soon as the last speaker is gone, the language dies with him. The Darwinist among us—those who declare to all and sundry that the mighty and the powerful is the only one that deserves life—might not see the consequences to mankind of the death of languages. But the truth is this: that languages carry with them the system of knowledge that the speaking community have evolved through centuries of life practice—knowledge systems that we all could put to use in order to enrich our lives.
The hyper-valuation given ‘international’ and ‘national’ languages at the expense of the other because ‘Othered’ languages that do not fall under these categories has resulted in rampant human rights violation. As we have shown: that the only way for our ontological existence to be affirmed is to allow our languages and cultures to mediate such affirmation. The key here is mediation—this power and surprise that every language offers in its act of ‘standing in between’ or ‘betweening’ between our world and us. The maintenance and the sustenance of that ‘betweening’ relationship is what matters in the question of our ontology: our ‘peopleness’—our being and becoming people—is marked in a dynamic way, in the dialectic of speech and reflection, of saying and critique, in contemplation and practice, by our own languages. Our knowing of the world is only made possible by the vast possibilities of our own languages. An imposed language may be indigenized; a legislated one such as Tagalog with the powerful philosophical bent in it that denies us who we are, may be indigenized. But there is a marked difference between ownership and indigenization. At the end of the day, we must begin to see one fact: that language and culture are part and parcel of the notion and the reality of human rights. Deny people their right to their language, you deny them their human rights.
This brings us to our educational and cultural practices, in schools and in the popular forms of the dominant culture such us television, magazines, radio, and film. At our schools, we have offered the school system to act as a conduit of this rampant violation of the basic human rights of people to their languages; we did not intend the human rights violation that we keep on committing, or at least many of us do not wish to commit this violation which has become systemic. The signs are everywhere: the English zones markers everywhere; the speak English only markers; the Tagalog books masquerading as P/Filipino reading materials. There is never about us; there is never about the Kalingas reading about themselves as part of the official curriculum. We speak of Ilokano as lingua franca of the Amianan; yes, but sadly, this government has not given any support to develop it except for token grants to individuals and to groups. And all of us are paying our taxes to develop Tagalog as P/Filipino as the national language, forgetting that we ought to struggle for our languages and cultures as well because, these form part of our human rights. All of these are happening because we have been socially conditioned to speak only in the name of Tagalog as P/Filipino and in the name of English and never in the name of our own languages.
Given the condition of our multicultural life, it has become impossible to speak of a ‘national language’ that follows the model of the 1935 Constitution and played up, in all the legislations that came after, to make us believe that the only way to love this homeland is to speak the language of love in the dubious because forced, and forced because by way of legislation, it had its own money for development, it had its own army and navy to protect itself while in the meantime, all our languages are left to rot because they have lost their social prestige. Think of the communities of Dupaningan Agta mouthing phrases in Tagalog while the young Dupaningan Agtas cannot mouth a comprehensible Dupaningan Agta. Think of all Ilokano children who are too embarrassed to be heard with their Ilokano, preferring instead to speak in Tagalog, and excusing themselves, as many of the teachers, that they do not know enough Ilokano to carry a conversation or to even read. With this imposition of Tagalog=P/Filipino as the national language, we have produced illiterates in our languages and cultures; we have produced ignoramuses of our self-knowledge. What we have produced are robots and zombies mouthing the slogans of Willie Revillame or Joey de Leon or Joey Marquez. At worst, we can even mimic with much gusto, with the gyrations to boot, the slogans of the ASF Dancers of Wowowee.
The Inadequacy of Multiculturalism as a Perspective and the Need for Cultural Pluralism: Toward Linguistic Justice and Cultural Democracy
We speak of the Philippines as multilingual and multicultural. The fact is that the deliberations that happened during the 1934-1935 Constitutional Assembly, and based on the proceedings of that Assembly collected and published by Jose P. Laurel and a copy of which is kept at the Laurel Foundation Library, had an insight about our multilingual and multicultural lives—which insight is never recognized out of intellectual sloth or laziness by many of the presumed scholars of the ‘Tagalog=P/Filipino as national language’—and there was this energy to evolve a national language based on the existing native languages, an energy that could have seized the moment for all of us. But that energy was soon to be derailed, shanghaied, expended, and hijacked by a cabal of neocolonialists that took their cue from then Quezon who complained, in one of his Vigan trips, that he could not speak to the Ilokanos of Vigan except through translation. The linguistic incompetence of one man, that accidentally was the President, became one of the pillars for this linguistic injustice that are out lot today.
There are two things to look into here: (a) one thing is to say and recognize that we are multilingual and multicultural and (b) another thing is to move forward, and make as our vision the building up of a society of multicultural peoples so that this society would be imbued by the virtues and principles of cultural pluralism.
Multiculturalism is a state of affairs; cultural pluralism is a vision, is regulative ideal, and is a governing principle that we ought to pursue as it is the highest ethics of our social contract. It is only through cultural pluralism that recognizes the many that is us, the many in our ontological existences, the many that is diverse that is us that we can ever hope to right the wrongs committed against us for the last eighty years.
Conclusion: Amianan Nation in the Reality of ‘Nation among Nations’
This country—this homeland—is not simply a nation; this definition, while Constitutional, does not reflect the diversity of our languages and cultures, and the short shift that we get out of this Constitutional provision needs amending. A revisiting of our legal practices that include among others, that impotent argument of the blind and narrow –minded advocates of that unjust equation Tagalog=P/Filipino that says that the 1987 Constitution has spoken, and that in that speech, it has declared that we have a national language, and that national language is ‘Filipino’ needs to be subjected to critique. The realities tell you of an ugly and raw reality: that so many of our people have been turned into Tagalog-speaking second class citizens and have assumed the values of the center of power, and have masked themselves off with the cloak of prestige given to the Tagalog language masquerading as P/Filipino. The second class citizenship is seen in the context of that abominable film of Joey Javier Reyes (“Sakal, Sakali, Saklolo”) that permitted Gloria Diaz, an Ilokano, to mouth, “Bakit pinalaki mo ang apo ko na Bisaya?”
This country we must say is not only a nation; in reality, it is a nation among nations, and the sooner that we insist this, and the sooner that we resist that narrow concept that we are only a nation, the better for the health of all our languages and cultures.
If we imagine the country, we can speak of possible federated states here, autonomous of each other, like the United States, like many of the federal states of the world such as Belgium. Today, Spain, after many centuries of ramming down the throats of every Spaniard the kind of Madrid Spanish language it imposed on all its peoples, has acknowledge the legitimacy of at least three other languages of that country, and called it, aside from Spanish, its official languages: Andalusian for Andalusia, Catalan for the Catalan region, and Basque for the Basque region. Belgium, the exemplar of everything federalist, acknowledges four official languages and never called them ‘national’ languages. We must learn from all these, including the “English Only” campaign in the United States that has eroded the same pronouncements of that country for the fundamental respect for cultural and linguistic diversity.
There are many ills of the Philippines—and one of them that is never diagnosed, or minimally diagnosed but nevertheless is pathological and its prognosis serious, is linguistic injustice and cultural tyranny, with the power the name ourselves and our pains and our clue to our self-redemption only in the ‘national’ language. There is a pathological fear in the attempt to make a multilingual country speak a single language and we call this the ‘polylinguaphobia’, the same phobia that afflicted Quezon and company when they declared that the basis of the national language should only be a single language, the same phobia that afflicts those who advance the idea that only one and only one language is sufficient to celebrate our ‘nationhood’.
Some lessons on nation-making and state-building are learned the hard way, history tells us. This idea about the intricate connection between social justice and language rights, between language rights and human rights, between cultural pluralism and nation-building is an idea whose time has come.
It high time we start imagining an Amianan nation that addresses the issue of our being diverse and yet common in our aim to pursue the ends of social justice and linguistic justice and cultural democracy. Our name, the Amianan, is what, grounds us: we are a people of the Amian, the north wind, the northeasterly wind. It is this same wind that gives us the refreshing breeze to make us breathe in freedom and in fullness of life.
Agcaoili, A. S. “Resistance and Insistence in Ilokano and Amianan Languages and Cultures,” conference paper read at the 2007 International Conference on Ilokano and Amianan Languages and Cultures, Honolulu, Hawai`i, October 2007.
Ahmad, A. “The Politics of Literary Postcoloniality,” in P. Mongia, ed. Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: A Reader. London et al: Arnold, 1996, pp. 276-293.
Barry, B. “Resistance Theory/Theorising Resistance or Two Cheers for Nativism,” in P. Mongia, ed. Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: A Reader. London et al: Arnold, 1996, pp. 84-109.
Robinson, L. “Dupaningan Agta: Grammar, Vocabulary, and Dictionary,” PhD dissertation, University of Hawai`i at Manoa, May 2008.
Shor, I. & P. Freire, Pedagogy for Liberation: Dialogues on Transforming Education. Mass.: Bergin and Garvey, 1987.