Our Redemptive Response to
the Timeless Temptations of Tagalogism and
to the Tyranny of Tagalogization
Aurelio Solver Agcaoili
We pray we are not going to fall into the same trap of Tagalogism and Tagalogization again, not when we were made to believe—tempted and fooled—by the powers-that-were.
Tagalogism is an attitude—a mindset that has trapped us into a belief of a Philippine nation-state as revolving around a center and only this center is important.
As a mental disposition, Tagalogism is not about the Tagalog people, and many of them have nothing to do with, as many of them have been deprived of their own language and culture when, with a stroke of a pen, Tagalog as a language suddenly became something else.
The counter-discourse to Tagalogism is about how we revisit the definitions of ourselves, and how we express those definitions in light of our basic need for emancipatory knowledge of who we are as a Philippine nation made up of many nations, where we are, and where we are going.
Tagalogization, on the other hand, is that long juridical, linguistic, political, economic, and cultural process that has made it certain that this trap, this temptation relative to the entitlement, privileging, and valorization of Tagalog, is going to continue to have its stranglehold over all of us, Tagalog and non-Tagalog peoples alike.
The enlightened Tagalog people are not the problem here; those who continue to have that triumphal attitude with the lording of Tagalog over all other Philippine languages are the problems.
For even among the non-Tagalog people, there lies among them poets and writers and academics and scholars and linguists who do not know that the entitlement of one language over another may lead to an exclusion that could be irredeemably damaging to the excluded languages and cultures.
The enemy is in every individual of the Philippines, in the homeland as well as in the diaspora.
And this individual is lurking—or hiding behind some abstractions we call ‘nationalism’ and ‘education’ and ‘literacy’, abstractions that, when devoid of the proper context, are there only to make superiority pronouncements and thus legitimize the exclusionary tactics of the center.
The beginnings of our linguistic and cultural Gethsemane can be traced to that Constitutional Convention that began in 1934 and ended in February 1935. That Con-Con could have taught us peoples of the Philippines and other peoples of the world the virtues of cultural pluralism and respect for language rights, this last one veritably an expression of unconditional respect for basic human rights.
But the 1935 Constitution that came out of that convention of the supposedly most capable and most astute political leaders of the land co-opted with the powers-that-were was an occasion of falling from grace, a grace that could be given only to us by respecting our cultural diversity and by pursuing language pluralism as a way of life of a nation made up of many nations such as the Philippines.
The proceedings of the Con-Con bear witness to this fall that we are trying to rise from today, an act of courage on the part of all peripheralized ethnolinguistic communities of the Philippines, with the House Bill 3719 that hopes to remake the template of an oppressive educational system in the Philippines that makes everyone in basic education—and even in tertiary education—as cultural and linguistic zombies and robots of the Tagalog and English languages.
These ethnolinguistic communities have been peripheralized because we have come to believe that our salvation as a people is the glamorizing of a single speech, and the allowing of ourselves to be continually hoodwinked by the Marcosian dictum of ‘isang bansa, isang diwa’—one language, one nation—a dictum that worked like an incantation to the dictator and his speech writers, including some academics from the University of the Philippines serving as his think-tank and book writers and who passed on to him the French model of that abominable phrase, clearly not an original formula for state-crafting and nation-building.
The failure of many of us to understand the spirit of cultural pluralism as the spirit that could have shaped our collective life is the same failure that we continue to commit until today, seventy-three years after.
And those people who are in the know—the very people who could help us free ourselves from the enchantment of Tagalogism and Tagalogization are sometimes the very people that tell us that we have no business fighting for our linguistic and cultural rights and that our only business is to speak the language of the center, act in that language, and dream in that language.
The powers-that-were that continue to incarnate and reincarnate as the powers-that-are and the powers-that-be in our midst and wearing many hats, entrenched as they are in the academia and in the corridors of power are to be judged by our ethnolinguistic communities as Pharisees and Sadducees of Philippine culture. Here come the conquered becoming conquerors, the colonized becoming the new colonial masters.
These people come to us saying the same things against our languages and cultures—and even against our sense of selves. And these people have no new argument to offer against our claim to the language of our own selves, identities, and particular lives.
The discourse of these same people is the same discourse we have heard more than seven decades ago except that now, with the lobotomized agents of uniculturalism and monolingualism in Philippine education by their sleeves and pockets, they are more boisterous now, their loud noises their bluff to make us cower in fear and accept their illogicalities and bad because unproductive gospel of monolingualism in favor of the language of the center.
If we looked at their discourses, we can see the same rehashed arguments, some of them empty of content as they are self-serving: (a) the valuing of regional languages is ‘impractical’ and that (b) we have to give ‘Tagalog’ language—the basis, they say, of the national language—a chance. We gave Tagalog one fat chance for seven decades and it did not deliver the goods except to destroy millions and millions of us.
These arguments come from people who know no other Philippine languages, even if some of them, as one has said, that they can curse in other languages.
Even this admission of cursing in a language not really your own is an admission of guilt: that you have no respect for languages other than your own because you cannot see these languages as the dwelling place of a people’s soul owning these languages except as your language for cursing. This admission is itself an admission of failure in the unqualified respect that we all have to give to language and cultural rights as an expression of our respect for fundamental human rights. What we have therefore are culturally entrenched practitioners of Tagalogism and Tagalogization—cultural agents of injustice—who can only afford to tell us that Manila is the center of the Philippine world and that whatever Manila does is the truth.
The call for a ‘national’ language did not come as a pure and pristine call for nation building.
The motives, as history would tell us, are a mixed bag of personal defense against the charge of multilingual incompetence to the outright internal neo-colonization agendum by the same people who were—are—announcing liberation to our people.
We go the route of Manuel Luis Quezon and his flawed preference for the Philippines ‘run like hell by Filipinos’ than by, say, ‘run like heaven by Americans.’ Using that and other language claims, he would argue for the process of decolonization by following the route of the nation-state model imported from Spain, Germany, England, and France. That was his template for the Philippine nation-state speaking a single language. In his own words, he went to Vigan, had the ‘misfortune’ of using an Ilokano interpreter so he could talk with the Ilokano people, and which experience humbled him so, and which, in many ways, prodded him to push for a ‘national’ language that he understood and he could use, to speak with the Filipino, who, in his imagination, would now be all parroting Tagalog words and phrases learned unimaginatively in many unimaginative Tagalog language classrooms. Read the subtext here—which subtext he also said in that speech in Letran College: imagine me a President speaking to my people using an Ilokano interpreter because I do not speak Ilokano. And so his imperial solution: let everyone speak Tagalog, the Tagalog of the President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines.
Quezon, of course, conveniently forgot that for Spain and Germany and England and France to have become examples of modern-day European nation-states, they all had to suppress—and the operative word here is ‘suppress’—other legitimate languages and thus cultures of their territories, thus creating the questionable semblance—a dubious verisimilitude—that these countries had only one and only one ‘national’ language.
The history of the oppressive power of the French Academy, a powerful cabal of Francophiles that cannot see that there are other languages of France beside French, is a proof of the oppressive power of Tagalog, sometimes passed off as Pilipino, or if one were from the more esteemed universities in Imperial Manila, this Pilipino is now Filipino, in accord with the dictate—read: dictate—of the 1987 Constitution.
Quezon admitted this presidential dilemma—a classic dilemma of a ‘Tagalogistic’ mind, a mind that is content with the Tagalog view of the universe and that never tries harder to see other Philippine realities and Philippine worldviews afforded by other Philippine languages and cultures.
The Tagalogistic mindset, therefore, is ‘the’ implausible Philippine mindset.
With the illogical isomorphism in that equation Tagalog=Pilipino/Filipino—a curious thing that many knowledgeable linguists would reject for its flawed claims in a bioculturally diverse country like the Philippines—Tagalogism and Tagalogization have become the official path to creating the ‘new’ Philippine nation-state, a political dream that was valorized when the center of power came to Imperial Manila with the blessings of all the colonizers and their allies and collaborators, a political dream nevertheless that was also dreamed of by many ‘nations’ of the Philippines in the Visayas, especially when they declared their own republic that antedated any claims to an imagined Tagalog republic. In the North—in the Amianan—was the Candon Republic.
With the center of power—the axis of all power that remained undistributed until today—unable to communicate with those beyond that center for either because of lack of motivation as in the case of Quezon and all those other Quezons that came after him or because of linguistic and cultural incompetence, the center of power thus served as the French of France, the Madrid Spanish of Spain, the English of London, and the German of Berlin and elsewhere. Thus inaugurated the Tagalogization of all peoples of the Philippines, at least from the perspective of the sitting president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines at that time. Read through the proceedings of the 1934-1935 Constitutional Convention—but read the Jose P. Laurel version published by Lyceum of the Philippines, a version with only one copy at the Laurel Foundation Library. The other version published by the House of Representatives more than 30 years after the ratification of the 1935 Constitution is not as complete as the Laurel version.
The sentiments against what some people term ‘chauvinism in regional languages’ or ‘regionalism’ and that fossilized call for a ‘national’ language that is in league with other things ‘national’ such as a ‘national’ animal and a ‘national bird’ and a ‘national’ flower and a ‘national dress’ come to view when we look at the intents and purpose of the 2008 Literacy Education Act of the Philippines and the House Bill 3719 of Representative Magtanggol Gunigundo.
No, a people’s language does not operate the way a carabao, the national animal, would. Nor does it operate the way a national flower would like the sampaguita that is now missing, except in lurid streets in Manila where it is vended as a garland for the Child Jesus and the Mother of Perpetual Help.
A language is the abode of a people’s soul, the dwelling place of his sense of self, his sense of the world, and the sense of his dreams for both the present and future, for that present that is also a future. Deprive a people of that language and you have murdered them. Advocates of linguistic rights call this linguicide, or the killing of a language.
Lately, the Linguistic Society of the Philippines, an august body of well-meaning academics and professionals who are in the know about human cognition and its relation to the mother language, human knowledge and its relation to human and societal liberation, and the liberatory power of the language of our souls released a statement supporting literacy education in its multicultural form. We applaud the LSP for doing that.
In May 2008, delegates of 2008 Nakem Conferences held at St. Mary’s University in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, passed a resolution totally supporting HB 3719. That resolution, published in a scanned form at the Nakem Conferences website, was handed over personally to Rep. Gunigundo in July 2008, at a consultative assembly participated in by Nakem Conferences.
The participants of the 2008 Nakem Conferences understood where multicultural education should begin: in their classrooms. That was their rationale for the endorsement of the Gunigundo legislative initiative.
With the abominable cultural denigration that is happening in the Philippines—with many Filipinos (except the Tagalogs and Tagalogized) being made to behave and think and view the world as Tagalogs and these same people looking down upon their own mother languages and their own cultures and the peoples who do not behave and think and view the world like Tagalogs—the teachers and academics and cultural workers of Nakem Conferences saw that HB 3719 is the only way to go to once-and-for-all claim for the peoples of the Amianan and all other peoples of the Philippines the fruits of linguistic democracy and cultural justice.
In sum, HB 3719 argues for a multicultural education for the Philippines, a template for education that values the basic human experiences of peoples, experiences that are mediated by their own languages and not by other people’s languages, and grow from that experience in keeping with the duty to relate to and with other people to form a community.
The educational template of the Philippines is one that does exactly the opposite: students are schooled in the language of other people’s languages, with their schooling basically a rote memorization afforded by Tagalog (well, for Constitutional reasons that some would like to read: P/Filipino) and English. Thus we have students who never learned who they are and yet are expected to learn other people’s sense of who they are through the second or third languages, Tagalog and English, languages that are constantly rammed into their throat as soon as they get into their classrooms, the ramming consistent and legal but never moral and culturally just, until they all become cultural and linguistic parrots.
It is something curious, thus, that while many of the nation-states of the world that followed the route of the fossilized view of ‘national’ language are revisiting the linguistic injustice and cultural tyranny that they systematically effected in order to glorify their nation-state a la Napoleon who had to deny his being Corsican in the name of the glorious French language, the Philippines is still going the route to ‘national’ language, a concept that valorizes, privileges, and gives entitlements to one and only one language.
We can grant here, tentatively, the virtue of ‘national’ language as defined by well-meaning scholars of Philippine languages as the imagined medium of communication among the peoples of the Philippines.
But we cannot close our eyes to the fact that in an effort to do so, taxpayers’ money and the scarce resources of the country have been used to promote, sustain, develop, and teach Tagalog (well, now, they call it with another name). Except for token support from some government agencies for token awards or grants for some token cultural programs, no support of the magnitude given to Tagalog has ever been given to other Philippine languages, major or minor. The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines provides for its translation into the major languages. We do not know if, apart from Tagalog, that Constitution has ever been translated into the languages of all the peoples of the Philippines so that, like the claim to the Philippines as some kind of a working democracy, people could say, in their own language, that their basic human right to their own language is guaranteed by their own Constitution. This means that this failure is itself a proof of unconstitutional acts of the Philippine Government, its pertinent language and culture agencies included.
There is nothing wrong with regionalism in the Philippines.
The territorial basis of Tagalogism and Tagalogization as unruly phenomena of Philippine collective life is a region as well.
The fact that at this time only a handful of urban centers are developed is a clear proof of the underdevelopment of the Philippines—or that more sinister fact of uneven development. This underdevelopment/uneven development is entwined in how we continue our political, economic, and cultural life—with Imperial Manila as the center of the Philippine universe, and thus with Tagalog as ‘the’ language of power.
When a country talks of democracy but has only one language to claim as a developed language, when it has only a few city centers as developed centers, and when it has only one place from which all political powers come from, then, that country has no business calling itself a democracy. Truth is: it is not. That country is a cultural tyrant; that country is a linguistic despot.
The genesis of our misery is that we believed in the lies of the past and we permitted these lies to frame and structure our political, cultural, and economic life. The currency of these lies is that this nation-state that we have built is made up of only one nation (one read from Imperial Manila) and that it is impossible to speak of various states that could make up that nation among nations. What goes with that currency is the dubious position we have accorded to Tagalog, a position that has made many our people fall into the trap that Tagalogism is the governing applied philosophy of all peoples of the Philippines and that Tagalogization is the only one true process we have to go through in the pursuit of the ends of the Philippine nation-state.
With HB 3719, we are going to put an end to the systemic and systematic miseducation of our people. And soon.
Our peoples of the Philippines have decided—and this decision is wrought in the language of their souls. And that language is their language.