MLE Turn


Aurelio Solver Agcaoili
University of Hawaii

(Presented at the 1st MLE Conference, “Reclaiming the Right to Learn in One’s Own Language,” Capitol University, Cagayan de Oro City, Feb 18-20, 2010.)

Introduction: We Make the Road

The poet Antonio Machado the liberation educationist Paulo Freire loves to quote talks of the road we must make, one that does not exist prior to our journey. “Caminante,” he admonishes the traveler, “son tus hellas el camino, y nada mas; caminante, no hay camino, se hay camino al andar.” (“Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.”) (1)

Indeed, this is true for us at Nakem Conferences advocating for cultural citizenship, cultural nationalism and pluralism, education to social justice and democracy, and diversity. There never was anyone ready to point out to us where the road to this advocacy is to be found. The reason is simple: there was no road to point.

The whole history of Philippine basic education—and equally worse, Philippine higher education—is a history of struggle for the recognition of, and respect for, our cultural and linguistic rights as a people from the peripheries of a land appropriated by the hegemonic center for reasons that are never ours. Up until today, it is a struggle fraught with the vagaries of education regimes that run the gamut from the faddish to the imitative—from what is the newest theory from the West to what we can do to follow the Western educators and validate, in our local settings, what they are talking about. It has been an educational set-up that has left us with a tacit knowledge: if it were not from the West it does not have any validity, meaning, and relevance.

These education regimes, intricately linked with political leadership, have all but made our educational goals something arbitrary, at the whim and caprice of those in power, and at the mercy of those who should know better than anyone on the street. Because of this, the future of our people has always been unstable and uncertain and vague such that those who could come up with the most fanciful set of experiments under the guise of employability for our graduates and their capacity to speak English would be the one to gain the upper hand in directing our educational system. Add this up: those who could come up with an education concept that valorizes nationalism without elaborating what that is are also given easy access to the educational resources even if such a concept is based on the entitlement and valorization of a single language at the expense of the other languages of the country. In sum, what we have seen so far is that we have deprived our people of their right to be educated in their own language. These education regimes, I must say, have forgotten as well that technicism (2) —this penchant for what one can do in keeping with the technical requisites of the globalized world—is not what education makes.

As Ilokano educators, we have this to say: we have lent our names and supported these education regimes and this technicism that these regimes spawned.

As Ilokano educators, we are a terrible lot, proud of our pathetically small and self-serving achievements, like our near-native ability to speak academic English and our competence to speak Tagalog like a pro, and yet unable to speak, with confidence and pride and intellectual rigor in the language of our own people. We must say this now in the spirit of public admission of our social sin of omission: that many of us Ilokano academics today have been reduced to illiterates in our language.

We are unable to read in Ilokano with dolce and delight.

We are unable to read our literature with critical ability.

We are unable to write and make permanent our reflections about life in the language of our people so that in this permanency, the future generations will have a way to access our thoughts.

We are equally unable to speak our own language—we now refuse to speak it because it reminds us that we will remain promdi (3) and backward if we do so.

And as Ilokano educators, we have not allowed our Ilokano language to speak us.

Because we are English-speaking educators, period.

Because we are Tagalog-speaking educators, period.

Because we wish forever to be known that we are educators capable of using the languages of wider communication in this homeland that is now more of land than home, literally. Our soul and heart are missing in action in this land, we dare say.
No, we will no longer use Ilokano as the signifier that expresses our sense of self-worth and self-respect. If we continue to do so, we will have to contend with the signified, in this vicious circle of cultural denigration courtesy of the tyranny of our educational policies and philosophies: we will not become good enough for the universities, not good enough for the social media that bombard us with images that valorize what is not us as a people, and not good enough to face the demands of our teaching profession that demands our competency in other languages but never our very own.

And so while we do not acknowledge our illiteracy in our own language, we accuse and judge our students of being illiterate in the languages of our schools.

We accuse our students of abandonment of their duty to learn through the dominant languages that are not theirs in the first place.

We accuse them of conspiring to learn otherwise, preferring to flunk all national and international standard examinations as if the only metric to national education is the test score.

This whole-scale accusation has always been premised on an educational philosophy and policy that have never been inward looking but always looking to how many of our graduates we can send abroad so they can send back the dollars and the dinars we need to make the sinking economy afloat.

By virtue of these educational regimes, the unjust educational policies valorizing and entitling only the dominant languages in all our educational institutions because of state power, we have failed to teach our Ilokano students how to read the word, and how to read the world.(4) With Ilokano students failing to master these strange because ‘foreign’ languages, we use against this failure to penalize them and issue out a verdict that they are incompetent, illiterate, uneducated. We do not tell those things to ourselves because we are the educators.

Our teaching logic is quite simple: our students should be in our own image, our clone. We are the educational gods.
But our students are not like us—or they have registered that tacit refusal, the greater refusal, to be like us, with their brand of language that is called ‘text’ or ‘text messaging’ or ‘short message service’, and they are good at it. (5)

We are good in English; they are not.

We are bad in the mother language because we are not to allow this to twist our English-speaking tongue, they are worse.
No, they ought to think and act and behave like us. And so they need to fall in line and be punished for all the world to see because this world, globalized and inspirer of everything homogenous, needs global citizens who are ready to serve the ends of the community of the dominant out there, but never, never, the local communities—their own local communities.

And so here is the first symptom of our withdrawal from all that which critical engagement in liberatory education is a necessity. We are withdrawing, and yet we have not done our end of the bargain.

In this panel, we are asked to state with clarity our MLE goals.

“We” here refers to the advocates at Nakem Conferences International, Nakem Conferences Philippines, Nakem Youth, the advocates of the Academy for Ilokano and Amianan Studies, and those academics involved at the University of Hawaii Ilokano Language and Literature Program. We are not going to disappoint you: our task rests in the making of our own road as we travel, as we walk, as we journey, and as we take the first and most difficult step to resist the homogenizing consequences of a bilingual education that has caused us more harm than good. We are all pilgrims in this struggle even if we say that we read what we must do to meet the goals of Education For All By 2015.

As we made the first step to this journey, we began to make our road.

And this road at this early is unpaved, rough, skirting, snaking, and traitorous. There are cliffs and ravines everywhere as there are potholes and manholes. Somebody must be busy collecting his commission in the paving of our educational roads that there is no time left for a real, honest-to-goodness road making.

The 2000 census of the Philippines places the number of Ilokanos at close to eight million people, close to twice the number of people of New Zealand. The New Zealanders the whole world knows; the Ilokanos the world barely recognizes. We must understand here that the Ilokano language is also a lingua franca in Northern Philippines so that the census number, at best, does not recognize the spread of this language in other places. In effect, we are more than what this census number tells us. Put in a record that about 90 percent of the Philippine population of Hawaii are Ilokano and Ilokano-descended and the historical language of the Philippine diaspora is Ilokano, we clearly have here a case of linguicide perpetrated by a force we call systemic miseducation. There is no culturally fair and linguistically just presence of Ilokano-mediated education for the Ilokanos and we know that that this is happening everywhere for all the other Philippine languages.

Complicities and Struggles

The Ilokano people in recent history have had an uneasy relationship with the homogenizing language and pro-dominant culture policies of the Philippine state. The history of our language struggle is replete with small victories and huge betrayals. All these have been grounded in the contradictions of our own narrative as a people and the grandiose contradictions of the narrative of our educational system and philosophy. It is the age-old dichotomy premised on fission, we are a nuclear particle ever willing to go the way of a social bomb. We are ready to explode anytime.

But do not worry: we are a bundle of contradictions too—and this is also our problem.

One group of Ilokanos, sadly, wants to declare an end to their Ilokanoness by simply forgetting, in theory and practice, their Ilokano language. We have lots of these among teachers, perhaps most of them. Just recently, we still practiced fining our Ilokano students for not speaking English or Tagalog. In our schools, the language that we know best is not—is never—allowed. It is illegitimate, as it is not honored, not respected, not recognized, and not dignified as it is a mere language of our homes. To think that our language is our way of being-more-so, this is one end of the contradiction that we have to go through each day.

But these teachers have their own army of supporters, apart from the official sanctions of administrators. We have a big number of these among our students, among our parents, among our community leaders. And some of these have so much power they have demonized the few advocates of the Ilokano language in the school system. They have turned them into opponents of nationalism, into violators of the Philippine Constitution, and worse, into ‘miseducators’ for prohibiting us from exploring what our languages can offer us to mediate our act of reading the word and our act of reading the world with our students.

This leads us to another group that tries as much as it can to hold onto what is left of the vague traces of Ilokano language that, in the near future, if something drastic and revolutionary is not done, will end up like our kur-itan, our way of writing.
This group is a bundle of contradictions too: they espouse cultural democracy when what is needed is remitting the dollar and the dinar to prop up the flailing Philippine economy.

Its members talk about cultural heritage rights when our uninformed political leaders tell us to speak English the way English-speaking peoples in foreign lands do so that we can have our service contracted to English-speaking new lords and new masters—and there, in these foreign lands, we can start to dream about the good life away from all the country that has given us so much sorrow.

They talk about writing the literature of our people when the more current literature is about the exploits of Jake in Na’vi-land in that techno-fireworks but empty movie called Avatar. Among the Ilokanos, many of them go gung-ho on the latest but do not care a whit about the latest poem in Ilokano even if this poem is about their history of capitulation and cooptation with the dark forces of Martial Law and the dictatorship that came after.

And these people are not afraid to write in the Ilokano language and lend their names to spearhead a renaissance of Ilokano writing.

We have not seen this happening in a long while—about half a century—when those who had the courage to write in Ilokano were also university teachers and college instructors and school administrators and students and ordinary people who knew what kind of a magnificent and luminous and true world is being opened up by their Ilokano language. Nowhere is the recognition of this ‘courage to create’ by writers of this kind demonstrated than the analysis of a state university president in Ilocos Norte who knew all the problems we are going through and offered her university to be the first headquarters of Nakem Conferences Philippines:

…in the act of resisting our homogenization in the interest of an abstract project of Philippine nationhood, we ought not to lose our names, we ought not to lose our sense of self, we ought not to lose our nation in an ethnolinguistic sense, as it were. We know that cultural diversity and the political agendum towards cultural pluralism are terms that cannot be used for selfish ends but are to be pursued to ascertain that the ends of cultural and social justice are being served. Indeed, we are a nation among nations, as some scholars on Ilokano and Amianan life have asserted. We must make a vow to make it happen that the ‘nations’ in the equation in the bigger notion of the ‘nation’ are not to be left out but are included as terms in that equation. In failing to do that, we shall have failed our people, we shall have failed our communities, we shall have failed the Ilokano and Amianan nation, we shall have failed the Philippine nation as well. (6)

Kur-itan, now seen only in tattoos and other ‘exotic’ or nostalgic representations, kept a record of what we wanted remembered and expressed in a more lasting way. Except for some vague traces of that palimpsest based on the accounts of the frailes of what they intended to do in turning us all into rote memorizers of “Amami” (the Pater Noster) and “Abe Mariya” (the Ave Maria) and other formula prayers (7) , we have really inaugurated the death of our being, the death of our being-more-so, so that what we have at this time is a bad prognosis: the commencement of our being-less-so. And we seem to enjoy this, masochistic people that we are.

Response to Erasures in the Diaspora

Let me provide the context of our struggle in Hawaii and connect this to the struggle that we have in the Philippines.
Each year, about 5000 people get into the state as immigrants. Ninety percent of these new immigrants come from the Ilocos and Ilokanized areas of Northern Philippines. The number translates to 4500 Ilokanos in Hawaii each year. With three the average number of children per family, we have half of these coming in as children, easily translatable to more than 2000 Ilokanos. Now where do these children go? How do they get settled in the public schools? Here comes the power of the state to turn these Ilokano children into Americans by having them get into the English as a Second Language or English with Limited Proficiency classes and there remind them that unless they shed off their skin as Ilokanos, like the snake shedding off its skin, they can never become Americans. So your guess is as good as mine: the trauma resulting from this is both personal and social, and the traumatized vows to become American as fast as he could. First off the bat: Speak English. Second, Speak English the way the locals do. Third, Pick up the Pidgin to completely erase your Ilokanoness. Do not claim that you were ever born in the Ilocos but say that you are local even if the Ilokano accent—the accent you are denying—sometimes comes back to haunt you.

But while this is true in Hawaii, it is true here in the Philippines as well. Those who have come to Metropolitan Manila, when they go back to the Ilocos, bring with them this dominant posturing. Back in their homes, they refuse to speak Ilokano, preferring to speak in the dominant language, as this, for the dominant group, is the mark of having arrived at the pedestal of a ‘cosmopolitan’ culture that is unlike theirs. We have comic stories about them, all intended to bring them down and make them realize that they have no business becoming reactionary and adopting the dominant group’s posture. (8)

We have other tragic stories in Hawaii—and in our work with the federal government that involves other states in many ways.
Our Ilokano Language and Literature Program at the University of Hawaii is the only degree-granting program of its kind in the world, with a full program for a major in Ilokano, a minor, and a certificate. There is not a single university in the Ilocos, in Cagayan Valley, and in the Cordilleras—all within the rubric of what is called Amianan—that offers any semblance of what we do at the UH. Pretty soon, we are expanding the offering of Ilokano language and culture in another college within the UH System, the Maui College, side by side with an expansion of a pilot program, under a different grant, for Ilokano for high school students in two huge public high schools. We have started the Ilokano Plus Program, also at Maui College, and we hope to expand programs of this kind as soon as we have prepared our teachers. Even as I say these things, we are aware that our initiatives in Hawaii, first formalized with the offering of the first-ever Ilokano class in 1972, are not of the same kind of an initiative that you need here in the Philippines particularly those institutions of basic and higher education in the three regions of Amianan, or Northern Philippine (Region I, Region II, and CAR). The University of the Philippines at Diliman, for instance, is even better off in giving opportunities to students specializing in Philippine Studies to study a full year of Ilokano and some undergraduate and graduate courses in Ilokano literature. Some universities and colleges in the Ilocos do not seem to know what the Ilokano language and Ilokano literature are all about, because, as some teachers and instructors would say, Why do they still need to learn what they already know?

There is thus a whole scale working up of consciousness of self and community here—with so many of our people unable to use the lens provided by their language and culture and instead use, however handicapped they are, other lenses. Why, indeed, do we have to insist on the need to educate our young in the language that they already know? Why don’t we educate the Cagayanon in French and Italian and English so that they will be gainfully employed in France, Italy, and England? If the Cagayanon only knows Bisaya, where would he go? We don’t even care to venture beyond whichever lens we fancy to wear to ask why the Americans or the English who are born with English as their language from their homes, in school and in their communities—why they still have to be taught English at various levels in school, why the Japanese or the Chinese or the Koreans all of whom learn to speak their own mother tongues at birth still have to study their own mother tongues in their schools.

In Hawaii, we have the same troubles when parents learn that their children are enrolled in our Ilokano courses. The blast of dressing down begins with that incredulous question, “You are Ilokano, why would you learn Ilokano?” Their questioning continues, all aimed to destroy the self-esteem of children trying to figure out what they do not know about themselves by going back to their roots. “Why not learn Korean, Japanese, Spanish, English, or Tagalog? The tourists are coming to Hawaii. The Filipino Channel is all over the screen. And Manila the big city where all the big malls are, is a Tagalog-speaking wonderland of commerce and commodities you cannot find in Honolulu. Even the crewmembers of food chains in Laoag and Vigan speak to you in English and Tagalog. Why would you learn Ilokano? It is a waste of time!”

In Hawaii, we have the same troubles as well when our students, because of historical memory, enroll in Filipino courses believing that they are enrolling in Ilokano language classes. At a certain point in the diasporic history of Ilokanos in Hawaii, the Ilokanos are the exact equivalent of Filipinos and the Filipinos the exact equivalent of Ilokanos. With the interchangeability of Filipino and Tagalog as linguistic concepts much later on, the concept of equivalence had been challenged and eroded, and the confusion set in, especially when the University of Hawaii, in its books, changed the course titles of Tagalog to Filipino. So here we have a problem of displacement in historical consciousness: the Ilokano as Filipino is now suspect—as he is suspect in the Philippines—and is now no longer found. The Ilokano as Filipino in Hawaii has gone AWOL. If he comes back at all, he is simply ‘Filipino’ without the regional Ilokano appellation. This is the same view that has prevailed in our educational discourse, this sameness without the qualification, this sameness that refuses to recognize that in the celebration of diversity, there is more hope for us all, that in the protection of our difference, there could be more solidarity and unity.

The First Step to Walking: Resistance and Clandestine Initiatives

All these issues of displacement in historical consciousness are not easy to spot in an increasingly homogenized society like the Philippines, like the United States, and like any other country pretending that nationalism is equal to the singularity of a language spoken by all its citizens under the guise of national language. The fetish for national language must be called as such: a fetish that has given rise to our growing inabilities to go multicultural and diverse, to relate to each other using a variety of perspectives, and to be aware that we are not the only people in the country or in the world. What we have continued to deny, to repress, and to hide is the fact that that this country is a nation among nations. (9) All told, many of our writers insisted on writing in the Ilokano language even if they also dabbled in other languages. This act of resistance, however inchoate, issued out a memorandum to those proponents of a national literature that believes only in the literature written in the national or international language. From the ranks of teachers, there were those doing “clandestine guerilla” cultural work in their classrooms, such as the one done by Joel Manuel using Ilokano to teach high school physics somewhere out there in Banna, Ilocos Norte. (10)

In the same vein, another superintendent of schools, Norma Fernando, saw to it that for the first time, a student paper in Ilocos Norte was produced in Ilokano, with only sections in English and Filipino, a reversal of the more official and DepEd sanctioned campus journalism practice of a school paper in the dominant languages of instructions. (11) These acts, while admittedly individual, reflect the political climate that we must recognize as present in our educational practice. It is not true that the Ilokano teacher in his Ilokano classroom cannot create an Ilokano environment of instruction and education following the route of the clandestine teacher. How much he can sustain this without the support of his superiors in the pecking order of educational hierarchy and power remains a question. Never mind that in coming up with these innovations, his students learn more and better. Never mind that his students come to a fuller understanding of his world. What cannot be delayed, however, is the immediacy and urgency of making knowledge possible for his students.

Coming to Voice

These realizations made us sit up at Nakem Conferences. No, we cannot sit back, relax, and enjoy the educational specter of a continuing cultural tyranny and linguistic injustice among our young people. We know at Nakem Conferences that we are here trying to come to voice, to understand once more what we have lost, what have been left of us, and what we can to do retrace ourselves back to the what, in bell hooks’ words, “education as the practice of freedom.” (12) Our coming to voice—the realization that we have not had our own speech in a long, long while—is an act of courage that we did not know we had in the beginning. (13) Ilokanos have been taught to make subordinate their claims to their own sense of nationhood. While that sense was clear prior to the onset of the Spanish colonization in 1572, that has been totally wiped out in lieu of a political project called the Philippine nation-state, a latter-day product of a political imaginary borne of centuries of repression, oppression, and colonization. In 2008, Nakem Conference problematized this reality in its conference, and called its conference, “Imagining the Ilokano and Amianan Nation.” The Honorable Carlos Padilla, in his keynote address at the conference, said that the Ilokano and Ilokanized people need not imagine the Ilokano—and by extension, the Amianan—nation because that nation exists, that it is real, and that it has remained intact.

We did not realize that our small acts of resistance at Nakem Conference, if you can call it this way, were acts that take their energy from other people doing the same thing for their own people and for others, such as Myles Horton for Highlander School, and Paulo Freire for his theory and practice of liberatory education, his ‘pedagogy of the oppressed.’ (14) We realized later on that this rendering of the sense of nation of the smaller ‘nations’ within a nation-state into something obsolete and unnecessary is a tactic of all nation-states to centralize and consolidate their full control of the personal and collective lives of their peoples, so that in their full control and consolidation, they can project that the life of their own nation-state has primordial value over the life of that nation-state’s constituent indigenous communities. Philippine historical narrative is replete with this official positioning, with Manuel Luiz Quezon preferring a Philippine nation run like hell by Filipinos to a Philippine nation run like heaven by other people but that nation that is in his mind was patterned after the 19th century nation-state of Europe particularly England, Germany, France, and Spain—nation-states all that consolidated power by invoking oneness minus plurality of cultural lives and that took up the task of implementing an officially sanctioned ‘national’ language. (15)

A Practice of Denial, A Practice of Confrontation

What we have for long in the Philippines, even as we sanctified the nation-state project and even as we give entitlements and privileges to other languages, is the continuing denial that this country, that this homeland, is not only the homeland of a few but a homeland of the many that is us, the many and varied ethnic groups—each individually unique—that are called Filipinos, yes the many that are called by other names such as Ilokanos, Cebuanos, Hiligaynons, Bicols, Kapampangan, Pangasinense, Chavacanos, Ivatans, Kalanguyas, and so forth.

It is this denial of our cultural and linguistic diversity that has set us into full speed in turning every one of us Filipinos first, with our cultural citizenship fully denied in lieu of that political citizenship. (16) And in that full speed—in that mad rush to ‘Filipinize’ us, we have taken to task the promoting and entitling and privileging of a ‘national’ language that we know—or least some of us know—was based on a lie, ‘a criminal act’ (17) —and then leaving out each of our other—now systemically ‘othered’ languages in the cold, marginalized, calling them an obstacle to our unity and solidarity and progress. Some uninformed scholars even had the temerity to always look to Japan for some model of national language use as the engine for their economic growth and development, forgetting that Japan, not as diverse as the Philippines culturally and linguistically, had to resort to tactics of assimilation, and thus, tactics of denial, to all other Japanese of non-Japanese cultural and linguistic orientation.

We know that this ideological orientation paved the way to an educational practice that reflected the political dynamics of nation-state making that did not take into full account the contributions of our diverse cultures and languages in the making of the political reality of a nation-state. We did not take into account as well that repression can never become the premise of a real democracy, one that articulates and makes as a key virtue the recognition of the absolute rights of people to freedom. What went out of service in the scheme of things is tolerance even as the practice of discrimination by the newly inaugurated Philippine nation-state went on full steam. We forgot that “the practice of discrimination belittles as much as brutalizes people.” (18) In the institution of a national language—and in the establishment of an educational regime based on that assumption of a national language as the instrument for the making of people into political citizens—we instituted discrimination, legitimized it, and effectively forgot the virtue of tolerance, the very foundation of democracy, as it “teaches us to live with difference and learn from it, to live with those who are different without considering ourselves superior or inferior.” (19)

But in all these acts of state-sanctioned discrimination and intolerance, acts that are those of a cultural tyrant, the effectively ‘othered’ Philippine ethnolinguistic communities did not raise howl but meekly followed suit, taking in all the effects of marginalization in stride. The masking of all these discriminatory practices could have been complete were it not for the empirical fact that the educational outcomes that we desire are not there, and these outcomes have not been there in a long, long while, thus making the Philippines slide down further to illiteracy, and then to underdevelopment. All these because we forget that the easiest way to teach our people about the world is to make them competent in their own word what this world is all about. Their own word is their own language and no other.

While we are going full throttle with the chimera of building a nation with the illusory Constitutional mandate that developing one national language, Filipino, would unite us, we should be shamed by the resolve of our southeastern neighbor-state, Papua New Guinea, which by virtue of its Constitution expressed “the wish for traditional villages and communities to remain as viable units of Papua New Guinean society, and for active steps to be taken in their preservation.” There’s nothing spectacular or remarkable about a country’s wish to preserve its traditional villages and communities except that Papua New Guinea has expressed the will to preserve more than 800 indigenous languages and at least as many traditional societies out of a population of just under 7 million.

These things have been clear to us at Nakem Conferences, even if in the beginning we did not have the courage to blurt it out into the open. We have been talking about cultural citizenship for so long we cannot remember any more when we first got our rebuke from the ranks of Ilokanos who did not have respect for what we were doing. Those of us who were into advocacy for Ilokano language and literature were branded as incapable of doing advocacy work for the national language or English, with our minds considered lesser than those who can think, write, and speak from English or Tagalog. Or were just simply regarded as educational reactionaries. The path we took at Nakem Conferences was never easy; it is not yet easy until today, this we now know full well.

When Ricky Nolasco was chair of the Commission on the Filipino Language, we made it sure that he knew what we were doing at Nakem Conferences. For two consecutive years, in 2007 and 2008, we asked him to come to our conference and lend his name to the cause, which he did, and for which Nakem Conferences will always be grateful. We sometimes feel that Nakem Conferences pushed him to side with our cause at the expense of his position as chair of the commission. All told, what Nakem Conferences did and what Nakem Conferences continues to do in the interest of the goals of Education for All by 2015 is a commitment first to our peoples of the Amianan. We are clear on this.

The six EFA Goals (20) can never be vague to us as these are concerns that have not left us even when we were discriminated against, even when the tolerance for our languages and cultures was not the virtue that we saw, heard, and experienced during all these educational regimes that did not regard the difference and diversity that we offered as something of value to the development of our cultural and political citizenship.

Nakem Conferences could not be vague with what universal primary education was. We went to school sharing seats with others, even walking barefoot for hours to experience the traces of words that were not ours, to go through the rite of getting into a world we do not understand because the words in that world were not ours.

Nakem Conferences could not be vague with increasing adult literacy: we owe it to our communities and our people that our adults will be able to read and write in the Ilokano language again. With about eight Ilokanos in the country and millions more abroad, we have only a single monolingual magazine to speak of, with a weekly circulation of 50,000. This means that a fraction of one percent (or .6%) only reads—or buys. Given that people share their reading materials with others, we can extrapolate and increase the number of readers to four per week. We have these facts: the original number based on the weekly circulation reveals that: 6250 out of one million read. With the multiplier, we have: 25,000 out of one million read, or a measly 200,000 out of some 8 million. We cannot even compare the gravity of the situation when someone calmly said, “Houston, we have a problem!” in that calm NASA-speak. We have an astronomical crisis pointing to the eventual disappearance of our language! The tell-tale signs are there: you initiate a conversation in Ilokano with the young in Ilokandia and chances are you get a response in Tagalog or some foreign language. This problem, of course, is compounded by the fact that many of our magazines and newspapers do not live long because: (a) the number of readership has always been a problem and (b) the overall environment for adult education does not support the learning process in the Ilokano language. There are of course business issues related to the failure of these publications but this is not concern of this paper at this time.
Nakem Conferences could not be vague with the need for an education that is geared towards gender equality. While the issue of gender equality takes as a subtext the issue of patriarchal privileges, our people are not blind to the immediacy of responding to inequalities resulting from these privileges. We have not succeeded in all respects and that we need to educate ourselves further along these lines. But given the right mix of motivations and incentives such as the learning environment, we will evolve a fairer and more just society for our people. Our language, certainly, is not pure but polluted as every language is, but the fact that it accords respect for varieties of gender, for the equality of the sexes, and for the recognition of the virtue of acceptance and tolerance—this is enough data to make us proceed with our reading of this world of gender parity.

A Language of Critique, A Language of Possibility

Nakem Conferences and its work could be understood as our own language of critique. (21) Our work in the Ilokano language and culture instruction at the University of Hawaii does the same thing. The simple fact that Nakem Conferences came out of our desire to put in context the centennial celebration of the first 15 Ilokanos to work in the plantations of Hawaii already implicates the intrinsic connection between what we do at our university and at Nakem Conferences—and between what our Nakem Conference partners in the Philippines, through the consortium between Nakem Conferences Philippines and the Nakem Conferences International which is housed at our UH Ilokano Program. This proves that there is this beautiful but delicate dance that we are doing in our respective organizations and academic institutions. It is beautiful because we have come to a point where we can now speak who we are, not in the fullness of human speech yet because of constraints that are largely external and systematic but in the new courage we have found we do have. These constraints are traceable to our educational bureaucracy such as the Department of Education, the Commission on Higher Education, and the TESDA. This courage is an antidote to our having been rendered mute by the educational system, by the pressure of the school system to enjoy our acquiescence, silence, and acceptance of the status quo without question.

There is the delicate dance in our pursuit of the MLE goals, this we have to admit. And the dance is delicate because we are walking on new ground even if we resist the old ground and insist on our freedom to walk on this new one. (22) Certainly, we are learning along the way, even as we try to respond to the challenges of the various MLE goals and its six areas of focused activity. (23)

Conclusion: New Educational Practice of “Being More-So” (24)

What we envision and what we want done at Nakem Conferences is the evolving of a new educational practice of “being more-so”, a practice that takes into fundamental account the language of the students and the language of teachers teaching these students. We refuse here to look at language and its reality as something akin to a tool in learning, in education, and in understanding the world. In our account of the new educational practice of being more-so, we look at language, like the hermeneutist Hans-George Gadamer, (25) as that which mediates our understanding of the world, that which middles, that which is between us and the world. Thus we can only come to an understanding of this world through language. There is no other way.

That we have to perceive Ilokano to be always in the concrete, that it must be ours even if we accept that it is also beyond us, the fact that after taking a long hard look through numerous and diligent studies the United Nations has declared that it is the birthright of everyone to learn in his own mother tongue at least during the early stages of his education—all this makes it all the more relevant in understanding the place of MLE in our pursuit of education that emancipates, and that it emancipates because it grounds itself from the humanity of our students and our teachers, a humanity that is always life-long and thus demanding a life-long, continuing, ceaseless educational practice.

Now, we summon the poet Machado and we say: Indeed, there is no road. But we make the road while walking. We have begun to walk hoping that our efforts will shine on the road that materializes before us.


1. Caminante, son tus huellas
 /el camino y nada más;
/ caminante, no hay camino,
/ se hace camino al andar.
/ Al andar se hace el camino,
/y al volver la vista atrás
/ se ve la senda que nunca
/ se ha de volver a pisar.
/ Caminante, no hay camino,
/ sino estelas en la mar. Wanderer, your footsteps are 
the road, and nothing more; 
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking. 
By walking one makes the road,
 and upon glancing behind
 one sees the path 
that never will be trod again.
 Wanderer, there is no road--
Only wakes upon the sea. "Proverbios y cantares XXIX" [Proverbs and Songs 29], Campos de Castilla (1912); trans. Betty Jean Craige in Selected Poems of Antonio Machado (Baton Rogue, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1979).

2. Technicism as used in this paper is “a fundamental attitude which seeks to control reality, to resolve all problems with the use of scientific-technological methods and tools. Technicism entails the pretense of human autonomy to control the whole of reality.” In Egbert Schuurman, “Philosophical and Ethical Problems of Technicism and Genetic Engineering,” Society for Philosophy and Technology, Vol. 3, No. 1, Fall 1999, Retrieved, Dec. 15, 2009.

3. A contraction of the English phrase, “from the province.” The neologism suggests the practice of racism in the Philippines and perpetrates the divide between the residents of the metro cities and the rural, remote areas.

4. Paulo Freire, Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to those Who Dare to Teach, trans. Donaldo Macedo, Dale Koike, and Alexandre Oliveira; foreword by Donaldo Macedo and Ana Maria Araujo Freire (Boulder, Co: Westview Press, 2005).

5. With a subscriber base of 50 million, the Philippines sent text messages of 1.39 billion. See, “The Philippines Reaffirms Status As "Text Messaging Capital Of The World,", retrieved 10 Jan 2010.

6. Miriam E. Pascua, “To Name Ourselves Once Again—And to Know Why We are Doing It: A Foreword,” in A. Agcaoili et al., eds., Sukimat: Researches on Ilokano and Amianan Studies — Proceedings of the 2007-2008 Nakem Conferences (Philippines: Nakem Philippines, 2009), p. 2.

7. “A fragment of Ilokano Hail Mary,”; “Amami—a fragment of the Ilokano Lord’s prayer,”, retrieved, 15 Dec 2009.

8. Some of the comic jokes, meant for instruction and relief, some sort of a catharsis for the oppressed whose only way of fighting back is to crack a joke or two, are: (1) “Saanka dimmakkel?” [an odd mixture of Tagalog and Ilokano, to mean, “Where did you grow up?”]; (2) “Dimmakkel ako sa ingget’ selsel.” [also an odd mixture of Tagalog and Ilokano, “I grew up in an area so remote.”].

9. Aurelio S. Agcaoili, Essays on Amianan Knowledge. Honolulu: UH Ilokano Language and Literature Program, 2008; Aurelio S. Agcaoili and Raymund Ll. Liongson, eds., Nakem: Imagination and Critical Consciousness in Ilokano Language, Culture, and Politics. Final Proceedings of 2006 Nakem Centennial Conference and Essays on Ilokano and Amianan Life in Honor of Prof. Prescila Llague Espiritu (Honolulu: UH Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program, 2007); Aurelio S. Agcaoili, Anabelle Castro Felipe, and Alegria Tan Visaya, eds. Sukimat: Researches on Ilokano and Amianan Studies — Proceedings of the 2007-2008 Nakem Conferences (Philippines: Nakem Philippines, 2009).

10. Joel Manuel, “Teaching Physics in Ilokano,” paper presented at the 2006 Nakem Centennial Conference, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii, November 11-14, 2006.

11. See Dr. Norma Fernando’s presentation on student works, 2008 Nakem Conference, St.Mary’s University, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, May 28-30, 2008.

12. bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (New York: Routledge, 1994).

13. bell hooks uses this strategy—this “coming to voice”—in her idea of education as the practice of freedom: “Coming to voice is not just the act of telling one’s experience. It is using that telling strategically—to come to voice so that you can also speak freely about other subjects.” See Teaching to Transgress, p. 148.

14. Myles Horton and Paulo Freire. Ed. Brenda Bell, John Gaven, and John Peters. We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990).

15. Aurelio S. Agcaoili, “The Lies of the 1934-1935 Constitutional Convention,” Tawid News Magasin, 9 Dec 2007.

16. Aurelio Agcaoili, “Studies of the Amianan: Towards the Production of Amianan Knowledge, A Critical Introduction,” in A. Agcaoili, ed., Nakem: Essays in Amianan Knowledge (Honolulu: UHM Ilokano Language and Literature Program, 2008).

17. See Agcaoili, “The Lies of the 1934-1935 Constitutional Convention.”

18. Paulo Freire, Letters to Cristina: Reflections on My Life and Word (New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 148.

19. Ibid.

20. See the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2010. Adopted in Dakar, Senegal in 2000, the six goals of Education for All by 2015 are: (1) early childhood education; (2) universal primary education; (3) life-long learning; (4) adult literacy; (5) gender parity; and (6) quality education. Three of these have been timed, with the goals to be realized by 2015: (a) provision of universal primary education; (b) increase in adult literacy levels by 50%; and (c) ensuring gender equality education.

21. Henry A. Giroux, “Introduction,” in Paulo Freire, The Politics of Education: Culture, Power, and Liberation (South Hadley, Mass.: Bergin and Garvey, 1985).

22. A. S. Agcaoili, “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, Philippine Consulate General, Honolulu, Hawaii, October 2007.

23. Executive Summary: Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education—Philippines. Strategic Plan, 13 Feb. 2010.

24. The concept is drawn from the work and practice of Freire in liberatory pedagogy.

25. Truth and Method. 2nd rev. edition. Trans. J. Weinsheimer and D.G.Marshall. (New York: Crossroad, 1989).


Agcaoili, Aurelio S. 2008. Essays on Amianan Knowledge. Honolulu: UH Ilokano Language and Literature Program.

Agcaoili, Aurelio S. and Raymund Ll. Liongson, eds. 2007. Nakem: Imagination and Critical Consciousness in Ilokano Language, Culture, and Politics. Final Proceedings of 2006 Nakem Centennial Conference and Essays on Ilokano and Amianan Life in Honor of Prof. Prescila Llague Espiritu. Honolulu: UH Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program.

Agcaoili, Aurelio S., Anabelle Castro Felipe, and Alegria Tan Visaya, eds. Sukimat: Researches on Ilokano and Amianan Studies — Proceedings of the 2007-2008 Nakem Conferences. Philippines: Nakem Philippines.

Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.
Anderson, Kimberley S. 2009. War or common cause?: a critical ethnography of language education policy, race, and cultural citizenship. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Aronowitz, Stanley. 1998. “Introduction,” in Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy and Civic Courage; trans, Patrick Clarke; foreword by Donaldo Macedo.

Cattanco, Carlo. 2006. Civilization and Democracy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Freire, Paulo.1996. Letters to Cristina: Reflections on My Life and Work. New York: Routledge.

Freire, Paulo. 2005. Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare to Teach. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
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Horton, Myles and Paulo Freire. 1990. Ed. Brenda Bell, John Gaven, and John Peters. We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Macedo, Donaldo. 2006. Literacies of Power. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Miron, Louis F., Jonathan Javier Inda, and JoAnn K. Aguirre. 1998. “Transnational Migrants, Cultural Citizenship, and the Politics of Language in California,” Educational Policy, Vol. 12, No. 6, 659-681.

Pascua, Miriam E. 2009. “To Name Ourselves Once Again — And to Know Why We are Doing It: A Foreword,” in Sukimat: Researches on Ilokano and Amianan Studies — Proceedings of the 2007-2008 Nakem Conferences. Philippines: Nakem Philippines. [p. 2]

Rosaldo, Renato, ed. 2003. Cultural Citizenship in Island Southeast Asia: Nation and Belonging in the Hinterlands. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Stevenson, Nick. 2003 Sept. “Cultural Citizenship in the ‘Cultural’ Society: A Cosmopolitan Approach,” Citizenship Studies, Vol, 7, No. 3, 331-348.

Zelinsky, Wilbur, 2001. The Enigma of Ethnicity: Another American Dilemma. Iowa City: U of Iowa Press.

Other Documents

“Education Reforms on Track to Meet EFA Goals,” Office of the Secretary, Department of Education, January 20, 2010.

“EFA goals,”, retrieved, 31 Dec 2009.

Executive Summary, “Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education-Philippines Strategic Plan,” 13 Feb 2010.

MTB MLE Stratplan, Philippines—Results Based Management Chart, 13Feb2010.

MTB MLE Philippines Operational Flow Chart of Activities, 13 Feb 2010.

“Ten things you need to know about EFA goals”,, retrieved, 2 Jan 2010.

“World education forum, Dakar, 2000”, retrieved, 5 Dec 2009.

Philippine Human Development Report 2008/2009, retrieved, 5 Jan 2010.

“World declaration on education for all,”, retrieved, 5 Jan 2010.

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