Open Letter to Rev Dr Shah


August 6, 2013

Rev. Dr. Brian Shah
President, Saviour’s Christian Academy
D. Samonte, Laoag City, Philippines

Dear Rev. Dr. Shah,

In the spirit of fairness, we are writing this open letter to you, and we have it made available to the public so that you can give a public accounting of what you did to three of your students: Kleinee Bautista, Carl Andrew Abadilla, and Samuel Respicio.

You have done damage to the students, and you have done damage to the Ilokano language.

You have done damage to the Ilokano communities all over the Philippines, and you have done damage to the Ilokano communities in the diaspora to which we the undersigned belong.

By your action, Reverend Doctor Brian Shah, you have demeaned our sense of self, and have veritably deprived us of the home of our souls, our Ilokano language.

We would like you now to say in plain English what exactly you want to do with the next Ilokano students in your school—the very school that you say “my school”—when you hear them speak Ilokano.

Your act of ‘advising’ these students to look for another school is expulsion. Let us not go around the bush.

We are writing this open letter as educators and academics in Hawaii, and as advocates of cultural pluralism, linguistic justice, diversity, and liberatory education—principles we believe are dear to you as both educator and person of the cloth.

We are also writing this open letter as former community members of Laoag City. This city raised us during the time when our Ilokano language was valued by educators like you, and when students were not expelled when ‘caught’ speaking in the Ilokano of their homes and communities—in the Ilokano of their people and their ancestors.  

While we are now based in Hawaii, we are working closely with our co-advocates in the pursuit of these principles we enumerated not only for ourselves as Ilokanos but for all our peoples in the Philippines.  Lately, we held the 7th Nakem International Conference in San Fernando City, La Union to start a national, and hopefully, an international, conversation on the mother tongue-based multicultural education now being implemented in the Philippines. After almost three generations of having been virtually deprived of our own Ilokano language in education and in other areas of our public life, we thought that the MTB-MLE will show us the way to becoming ourselves again, even as we are committed to building communities within and outside our localities.

To give context to this open letter, please allow us to quote from the mission statement of your school: “(T)o provide our students with a balanced and well-rounded education, develop them to their full potential, and nurture them into good citizens, mindful of their responsibilities to family, society, and country.”

We list here several key questions that we would like you to answer in an open letter as well. As educator and pastor, it is now your duty to give an accounting of what happened to these three students you expelled because they spoke Ilokano.

First, when administrators and school owners like you demand “respect for your school” from students by making them speak English as soon as they get into your campus, will real and honest communication happen? When told to speak English all the time, will students like Kleinee, Carl Andrew, and Samuel—students in the threshold of adolescence—ever have a “balanced and well-rounded education” as you claim in your mission statement?

Second, when you deprive students of their right to express their innermost—their most intimate—thoughts in the language of their home and community, will they ever “develop (their) full potential” as you claim in that same mission statement? Isn’t it that an important aspect of human development is the affirmation and validation of what one is—a validation and affirmation of his being and becoming—and that the school is one of the means through which that act of affirmation and validation happens? In your denial of the Ilokanoness of these students, do you think that you will be able to develop them as full human beings?

Third, you talk about “(nurturing the) students into good citizens, mindful of their responsibilities to family, society, and country.” Do you think that by depriving these students of their Ilokano language, they will become good citizens, citizens who are sensitive to the diversity of their own community and their own country, and citizens who will be able to give back to their own Ilokano people and to the peoples of their own country?

We have come to know of this especially difficult incident, made more difficult by the fact that today, the Philippine educational system has embarked on something that is right and fair and democratic, the education of our young through their mother tongue. Your action is the exact opposite of this novel definition of Philippine basic education. Now, you must account.

Finally, we would like to ask: On what right can you claim that you “own” the school? We have laws in the Philippines that define ownership of anything by foreigners, and we would like to ask on what ground you say you “own” Saviour’s Christian Academy?

As Ilokanos from the diaspora but Ilokanos who trace their roots in Laoag City, we believe we have the right to demand for answers to these questions we have raised in this open letter.

Now we invoke the justice of your God—the “Saviour” you refer to—for you to come clean with the Ilokano people.

Very truly yours in the faith,

Sgd. Aurelio Solver Agcaoili, PhD                     Sgd. Raymund Llanes Liongson, PhD                   
Nakem Conferences International &                    Nakem Conferences International &
University of Hawaii-Manoa                               University of Hawaii-Leeward CC
Honolulu, HI, USA                                             Pearl City, HI, USA                       

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