Thursday, December 4, 2008

Provincial unity begins with language unity

The year 2008 is about to end. Romblon will be will be another year older and every one of us, without exception, will surely be drinking from a barrel called Hope to herald the coming of 2009.

I have many misgivings about 2008, mostly on the side of things that have not been done. Overall, however, 2008 was a good year, for me at least. The qualification is conservative. “Good” surely may have been “better”, but why complain? My plate this year was full, and I didn’t bite more than I could chew.

So, how does a year-ender for you take shape, or look like? Do you remember, like I do?
I remember that earlier this year, I promised to write about unity—provincial unity—and how it could be achieved, finally. Unity, like hope, is a topic most people shy away from because it is generic. It is boring, and most of all, it is just an ideal. It has nothing to do with our survival, or daily existence. Unity will not give us food. Politics will. Correct?

Dead wrong. We need to talk about unity as if our future depends on it. We need to discuss unity because we are divided as a people. For starters, we are disunited in the things we aspire for and so divided in doing the things that will lead us to that aspiration.

Let us begin with unity in language.

A few months ago, Ismael Fabicon, the culture warrior of the Romblon Discussion List-Cultural, Livelihood and Education Assistance for Romblon, or RDL-CLEAR, the group of US-based Romblomanons actively involved in Romblon socio-economic and cultural affairs, wrote Gov. Natalio Beltran III an e-mail taking him to task for an entry in the official provincial website,, that declares that “Tagalog or Filipino is extensively spoken and understood by the “locals”. “Locals” means you and me, the Romblomanons who toil daily and have axes to grind about our deteriorating condition.

This statement, harmless as it looks, got Manong Ish’s goat because he believed it was just short of saying that Tagalog or Filipino has become an official language of Romblon.

Well, those of you who strongly feel about your own language can flock to Manong Ish’s camp and join him in his crusade and thank him for his vigilance.

“We do speak and write fluently in Asi, Onhan, and Romblomanon languages. We are not just "locals." We know our culture and history and are very proud of it,” he wrote.

“It's sad that our "official provincial website" now admits that Tagalog is our national language”, he added.

I looked up the website and saw that the entry was still there. Let me assure Manong Ish, however, that it does not declare Tagalog our national language. A website, or any medium for that matter, does not make a language official. It’s the speakers of a language who do.

In the case of Filipino which is a “composite of Tagalog” and other regional languages, it is the Constitution that made it official and as such could not be declared invalid unless the Constitution is amended.

But going back to the issue of Tagalog as the Romblomanons’ new language, I cannot help but confirm the observation that we really have become the sons and daughters of Balagtas all to our disadvantage—politically, economically, socially. We have substituted our own languages with a borrowed medium, one which is a stranger to us and hence, incomplete.

This is one of the causes of our disunity, for our plodding along, because by speaking an unfamiliar language, we have forgotten that we have our own languages that express our collective aspirations and dreams as a people.

I know this as an Asi and as a writer. Sometime ago, I wrote that by not speaking Asi, Onhan, or Ini in our daily conversation, we are slowly losing our collective soul and identity. Now, I now make the heretical pronouncement that the Romblomanons, by expropriating Tagalog, have long ago abandoned any pretense that they speak a common language. Many Romblomanons, by not speaking their own languages, have become strangers to their own land. This abandonment of our language heritage is an unforgiveable sin and will cast us as cultural pariahs.

This is a provincial shame and we need to be redeemed. How? By closing down the province’s official website whose viewers and visitors have been as few as lightning in summer?

No. We can be redeemed by returning to our roots and speaking in our own languages.
As expected, Gov. Beltran, who prefers to speak Tagalog rather than Asi, did not bother to reply to Manong Ish’s letter. Maybe, he cannot defend the particular statement on the website. Or, maybe, he simply doesn’t care.

I care. Manong Ish cares. Many care, as Manuel Faelnar, director of the Defenders of the Indigenous Languages of the Archipelago Philippines Foundation, Inc., or DILA, does. He said that Asi, Onhan, and Romblomanon are distinct languages, not dialects, as many Romblomanons think.

Faelnar’s take on the so-called Filipino language was that it is an artificial language, and could not possibly have any native speakers. His defense of our own languages was vigorous, punctuated by three quotes which I reproduce below:

"Without our language, we have no culture, we have no identity, we are nothing."—Ornolfor Thorsson, adviser to the President of Iceland.

"When you lose a language you lose a culture, intellectual wealth, a work of art."—Kenneth Hale, teacher of linguistics, MIT.

"Words, if powerful enough, can transport people into a journey, real or imagined, that either creates a fantasy or confirms reality."—Rachelle Arlin Credo, poet and writer.

Mr. Faelnar needed not go far to buttress his point. We have our own Jose Rizal, who said that, “Ka waya gi papalangga sa sariling rila ay mas mayansa pa sa halpok nak isra.”

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