Recently, the second presidential debate was held in UP Cebu. Of course, along with the serious matters that have to be tackled were the jokes and snarky comments of the candidates regarding each other. Netizens also took part in the fun, with posts containing hugot, jokes, and memes. #PiliPinas2016 became the top trending topic in Twitter that night. However, a certain tweet veered away from the amusement and brought up the issue of language. For those who did not watch the debate, the questions and the answers given were conveyed in a mix of English and Filipino.
“Tagalog should be discouraged. So long, so bullshitty, so useless a tongue for debate,” read the tweet by former congressman and journalist, Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr. He had a series of tweets regarding the matter, all of which looked down on our official language. No wonder angry netizens vandalized his Wikipedia page—in today’s terms, this man was rude af. Although these posts were done in bad taste, it could have been caused by the pasikot-sikot statements of the candidates. Nonetheless, language doesn’t have anything to do with their empty statements. Even if the discussion was done in straight English but the candidates had the same answers, the debate would still be as ludicrous as it was.
The view that other languages are superior has long been prevalent in our society. Why do we put English on such a high pedestal? James Soriano’s 2011 column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer even calls it “the language of the learned”. As for our own language he says, “Filipino may be the language of identity, it is the language of the streets. It might have the capacity to be the language of learning, but it is not the language of the learned.” He even went on to say that “Filipino was a chore, like washing the dishes; it was not the language of learning. It was the language we used to speak to the people who washed our dishes.” It’s ridiculous that the language you use is seen as a representation of social stature or level of education, even today.
Looking at the other side of the coin, these men had privileged backgrounds and were raised to prefer English—a repercussion of colonial mentality. But even after many years of being “free”, why do we still look down on our language, on ourselves? Until now, it seems as though we are still colonized by neglecting our native tongue. If you would remember, aside from religion, the Spaniards used language to dominate us, making Spanish the language of government, education, and trade—thus rendering those who are not well versed in the language, powerless.
In my previous school, there was this policy called the “English Campaign”. It required students to speak in English at all times—even outside the classroom. When we were caught speaking in Tagalog, we were asked to pay P5. I hated it, and so did my classmates. Aside from the fact that this was another expense that would slash our measly allowances, I found it absurd that we were fined for doing something that we could not avoid—something that came naturally like breathing. What happened to “Ang hindi magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit pa ang amoy sa masahol na isda”? Why are we being condemned for speaking the vernacular—the language that we were born to use, the language of our people? It felt as though we were being trained to be strangers in our own land. As expected, it didn’t last that long because ironically, the teachers used Tagalog as well to discuss some lessons better.
I am aware that it is a bit wry that I am writing this in English and to be fair, I won’t be a hypocrite either. I won’t deny that I am not well versed in Tagalog—no, I don’t speak Tagalog with an accent (I still consider myself fluent in the language, conversationally, if that makes sense) but it has never been my strong suit in school (except for that one time I got a 4.0 in FILDLAR) and I have a hard time understanding uncommon or “deep” words.
However, I was never proud of it. Actually, I thought it was embarrassing. There were countless times when my friends would tease me about it. Whenever I would ask what a deep word meant, or if I start explaining in English, they would say, “Wow, foreigner.”, “Ay, bobo ka nga pala sa Tagalog.”, and the classic, “Nosebleed!” Here I am, a Filipino, born and raised in the Philippines, and yet I do not have a full grasp of the language. Unlike Mr. Locsin though, I never thought Tagalog was inferior to English. In fact, I badly want to express myself better in Tagalog because it has more power to move people—strong and passionate.
“It breaks my heart that there’s so much hatred for our language. It infuriates me that years after our independence, there’s still a prevailing colonization of our ideals, one that drives Filipinos into such a state of self-hatred for our heritage, and our culture,” read a post on Facebook by Annelle Garcia. Years after our independence, freedom that our heroes offered their lives for, we still belittle ourselves. Why is it that whenever a Filipino (or part Filipino) is recognized abroad we proclaim our pride, but in our own country, we can’t even take pride in our identity? It’s sad that we find it cute whenever a foreigner knows how to speak in Tagalog, but criticize a Filipino for expressing themselves in our native tongue in situations such as the presidential debate.
Now who is to blame? Our educational system? Language elitists like Teddy Locsin? I think we are all at fault. We support this view whenever we praise someone who has a nice western accent whenever they speak in English. We back it up whenever we insist that national matters should be discussed in English when majority of the population understands Tagalog better. We tolerate it whenever we think less of ourselves when we could better express our ideas in the vernacular but still force ourselves to speak in English. I am bothered that in the classroom we still have to ask if we could answer in Tagalog—why do we need to ask permission for wanting to give a better picture of what we want to say?
Yes, English may be short and clipped compared to Tagalog. It may be appropriate in classroom settings (because even our textbooks are in English). But that doesn’t make Tagalog any less of a language. It is far from “bullshitty” and “useless”. It is rich, beautiful, intense, and more importantly, ours. What I’m trying to say could be summed up by this quote from Heneral Luna: “Mga kapatid, mayroon tayong mas malaking kaaway kaysa Amerikano. Ang ating sarili.” How we look at our language reflects how we see ourselves and I refuse to see the Filipino people as such. We are so foolish for discriminating what was made for us, by us.
We are better than this.