ONE of the biggest reasons why we are stuck in a rut and can never get our act together is because we miss the whole point why we do things. When we do something, we do it for the wrong reasons.
When people run for public office, it is not to serve the public. They do it to help themselves. People enroll in exclusive schools like the Ateneo and De La Salle Universities not so much for the superior education than to be within the social register. Are we surprised therefore that the venerable Jesuit-run University, the Ateneo de Manila, has produced Blue Vultures instead of Blue Eagles? From the time of Marcos to the current regime, some Ateneo alumni in the inner circle of power are the farthest from that Ateneo ideal of being “A man for others.”
Our people look forward to the elections in order to change the status quo. This is a very logical motive indeed considering how our political leadership has pulled us down from bad to worse – until you see them rallying behind showbiz personalities.
High fuel prices or not, many Filipinos will buy a car for the status symbol more than any other reasons.
And now once again, the debate is on whether English is to be restored as the medium of instruction or whether Pilipino (since its adoption as the national language, Pilipino and no longer Tagalog is the proper term) should be maintained as it has been introduced during Martial Law by Ferdinand Marcos. Manila Mayor Lito Atienza re-ignited discussion when he decided to set aside a portion of the Pamantasan ng Maynila as an English Only Area. No problem there really. It simply encouraged the use of English but it did not ban or showed bias against the use of Pilipino.
What I find alarming is the move to revive English as the medium of instruction. This is anchored on very wrong premises. Economic benefit and more access to global opportunities are the most commonly used reasons for enforcing English. They say Pilipino is an insufficient language and does not have the terms to teach science and technology subjects.
This position is no different from the ludicrous solution once offered by one of our bird brained congressmen who proposed a 5-year moratorium on birth in order to curb runaway population growth. No right thinking nation will even think of relegating its national language in favor of another foreign language even if it means more immediate economic benefits. Many of us do think that the trade-off is well worth dumping our national language but then a quick look at where we are now tells us that we are not exactly a right thinking nation.
The loss of the Filipino’s English proficiency cannot be blamed on the language shift. It is a result of the mass exodus of teachers seeking to survive deteriorating living standards. In the 50s and 60s, a public school teacher received a decent wage that bought one a respectable standard of living. Since the late 70s and through the 80s and the 90s, public school teachers increasingly found themselves grappling with worsening economic realities of a once noble profession gone sour. For many of them who found their teaching background a big advantage in landing jobs overseas as domestic workers, governesses or nannies, possible humiliation was a welcome trade-off for the escape from poverty. A fair enough deal when taken in the context of our warped social values which put supremacy on wealth more than breeding, character and intellectual ability.
The fact is: In schools like the Ateneo and La Salle Universities where the quality of education was consistent, the proficiency in English remained constant despite the use of Pilipino as the medium of instruction. Ateneo students speak English just as well as the Ateneo students of the 50s and the 60s although they are no longer inclined to write essays and poetry now — thanks or no thanks to the Information Age.
The pressures caused by our economic deprivations are making us adopt very narrow-minded perspectives to the language debate. We fail to appreciate:
1. The nation pays a greater price for the loss of its identity when we allow another foreign language to replace what is the very soul of Filipino communication – its native tongue. The Chinese, once behind us economically, pushed for a national language – Mandarin – knowing the need for a national language to weld a national aspiration. Today, people are scrambling to learn Chinese (Mandarin) to be able to ride the Chinese economic gravy train.
2. The Japanese did not need English to excel economically. On the contrary, the Japanese never had a language problem and they are a great country because of a language that promoted one mind, one heart in one Japanese nation. In contrast, our counter-productive language debate reflects the deep divisions in our sick society. Countries that are on the march to progress do not have this embarrassing debate while those that are basket cases never progressed by shifting to another language.
3. A country’s native tongue does not have to be sacrificed in order to have a facility in English. Go to Holland and see how the Dutch speak better English than the average British national while maintaining their own native language. In Britain, you’ll be lucky to understand 65% of the Brits and God be with you when you cross the border into Scotland.
4. Technical terms that may not be in the Pilipino language are easily adopted and should not pose a problem. For that matter, even the English language does adopt foreign terms emanating from non-English minds. Rolando Tinio, the late National Artist for literature and one of the greatest minds of our race, proved in his translations of the classics of Shakespeare, Shaw, Ibsen, Sophocles and so forth that Pilipino is a great language and can easily incorporate the great elements found in works originally written in another language.
5. Both Pilipino and English can be learned and this need not be at the expense of losing the natural language of the Filipino mind and soul. The products of the Ateneo and La Salle are the living proof of this. They get the best jobs but they have not lost their national identity and their Pilipino proficiency. Thus, there is no need to drop Pilipino as medium of instruction in order to be proficient in English.
6. We will be lucky to have 5% of Filipinos thinking in English. Many who claim to be proficient in English actually think in Pilipino – not in English. They may be able to translate their thoughts well in English but the fact remains that they think in Pilipino and not in English. This ensures that a people who thinks in Pilipino but tries to compete in English only ends up a poor second to one who thinks and speaks in English. Note how the Thais, Chinese, Singaporeans, Malaysians, had all overtaken us even if they had never been as good as we were in English in the 50s and the 60s. English did not get them to where they are.
7. The shift to Pilipino was one of Marcos’s best moves. Now we have a nation that understands each other with a national language. Note how vernacular publications have vanished and the same with Visayan movies. Note how our Muslim brothers who are interviewed on television are now also speaking good Pilipino. Note how English newscasts, once the norm, are now relegated to cable channel newscasts. Newscasts in television leaders ABS-CBN and GMA Network are all in Pilipino.
8. English can never capture the Filipino national spirit. Try singing the old national anthem in English – Land of the morning – and compare that to the flood of emotions that the singing of Bayang Magiliw brings out in your Filipino soul.
9. More Filipinos can achieve levels of excellence when taught in the tongue they are most familiar with. The worst scenario is to have Filipinos studying engineering, for example, under teachers who speak faulty English themselves – for in such a case neither learning English nor learning engineering are facilitated. Using English as medium of instruction merely adds another impediment to progress.
10. We can never trade our national identity and the language of our Filipino soul for the sake of better job opportunities overseas. Those jobs overseas will not be here forever for us. Even now, these jobs are getting harder and harder to come by – so hard, in fact, that people are willing to risk their lives for that chance to work in war-torn Iraq.
There is no shortcut, no quick fixes to nation building. We close our eyes to our festering social gangrene. The sooner we accept the realities, the sooner we will be able to address it. We are like a basketball team who keeps blaming our losing streak to inferior rubber shoes. When in truth we are losing because we have weak fundamentals and are not playing as a team. We don’t pass the ball to our team mates. We rely on individual plays. There is one of us trying to take on five of them.
This is the state of Team Philippines. We do not really know our problems. Are we surprised that we tend to come up with ridiculous and illusory solutions? We are our greatest enemies.