Sunday, June 10, 2007

Independence Day, Citizenship and additional thoughts on English

Like a Pope, Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has made many of our sacred national holidays movable feasts. This reminds me when Paul VI decided to make Epiphany movable (the first Sunday after New Year's Day) right after Vatican II concluded. There was resistance since a lot of people especially children who had learned their third R calculated that they would lose a few days from the 12 days of Christmas. But if January 1 happened to be a Sunday then kids would get 2 extra days of Christmas.

But why bother? Schools tend to restart their terms on the first Monday after January 1. Christmas evaporates soon afterward.

Gloria made June 12 movable, something unthinkable in other countries. What if the United States of America made July 4 movable (following Gloria's lead) and by quirk of calendar fate, Independence day fell on July 1? Horrors for the Americans! That's Canada Day!

England and the other Commonwealth realms celebrate a national day called the Queen's Birthday. Well this is somewhat movable and different realms have different dates for the Queen's Birthday. The Queen has just one natal day. The common thread is that these birthdays falls on the sunniest day of the year. Her Majesty would not object. For her devotion to duty she deserves a sunny birthday.

Nonetheless whether the President makes it movable or not, Independence Day is an important day. I just perused a blurb for expats where in an interview people were asked if independence is a good thing for the nation. The majority said a resounding "yes". Some said that even if we are in a mess, at least we have our rights. One female university student said that if we were under Spain still, then we could still be shot like Rizal for opposing the government. Another said that if we were under the Americans still, we would be second-class citizens.

And this is where I would comment. This is really true and I know it for a fact. If we were still a colony of the US, Spain, Japan, Britain etc, we would always be second class citizens in our own land. Even if we had stratospheric economic growth and GDPs we would be still unfree.

In the US I had the opportunity to chat with Puerto Ricans who as US citizens can live and work on the mainland. Puerto Rico if we will recall is linked with our history as Filipinos. This Caribbean island was part of the 20 million dollar sale of Spanish colonies (that included our country) as a result of Spain losing the Spanish-American War. Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth of the USA and enjoys a lot of powers given to US states. But they are not a state.

One Puerto Rican explained to me that as US citizens they have almost all the benefits and obligations conferred by that status. But unlike other native born Americans, their citizenship can be revoked without their consent by the US Congress. The Congress legislated their US Citizenship, the Congress can take it away! So some Puerto Ricans have tried to define Puerto Rican citizenship which cannot be taken away by Congress. But American courts say this doesn't exist.

Puerto Ricans are second class citizens still. The only way they can secure their national identity is to be independent. This is a major political hot potato of a topic in that territory.

We Filipinos are independent and enjoy our citizenship that cannot be stripped unless we renounce it. Not even the Congress or the Presidential Palace can strip us of our citizenship. And even if our government treats us like second-class citizens, we are never in that status. We have to continue the struggle of the First Philippine Republic, the republic that gave the colonizers a bloody nose!

"Los invasores, No te hallaran jamas!"

"Viva la Republica Filipina!"

Maligayang Araw ng Kalayaan sa lahat!

English Hong Kong China

The latest Time Asia magazine issue on Hong Kong after the British handover has a round table discussion transcript with that SAR's leading citizens that include former Chief Secretary and head of the civil service Anson Chan, civic rights leader Christine Loh, property tycoon Gordon Wu, Barrister Daniel Fung and Beijing journalist Raymond Zhou.

The transcript deal with whether HK-SAR has fared better under Beijing or was better under London. Everyone seems to agree that HK has fared quite well though there can be some improvement towards a more democratic society. But what is relevant for us Filipinos is the SAR's language issue.

Zhou says that before the handover his friends advised him NOT to speak Mandarin (speak English or Cantonese instead). Now he can or has to speak anything, English, Mandarin or Cantonese. He is no longer treated as a mainlander but just like any Chinese citizen. He feels more comfortable with the present situation,

It seems that English proficiency was a casualty of the handover. Everyone agrees that English is needed in maintaining the SAR's competitiveness. Even if Shanghai or Haikou competes for investment with Hong Kong, the SAR would still be more "international" if it could maintain English proficiency among its citizens. Take note none of the leading Hong Kong Chinese citizens implied that becoming English proficient means losing Chinese identity. Hong Kong will still remain Chinese even if a majority of citizens speak English.

Language proficiency is key to Hong Kong's continued economic growth now that 90% of economy is service driven. Anson Chan suggests that the SAR create a sort of an environment where people can speak English. While Hong Kong people have fallen behind with their English, Singaporeans have moved ahead with English since the Singapore government has created an environment where speaking English is favoured.

Fung says that an attitude change is needed that goes beyond language. HK citizens are still resistant in learning or using Mandarin. After the handover there was insistence of teaching in the mother tongue, Cantonese. This has made Hong Kong people less competitive with dealing with the Mainland. The solution according to Fung is an attitude change that simply says that nothing is lost and a lot to gain by learning Mandarin and English.

These are some issues that should illuminate the Philippines' language debate. I think we all need an attitude change.

Maybe Zhou is right. If we are able to speak any language without the historical baggage, we can be more comfortable.


DJB Rizalist said...

I think the historical baggage of which you speak is being lugged around not so much by Filipinos in general but by a tiny but committed anti-American minority. Have you seen the latest SWS survey on global attitudes towards America?

Regarding "colonies" wouldn't you agree that Japan is a perfect semi-colony of the US? It's entire national defense is virtually in American hands, yet Japan is not only economically independent, but the 2nd largest economy in the world. Still.

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