Exactly a year ago, on January 1, 2007 I wrote a email to the Philippine Daily Inquirer from Louisiana criticising Justice Isagani Cruz who wrote about Filipino being a less important language for Filipinos than English and that we need to invest more in developing competency in the latter. I usually don't write about the language debate unless there is need for commentary.
Senator Nene Pimentel Jr complained that the Metro Manila Film Fest Movie and Star Movies production "Sakal, Sakali, Saklolo" slighted Visayans. The Inquirer reports on this
"In the movie, a character played by Gloria Diaz, scolds the nanny of her four-year-old grandchild by saying: "Bakit pinapalaki ninyong Bisaya ang apo ko? (Why are you bringing up my grandchild as a Bisaya?)." The child's mother, played by Santos, butts in and tells the nanny: "Speak to the kid in Tagalog. Para Pinoy. (So he grows up Pinoy)."
I saw the movie on Dec 27 and there is more to this. The producers and director should be commended in putting the whole language debate in a few lines. People who saw the film can now reflect on the issue even with the comic relief.
I don't condone cultural stereotyping of Filipinos in the movies. Visayans are industrious people and can be found in all occupations and professions,
But there is more to the issue than Bisaya speakers. If we take the context of the scene, the lines are really about the role of English in Pinoy society. The comical Bronson kid character in the movie speaks with a Call Center English accent. This subverts the class sensibilities Pinoys have on who speaks American English. Pinoy class mentality presupposes the elite especially the "Coño" speaks with best American English and they usually had studied in the ""Coño" "exclusive" schools run by the Catholic Church.
The Bronson character subverts this idea 100%. The Indio and non-tisoy can speak as good as the "Coño" can!
English facility among Pinoys has a class characteristic. Language competency has a hierarchy that mirrors class divisions in society. The educational system reinforces these divisions and people have to find ways to subvert this however comical this may be.
Dr Jose Rizal commented on the need for subversion in language in that famous chapter in El Filibusterismo we read Simoun say to the student Basilio about Filipinos demanding Spanish language instruction.
"You ask for parity, the Hispanization of your way of life and you fail to see that what you are asking is death, the destruction of your national identity".
Rizal enumerates the "chains" that will bind the nation with the imposition of a language of which a few will ever speak. He even cites relevant examples in other enslaved nations.
But what is disturbing about Rizal's lines is this
"Nine out of ten of those who presume to be enlightened are renegades to your motherland!"
The "chain" that Rizal was writing is about class divisions. Now replace Spanish with English
The Arroyo administration and many in the ruling elite want English to be the medium of instruction
But English will never be the language of the Filipino people. It can be the language of the ruling class. But in a globalised society we have to transcend class divisions and make it a second language for those WHO NEED it.
We have to promote and develop Filipino as the National Language. But there is a lot of resistance among the regional elites on Filipino. Despite the elitist resistance, Filipino remains as the interregional lingua franca.
The regional elites instead for demanding minority language rights demand that English be "brought back" once more. Contrast this in Madre España where the Catalans and Basques and their elites demanded language rights for their nations.
Rizal somewhat anticipated the idea that language will redress the inequity in society as key means of power and opportunity redistribution. In order to acheive this goal promotion of a national language is a must and as a result some in the elite may be disenfranchised.. The National Language is a common space where the country's classes can talk and come to a consensus about their nation. The American colonisers envisioned this for English through the public schools but this like all their bright ideas for Pinoy egalitarianism, failed. National Artist and nationalist writer in English Frankie Sionil-Jose says this is because "they did not stay long enough".
Now with those somewhat comical lines in the"Saklolo" movie, even Filipino is falling into the trap of reinforcing class and ethnic divisions. Thus the need for subversion as the Bronson character comically shows. Unfortunately the subversion is in a foreign language, English.