Among the first columns I wrote for this magazine, one stands out in my memory as one of my favorites. It dealt with Filipino as our official language and the role of the Supreme Court in fostering its use. I argued that the Court could be at the forefront of the language battle pitting English versus Filipino as the official medium of communication. This it could do by encouraging the use of Filipino as the preferred language in the writing of judicial decisions from the lowest court to the Highest Tribunal. Almost without exception, decisions are penned in English; those that do get written in Tagalog, which incidentally is not the same as Filipino, are viewed as curiosities, oddities to be valued more for their novelty than their patriotic impact. Yet the Court has never shown the slightest inclination to adopt Filipino as its language of choice, and when Maria Lourdes Sereno, when she was still Chief Justice, did write a separate opinion in Tagalog in Imbong v. Ochoa, the case that declared most of the Reproductive Health Law constitutional, she was derided, rather than praised, for supposedly trying to pull off some sort of linguistic stunt.
What has the Court done since then to support the Filipino language? Well, last October, it promulgated its decision in Council of Teachers v. Secretary of Education upholding the constitutionality of Republic Act No. 19533, known as the K to 12 Law, Republic Act No. 10157, the Kindergarten Education Act, and related issuances by the Department of Education. Numerous grounds were raised to challenge the validity of the laws, but relevant here is the charge that the laws are constitutionally infirm because they do not include the study of Filipino, Panitikan and the Constitution as core subjects in college.
That is what the petitioners claimed, an assertion that the Court described as “misleading.” The Court said that, on the contrary, the assailed laws did not “remove” the subjects from the basic education curriculum, that in fact, they are to be taught from Grades 1 to 10 and in senior high school, and that the changes in the general education curriculum were made to ensure that there was no duplication of subjects in Grades 1 to 10, senior high school and college.
For now, it seems that we’ll be bidding good-bye to Filipino and Panitikan in tertiary education. I say “for now” because sometime in the future, Filipino and Panitikan may attain a level of retro-chic which, in turn, may impel some politician to call for its return, much the same as President Duterte is trying to do now with ROTC. Back in the day, ROTC was mandatory until some smart alecks with attachment issues to their hair campaigned, as I understand it, to have community service held as an equally acceptable substitute to citizens’ military training. So if I were you, I would not proclaim Filipino and Panitikan as down for the count, not just yet.
In the meantime, college professors of Filipino and Panitikan might find themselves thrown out of work, unless they can find re-assignments or avail of retrenchment benefits. But the real victim here, I submit, is not the educators but Filipino language and literature.
So what if Filipino and Panitikan are taught from Grades 1 to 10 and in senior high school and then again as core subjects in college? Is duplication such a bad thing? I think that the Court’s ruling places more value on globalization than on national identity but I believe I am doing more than stoking the argument when I say that globalization and national identity are not mutually exclusive. And they shouldn’t be. Our language is part of what makes us unique as a people and emphasis on, say, English proficiency, at the expense of our national language and its literary expressions does little but to homogenize us as, what, proto-Caucasians?
I wish that the Court had done more to favor Filipino by forcing Congress to re-think its priorities and enact laws that would enshrine Filipino in university and college curricula. Yes, Filipino and Panitikan are subjects during grade school and senior high school and so are not really “missing” from basic education, but to point out the obvious, these teach the basics—college is a different matter. There, the subjects are taught with more depth and greater demands on the intellect, which is the difference between high school and college education. College is also the State’s last chance to inculcate in its youth some love for their native tongue before they graduate and become call center agents speaking with ersatz Yankee accents.
When the Court decides like it did in Council of Teachers, Filipino as our national language dies a little. Filipino is not the language of legal discourse in its native land; you only have to sit in any court and listen to parties’ lawyers argue their cases and the judge dispense justice in a foreign tongue, which should strike one as absurd. Here’s the clincher: court decisions are not meant solely to settle the dispute between parties—they are also meant to educate those who study the law; thus there is an educational component to every Supreme Court decision. Yet the K-to-12 program that the Court just upheld emphasizes what is called the Mother Tongue Multilingual Education which entails, at least during the formative years, teaching in Filipino and the other auxiliary native languages. The Supreme Court, with its love of English, seems to have missed that irony. G