English: It's not a foreign language to me
SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Bobit S. Avila () - January 2, 2009 - 12:00am

Rep. Eduardo “Eddiegul” Gullas, the principal sponsor of House Bill no.5169, “An Act to Strengthen and Enhancing the use of English as Medium of Instruction” together with some 202 congressmen, co-authors of this bill, are confident that this law would be passed in early 2009. Since I’m a staunch advocate of preserving Cebuano and all the other spoken languages in this country, I shouldn’t be supporting a bill that allows Filipinos to learn a “foreign” language like English.

However, thanks to the so-called Tagalog nationalists, who virtually “inserted” the use of only Tagalog as the national language of this country in the 1935 Constitution, the Philippines has since become the only nation on earth creating a new language called “Filipino”. But in truth, no one is really born a “Filipino”. You are born Ilonggo, Bicolano, Tagalog, Cebuano, Waray or a Lumad, Chabacano or Ilocano. The only time you call yourself a Filipino is when you are asked to place “nationality” in your passport; because that connotes that you came from the Philippine Archipelago.

So why am I supporting the Gullas Bill? Because I have always believed in the use of English, first given to us by the Americans through the “Thomasites.” When America took over from Spain, it gave us a great educational opportunity to learn a foreign language. Bi-lingual persons are considered educated. However, even before the Spaniards came, Cebuanos already spoke in different languages (like Chinese and Malay) and dialects. Languages are different from dialects; Cebuano is not a dialect of Filipino. Cebuano is a language, separate and distinct from Tagalog.

After 400 years of Spanish rule, we have not embraced the Spanish language, like what the people of South America, from Mexico (except for Brazil, which speaks Portuguese) down to Chile. My hunch is that it is due to the distance between islands in this thousand island archipelago. Crossing to the next island via a sail boat took days, unlike today, which just takes only a few hours. In the Balkans, peoples of different tongues or languages are separated by high mountains and forests; here, we are separated by the sea.

In the end, despite a very lengthy Spanish rule, only the elite “Indios” like Dr. Jose Rizal learned to read and write in Spanish. Notice that I didn’t say the elite Filipinos? We were not called Filipinos by the Spaniards, we were called Indios. It was only when the Americans came to colonize us when they realized that they didn’t know how to call the indigenous people who lived in this archipelago. They found out that married Spaniards who bore their children in this archipelago were called Filipinos and voila, the Americans used this to give us a common name.

We credit the Spaniards for giving us with their Catholic faith; however I still have to read a speech from the King of Spain that ordered the Christianization of the Philippines. The priest who came with Ferdinand Magellan in his Armada de Moluccas was brought along with them so they could receive the sacraments and take Holy Communion while in a foreign land. Magellan’s main mission was to find the Spice Islands. He failed.

I recently bought a book entitled “1904 World’s Fair The Filipino Experience” written by Jose D. Fermin. On page 24 he wrote, “In the middle of the night of October 24,1898, President McKinley woke up, heard the “voice of God,” and decided there was “nothing left for us to do but to take them all, to educate the Filipinos, uplift and Christianize them.” He did not know that the Philippines was already a predominantly Christian country for more than three centuries.” America then was predominantly Protestant and looked down upon Catholicism as “the whore of Babylon”.

This is why Filipinos learned to speak in English and this is why a generation of Filipinos like myself grew up with the English language that didn’t sound foreign to us. So, what is really our “Mother Tongue”? If you go by the titles of our tribal leaders or kings when Magellan arrived here, we had Rajah Humabon. Rajah is the title used in India, therefore that must have come from the time we belonged to the Majapahit Empire. But does it really matter now? Not anymore.

Everyone, from the Koreans, the Chinese and the Japanese are scrambling to learn English, something that we already mastered despite Tita Cory’s attempt to “Tagalize” the Philippines. So let’s renew our ability to speak in English and regain the advantage we had vis-a-vis our Asian brethren in the command of English.

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