BY ALL YARDSTICKS, Dr. Aurelio S. Agcaoili is a brilliant man.
Prior to his joining University of Hawaii, he held tenured appointment at the University of the Philippines Diliman. He is a creative writer and social researcher who has reaped coveted awards. Above all, he is a well-meaning iconoclast.
Last July, Dr. Agcaoili was one of the presenters in the first Mother Language Education (MLE) forum in Ilocos. On that same occasion, the Nakem Conferences also launched Sukimat: Researches on Ilokano and Amianan Studies, a publication he co-edited with two MMSU professors.
I am quite a big fan of the man known by many as “Agca”. In fact, after the MLE forum, I requested him to autograph my copy of Dangadang, his award-winning novel. My admiration for the man’s writing prowess is matched by my adulation for his ideas. His courage and candor are awe-inspiring.
The other week, however, Agca shocked me with his Letter to the Editor published in The Ilocos Times. He demanded, in very strong words, that Mark Limon of DepEd Ilocos Norte, issue a public apology for contributing a news item which the former considers as “flawed, inaccurate, and lacking in good and acceptable journalistic exercise.” Headlined “University of Hawaii prof calls Quezon ‘stupid'”, Limon’s story is about a remark Agca made during his presentation at the MLE Forum.
Agca went ballistic with his counter-article which has a longer version published in his blog and in other websites. Citing factual and grammatical flaws in Limon’s work, he wrote, “Maasiak kadagiti adalan daytoy a maestro a din sa met nakasursuro.” (I pity the students of this teacher who seems to have not learned.)
“The writer does not know how to write properly. Just check his sentence. Which one is modifying which? Is he supposed to be a teacher telling the right things to his students? If he is a teacher teaching students to write, he should get out of the classroom soonest,” furthered Agca, reacting to part of Limon’s work.
Agcaoili also made a big fuzz when Limon called “Sukimat” a compilation.
He reacted, “Sukimat is not a mere complilation. ‘To anthologize’ is not the same as ‘to compile’. Limon, certainly, can compile with his clear books and binders. But with the kind of writing that he displayed with this questionable news account that put me in a bad light, I doubt if he can anthologize… Certainly, with his kind of writing and way of thinking, he cannot be included in this list of the best minds.”
“And to think that we are paying for his public school teacher’s salary, his action is most abominable.”
Yet Agcaoili never clarified whether or not he called Manuel L. Quezon, a former president venerated by many Filipinos as hero, “stupid.”
Did he? If he did, why?
Because I was in that forum, I know firsthand that, yes, Agca did call Quezon ‘stupid.’ I am trying to reconstruct what I remember he said, and it goes this way, “The ‘One Nation, One Language’ policy is a stupid nineteenth-century measure imposed by this stupid Quezon.”
I am perfectly aware of the context where Agca made the remark, but I am restraining myself from expounding, hoping that Agca himself will write another piece explaining what exactly he said, and why he said what he said. It’s enough for me to say that Agca’s remark was made, not on the spur of the moment. He has been researching on and advocating Mother Language Education for years, and it’s been a difficult battle, no thanks to Quezon’s language policy which marginalized, to the point of death, other Philippine languages, Iluko included. I therefore understand, even sympathize with, Agca’s exasperation.
And so, while I write a regular column here in The Ilocos Times, I never found Agca’s remark as headline-worthy. I would have written about it if I felt offended, but I was not. If at all, entertained I was with his theatrics. Leilanie Adriano, a staff reporter of this paper, was there, too, and she did not, and rightly so, sensationalize the issue.
But that Limon, though an outsider and not exactly a good writer, took pains to write a news article, means that the issue is really important to him, and, chances are, to his fellow teachers as well. Agca offended the sensibilities of some members of his audience, and unnecessarily.
Now, the good professor demands for a public apology, which I do not see coming, if only because, in our culture, it matters less who is write or wrong than who offended whom.
Agca could have driven his point home sans the ‘stupid’ remark. If he were addressing a group of progressive university professors, his words would have been tolerated, even applauded. But he was speaking before an audience that included elementary and high school teachers, who are known to be a conservative lot.
What is sad is that because of this incident, the issue of MLE has been, to some extent, trivialized, at least in these parts. The mere fact that DepEd teachers attended the forum speaks of their interest for MLE. They are, certainly, not the enemy.
And neither was Quezon. I would like to believe that the president acted in good faith when he identified Tagalog as THE national language. He may have committed a terrible mistake, but who does not? Not Limon. Not Agca.
Agcaoili is getting a lot of flak from his fellow Iluko writers because of this word war. Some of the comments are so rude and hostile, I deem them unprintable.
But then hostilities among Iluko writers are not exactly new and isolated. If at all, they have become usual. You only have to visit dadapilan.com or iluko.com to understand what I mean. Even the corkboard of Ilocos Times online is filled with violent, even filthy messages.
Language is supposed to unite people, but why is Iluko failing to get many of our writers together? Linnaingan? Pinnangasan? Pinnangatoan ti isbo? (Pagalingan? Payabangan? Pataasan ng ihi?) I am not, of course, making a hasty generalization. Severino Pablo is my uncle, and Peter La. Julian, a granduncle. Both of them legit writers I consider as true gentlemen.
Some observers suspect that the Agca-Limon clash is only a microcosm of the large-scale intramurals in the community of writers, particularly between GUMIL and TIMPUYOG.
Elizabeth Raquel, president of GUMIL Filipinas, is a supervisor of Deped Ilocos Norte, where Limon belongs. Agca is said to be one of the brains behind TIMPUYOG. Speculations are rife that Raquel may have used Limon to discredit Agca.
If you ask me, however, Agca’s defense did himself much more harm than Limon’s error-laden news article ever could.
By attacking the person, and not the issue (Argumentum ad Hominem), Agca showed traces of a brilliant-but-arrogant academic who alienates, and without remorse, the very people he should be locking arms with in the linguistic and cultural struggle for freedom, for autonomy, and for authenticity.
I posit, at the risk of being branded as “pretender of a writer” like Limon, that Aurelio Solver Agcaoili, PhD, blurred the divide between brilliance and stupidity.