All Philippine languages are actually under attack, but Ilokano has become most vulnerable and is now at the center of a raging battle, no thanks to the treachery of one man and the fascist ways of a national artist.
The controversy has been raging since January, and the plot thickens day after day. It started when Dr. Joel Lopez, assistant division superintendent and MTB-MLE (Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education) coordinator of DepEd Ilocos Norte, singlehandedly introduced changes to Ilokano orthography or spelling system that will be taught in schools. He never conducted consultations with language stakeholders.
Professional Ilokano writers and Ilokano language experts in the academe were quick to object. Under the MTB-MLE Implementing Rules and Regulations, stakeholder participation is necessary in drawing up a working orthography for any and all Philippine languages. Various groups—including GUMIL and Nakem Conferences—wrote position papers and letters addressed to various levels of the Department of Education (from division superintendent to the DepEd secretary himself) and also to the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF). Everyone opposed the JLo (abbreviation for Joel Lopez; with profuse apologies to Jennifer Lopez) orthography.
First, dear karikna, let me let you realize how powerful this man is. In a church of 1.2 billion members, he belongs to the top brass. He is one of only 117 existing cardinal electors (cardinals below 80 who are qualified to elect a pope) of the Roman Catholic Church, and one of only two in this country of almost 80 million Catholics. That makes this man one in many millions. Considered a “Prince of the Church” vested by the Vatican not only with religious powers but also with political might, His Eminence Orlando Cardinal Quevedo is definitely an influential man.
Last Sunday, March 31, the 75-year old church leader visited his hometown to the grandest hero’s welcome ever seen in Ilocos, next only to the arrival of President Ferdinand Marcos’ remains in 1993. Quevedo was born in Laoag City in 1939 to parents who are both natives of nearby town Sarrat. The family later on transferred to Marbel, South Cotabato. He makes history as the first cardinal from Mindanao, and the first Ilocano, too.
As fate would have it (or is it destiny?), that high school’s best bet in oratorical competitions, now a freshman in the university where I teach, became one of my debaters. He is a prized find. Very diligent. Eager to learn. Fun. Charming. And respectful.
Recently, ehem, we emerged as champion in a debate tournament with Ilocano as the main medium.
And guess who was hailed as best debater?
More than the trophy and prize, and the bragging rights that go with it, I am happy that a student, previously barred from speaking his mother tongue on campus, could shine and show the world that wisdom is no monopoly of any language. And that Ilocano could, and, in fact, should, be used for intellectual endeavors.
Congratulations, John Marvin Galat aka Jamjam. We–I, your kuyas and ate in the MMSU Debate Society–are proud of you.
Agbiag ni Ilocano! Narambak a baro a tawentayo, kakabsat.
“Sir, I am in deep trouble.. you’re the one I am sharing this with because I know you are understanding.. I am not yet ready sir,” read the text message my former student Brent (not his real name) sent me.
Sensing what the problem was, I replied with a question, “How many months?” to which the eighteen year old answered, “Two to three, sir… I know it’s my fault, but I am not really ready.”
Then Brent asked me if I know any abortionist they could go to. I was shocked.
Part of the subject Sociology 1, I teach Family Planning to my students, and because I believe in free, informed, and responsible choice, I present both the natural and artificial birth control methods. But never have I encouraged abortion, fully aware of its risks and its ethical and legal implications. In fact, I always tell my students that If anyone of them unwillingly gets pregnant or impregnates anyone by chance, I will take it as my personal failure as a teacher.
I tried to talk to Brent against resorting to abortion, but he was firm and resolute. He and his girlfriend have talked about it seriously and there is really no way, and giving birth to the baby is no longer an option for them. He said they want a medical doctor to perform the procedure to make sure it’s safe, and he asked me again if I can recommend anyone.
I don’t know any doctor who performs abortion, I told him, and even if I do, I would not make any recommendation. And what self-respecting doctor would perform abortion here in Laoag City? But I assured Brent that I am not judging them as persons despite what they were planning to do, for I am sure they have really given the matter a great deal of thought leading to their firm conviction that abortion is the only solution to the biggest problem they have had to face in their teenage lives. I assured him of my prayers. He reminded me that the matter is confidential.
This year, 2013, has no doubt been a roller coaster ride for Rev. Brian Shah, president of Saviour’s Christian Academy in Laoag City. Just last February, he was awarded as one of the Most Outstanding Laoagueños. Today, he is an object of national wrath, and moves are underway to have him deported to his home Singapore.
Shah is currently embroiled in a controversy that has angered Filipinos here and overseas—the expulsion of 3 students from his school on the sole ground of speaking in Ilocano.
A blog post I made last Tuesday morning went viral in a few hours, and prompted the media to cover it. Various groups have issued statements of support for the three kids while an online petition for Shah’s ouster as school president and deportation from the country is gaining steam.
So far, most people know only three things about Reverend Brian Shah: president, pastor, and Singaporean.
And this is because he has denied all requests from us in the media to get their side. That, they say, was upon the advise of their lawyer who eventually spoke for SCA in media interviews. Thus, we know so little about Shah’s version of the story.
Last Friday, Shah, through an emissary, requested to talk to me so he can air his side. The interview happened yesterday, Aug. 9, in his office at the Saviour’s Christian Academy. It was a holiday so only Shah and his wife May who serves as the school’s administrator, were in the campus, aside from the security guards stationed at the gate.
I was a bit afraid to the do the interview but I went anyway. The couple welcomed me warmly. Pastor Shah sat down with me in his office, Ms. May would later join us after serving coffee.
The moment we sat, Shah looked at me, his eyes already wet. “It has been a very painful week for me, Herdy,” he said as his tears fell. I did not expect the scene; it was not the Pastor Brian Shah I imagined.
Almost sleepless the past days, Shah has been at the receiving end of phone calls from angry individuals and groups here and abroad. “The moment I say hello, they would start yelling foul words, and some would even threaten me with harm.”
I told him I would listen to anything he would like to share. The 59-year old pastor then began by recalling why he came here to Ilocos Norte. In the mid-80’s, he was a rising executive in a multinational company in Singapore, and has been offered the a tempting offer to head marketing operations in Southeast Asia. However, he felt God’s strong calling for the missions, and decided to come here to the Philippines instead.
In 1987, he was initially assigned in Dilavo, a fishing village in Pasuquin, one of Ilocos Norte’s poorest towns. There, he immersed with the villagers. He said worked with them and embraced the people’s way of life.
The following year, they moved to Laoag City to start their ministry and built the Church of Our Saviour in a rented space at A. Castro Avenue. They constructed a small chapel and, behind it, a small preschool. It was, in fact, a makeshift structure that people referred to as “Kusina School.” For four years it was for free. Later on, rich students were asked to pay so they can subsidize the poor.
Through the years, they established other centers: an orphanage in Abra, a shelter for sexually abused children in San Nicolas, and a free medical and dental clinic. They have also been active in disaster relief operations.
In 2000, the school transferred to its current location in D. Samonte Street. The compound occupies almost a whole block and houses several buildings. Tuition fee per student now ranges between P22,000-P24,000, inclusive of books and other materials. But the couple have also sponsored scholarships for poor students, some of whom are now working as professionals. They currently have four scholars at SCA.
The English-speaking policy at SCA began around 10 years ago when Shah noticed that even Grade 5 pupils could not speak basic English. “How come our students are paying for their education, and yet they have not learned basic English?” he wondered. He said he wanted to equip students linguistic skills that will make them globally competitive. Shah said he has always emphasized to the students the value of excelling at what they do, and to dream big. “You should not only aspire to be a lawyer or a doctor, but a good lawyer or a good doctor.” He said he believes that proficiency in English would open up doors of opportunities for them.
Still, he said, he recognizes the importance of the vernacular, citing that in their Church, half of the worship services are in Ilocano while the other half are in English. He shared that SCA provides a vibrant multicultural environment. Of their 670-strong student population, 20 are Muslim while 10 are Hindu. Moreover, many of their teachers are Catholics and members of Iglesia ni Cristo. He also said that some of their teachers are homosexuals, and are not discriminated against. “What is important to us is their talent and their passion to help the kids.”
Moreover, Shah clarified that the school is fully compliant with the Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education, and that Ilocano is being used as medium of instruction in Grades 1 and 2.
On the dismissals
Shah said he has received many complaints from Grade school pupils and their parents as to why high school students have been violating the language policy. “How come we in Grade school are speaking in English while many high school students continue to speak in Ilocano?” Shah quoted the pupils as saying.
He said the original punishment was to make the violator write a thousand times that he will not speak Ilocano. But Shah, a hands-on administrator, felt the need to be stricter in imposing the language rule. So, on July 30 in the afternoon, he went to all the classes in the high school level to warn them not to violate the English-speaking policy. “I have given you a lot of warnings in the past but you continue to violate. I am giving you this last warning. Please, I really want you to learn English, so please follow the rule.” Shah told the students.
However, just a few hours later, he received a report that the three kids (who, Shah says, were inseparable) spoke Ilocano. “I was upset,” he said, “and that to me was more of a defiance thing, and not much of an Ilocano thing. They were defying school authority.” That very afternoon, he told Samboy Respicio who he said, “is like a son to me,” and whose parents have been his co-pastors for 25 years, that he will be asked to transfer to another school.
That night, Shah posted on the school’s official Facebook page, “Insubordination and direct defiant (sic) among students is totally unacceptable and I don’t tolerate such nonsense. Tomorrow heads will roll. It took us many years to build the school to what it is today and just a few to destroy all our hard work.”
The next day, Shah informed the other two students, Kleinee Bautista and Carl Abadilla, about his decision, that they will be advised to transfer to another school. Shah denies having gestured like he was about to hit one of the expelled boys. He also denies having said a foul word. “But I admit that I raised my voice because I was overcome by my emotions,” he said.
In an interview with GMA Ilocos news, Atty. Jaime Agtang, counsel for Saviour’s Christian Academy, said the issue—that of 3 Grade 8 students kicked out of school for speaking Ilocano—is closed. However, parents of one of the kids have denied this.
“How can it be closed when they have not even acted on our formal complaint?” wonders Lamar Abadilla, mother of Carl. She said they filed on Thursday (Aug. 8) at the Department of Education Division of Laoag City a letter of complaint addressed to Superintendent Araceli C. Pastor. The six-page complaint presented the details of the case, and sought for administrative sanctions on Shah. The parents are also demanding for a public apology.
Meanwhile, DepEd Assistant Secretary for Legal and Legislatve Affairs Tonisito Umali is keeping a close eye on the issue. In a television interview yesterday, he categorically stated that speaking in the vernacular is not a valid ground for expelling students. “Mali po talaga yun. Walang batang dapat patalsikin dahil nagsalita lang naman ng Ilokano kahit may English-speaking policy,” he told ABS-CBN’s Anthony Taberna. Moreover, Umali said expulsion of a student is a penalty that must be approved by the Office of Education Secretary Armin Luistro.
In San Beda College’s official seal, the Latin word ‘pax’ appears prominently. The word is also engraved in various campus structures as it is supposedly etched in the heart of Bedans who are, as our hymn goes, “men of prayer, work, and peace.”
But my dear Alma Mater shocked the nation last week with reasons other than peace. Marc Andrei Marcos, a freshman law student, died in initiation rites under the bloody hands of men he wanted to be his ‘brods’. The incident, which happened in a farm somewhere in Dasmariñas, Cavite, was believed to have been participated in by over thirty members of the Lex Leonum Fraternity. Marcos, black and blue in various parts of his body, was brought to the hospital not by his would-have-been brods, but by two farm helps.
What aggravates the nation’s grief and fury is that only five months ago, another Bedan law student, Marvin Reglos, suffered the same fate under the Lambda Rho Beta fraternity.
As expected, CHED chair Patricia Licuanan condemned “in the strongest terms” the death of Marcos. She reminded the college of its “heavy responsibilities and duties under RA 8049 or the Anti-Hazing Law.” Other schools, particularly the UP and the Ateneo, have also had similar episodes of fraternity violence, each time fueling public uproar but only to be forgotten after the issue subsides, no thanks to the Filipino’s short-term memory coupled with the ningas-cogon vice.
San Beda has responded by saying that it does not recognize fraternities, sororities or similar organizations. Since they are not recognized, the Benedictine-run institution said that it could not submit to CHED a “certified list of officers and members of such organizations.”
Meanwhile, administration lawmakers urged CHED to enforce a strict “no-hazing policy” in schools as the Filipino people mourn for the death of yet another young man who had a full and bright life ahead.
Before admission to San Beda, I had to sign a contract stating that I could be expelled if the college finds out I am a member of any fraternity. I really did not find any need to join one. Among most active student leaders in my batch, I did not lack belongingness nor self-esteem. But then I was in undergraduate San Beda. I knew our law school was different; joining fraternities there are more of norm than exception They hold activities in the open and display banners bearing their groups’ Latin names even in interschool activities like bar operations. Today, San Beda reportedly bans fraternities in law school though I doubt if administrators seriously believe it is possible.
Banning fraternities or hazing, however, is only a part of the solution. Making it less appealing is the more difficult task.
An aspiring lawyer perceives membership in a fraternity as ticket to legal success. The exclusivity and influence of a group proves beneficial not only in ensuring survival in law school but even more when one has become a lawyer who finds connections handy in cases he handles (e.g. when the judge is one’s brod). Having passed the initiation, after risking life and limb, the neophyte becomes a full-fledged member of the fraternity, part of the old boys’ network. “The pain lasts a few days, but the perks are forever,” this explains the resilience of hazing as a law-fraternity practice despite RA 8049.
In 2010, Jejomar Binay credited his vice presidential success to the support he got from the Alpha Phi Omega. In one episode of the impeachment trial of Renato Corona, widely watched by aspiring lawyers, fraternity prestige was proudly displayed by the senate president himself. When Rep. Raul Daza stood up to introduce himself as prosecutor, Presiding Senator-Judge Juan Ponce Enrile formally acknowledged him, and fondly called him “brod.” Enrile then quickly turned to the senior defense counsel, Serafin Cuevas, and likewise referred to him as “brod.” Broadly smiling, the venerable defense lawyer impishly nodded to the chair, and forthwith called out the other “brods” among the senator-judges – Senators Edgardo Angara and Franklin Drilon.
Public officials cannot in good conscience condemn fraternity violence while becoming poster boys, wittingly or otherwise, of these barbaric groups. We are in dire need of statesmen like former Senator Jovito Salonga who in 2007 resigned from his fraternity, Sigma Rho, which was implicated in the death by hazing of a UP student. Any politician who does a Salonga today deserves our vote.
Until then, ‘pax’ would remain as elusive as justice is in this country where lawyers turn liars propagating the fraternal mystique.
The first opinion column I ever wrote, and that was in high school, was against fraternities very active then in Northern Christian College. It’s title: “Mga anak ng frating.”
Obviously, fratmen were unhappy with it, and even before the school paper was circulated, the picture in my column was defaced in almost every copy, with the permission of a security guard who turned out to be their supporter. Alarmed, people began warning me about possible danger. But I was not afraid.
Then one afternoon, in a street adjacent to the campus’ main building, four teenage boys suddenly circled me as I was walking home. With my head locked in the muscled arms of a gangster, my face was on the receiving end of powerful jabs. While I tasted blood dripping from my nose, I saw nothing but black, except stars and twittering birds circling my head (the kind of which I thought only appeared in cartoons). I was a helpless punching bag until members of the Samahang Ilocano came to the rescue. They shooed away my attackers.
I was thankful to S.I., of course. God knows what more injuries I could have sustained if they did not come. Yes, I was grateful, but only until I figured that the four action stars were their brods from INNHS, a nearby school. All of them arranged the plan so that I would have a debt of gratitude to them. Bravo.
A couple of months after, a riot erupted in the campus, killing one student and injuring a security guard. Only then did administrators ban fraternities on campus.