Aquino: Language should be unifying force

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President Aquino: United by one language. LYN RILLON/INQUIRER

MANILA, Philippines—Language should bind and unite Filipinos instead of dividing them, President Aquino said Monday in a speech he delivered at a conference on the national language.

“Instead of doing things separately as Tagalog, Bisaya, Cebuano, Ilocano or Kapampangan, we will have a common name: Pilipino. And however separated we are by islands, we will be united by one voice, by one language: Filipino,” Aquino said, addressing participants at the Kongreso sa Wikang Pilipino.

The President recounted how, during the Commonwealth era, then President Manuel L. Quezon solved the problem of how to unify Filipinos who had regained their freedom from the Americans by declaring a national language.

Even so, Aquino said, after its declaration as the national language in 1937, Filipino went through complicated stages in terms of unifying the country.

In fact, Filipino often became a cause of debate instead of a wellspring for collective dignity, the President said in his speech at Ateneo de Manila University’s Leong Hall.

He cited a debate in the House of Representatives that he witnessed as a Tarlac congressman, which started when a Quezon City lawmaker delivered a privilege speech in Tagalog.

The speech drew a protest from a Davao del Sur representative who questioned the constitutional basis for equating Tagalog with Filipino, and forthwith delivered a speech in Bisaya. The presiding officer then responded in Ilocano, prompting the stenographer to raise a hand, and manifest confusion.

The President’s anecdote drew chuckles from the audience that included Ateneo president Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin and National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario, who was earlier chided by a Malacañang official for tampering with the President’s speech and changing his official title to “Pangulo ng Filipinas,” instead of “Pilipinas.”

The debate in the House of Representatives took two weeks, Aquino said, and while it sounded amusing at first, it also served as a reminder of the politics surrounding the national language at present.

“One thing that should unite us becomes a spark for division. The language that weaves together our many islands is the one that tears apart the principle that molds our history,” he said, adding that the first-ever congress on national language was a big step to make it flourish.

Aquino, who often delivers his speeches in Filipino, said he wanted to get into a dialogue with Filipinos because this was their true voice.

“It’s my job to speak in Filipino each time I face them because this is the language closest to their hearts,” the President said.

“My point is simple: Let’s not be boxed in by language calisthenics. Unity is the reason we have a national language. That’s why we need to weigh how to use the skills of our experts in delivering the message of optimism and hope to our fellowmen,” he told participants of the conference organized by the Komisyon sa Wikang Pilipino headed by Almario.

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