Several related groups have been pressuring the Commission on Higher Education to amend the newly crafted CMO 20 series 2013 and make Filipino a requirement in higher education. And to think that some members of the said groups were privileged to participate in the series of consultations and crafting of the said policy, which they now oppose. In May 2014, the Committee on Language and Translation of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) issued a resolution demanding that 9 units of Filipino language be a mandatory part of the General Education Curriculum in colleges and universities. Does anyone else find it ironic that the government body entrusted to preserve cultural diversity, which includes linguistic diversity, sponsored a resolution that seeks the blanket inclusion of 9 mandatory units of only Filipino and makes no mention of any other language?
Unfortunately, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) seems to be bowing to the pressure of these one-sided groups, which are composed mostly of national language writers and instructors. The chair of CHED, Dr. Patricia Licuanan, issued a press statement on June 23, 2014, saying that they are considering (maybe as a concession) making it mandatory that three of the General Education subjects be taught using Filipino. They say, yes there is academic freedom but only as far as deciding which 3 GE subjects are to be taught in Filipino. The reservation of a certain number of national language slots in the GEC without extending the same kind of privilege to other languages—Philippine or otherwise—is a highly problematic move. CHED would essentially be forcing colleges and universities—which should be bastions of free thinking, plurality, and equality to subscribe to a hegemonic one-nation-one language ideology. Any language policy should reflect the multilingual context of our learners. Furthermore, since languages mediate learning, the choice of language to be used in a particular area of study should be based on the objective to improve learning outcomes and to equip the students to the world of work and service in their own community and beyond.
Pro-national language adherents may invoke the Constitution to support its demand. Yes, the Constitution states that “the Government shall take steps to initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official communication and as language of instruction in the educational system.” Regardless of the questionable wisdom of having a constitutional provision that—a) reads like an implementing rule, forever committing the government to promote something without recourse; and b) pushes a concept of national homogeneity so at odds with our multicultural/multilingual nature—the Constitution is nevertheless not an unequivocal legal basis for the mandatory use of Filipino in higher education. Why? “Taking steps to initiate and sustain” is not the same as “mandating” and it should be viewed in the context of linguistic democracy and academic freedom.
Furthermore, there is a critical difference between the indefinite article “a” and the definite article “the.” The wording of the Constitution—“a medium of official communication” and the absence of an article altogether in reference to language of instruction—means (mercifully) that the promotion of the Filipino national language is inclusive. Using Filipino at the exclusion of English, other Philippine languages, or even other foreign languages is not actually demanded by the Constitution, and any dictat to that effect is unduly restrictive.
Aside from the language provisions, the Constitution also protects several other fundamental principles:
Section 4, Article III (the Bill of Rights) states, “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press…” As an instrument of speech and expression, language is protected under this clause. People, and by extension their institutions, should have the freedom to choose what languages they wish to learn and use. Jose Rizal himself deftly wielded Spanish to rouse patriotic spirit and indeed learned more than 10 other languages throughout his life—a potent refutation of the trope that patriotism is to speak or favour only one language. Patriotism pre-existed the national language.
For decades, we have allowed our language of learning policies to misrepresent the multicultural/multilingual nature of the Philippines. We celebrate the fact that finally in 2012, we passed a law (RA 10533) that recognizes the diversity of our languages as a great resource to improve learning. Now for the first time, any young pupil who speaks mostly Tausug or Waray or any of the local languages will find the school a friendly place for learning. Grade school teachers are discovering how to explain academic concepts using the pupil’s mother tongue and local culture. This commendable initiative to explore the resources offered by our multicultural and multilingual contexts must be a fundamental component of our educational system.
In a Philippine Star column last November 28, 2013, Former DepEd Undersecretary Isagani Cruz made reference to another key Constitutional provision. Section 5 of Article XIV states:
1. the State shall take into account regional and sectoral needs and conditions and shall encourage local planning in the development of educational policies and programs.
2. Academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning.
We are openly declaring that we are promoting the equitable treatment of all our languages, especially in promoting learning and respecting ethnic identities. However we find it immoral that we impose such bias on our higher institutions of learning.
CHED should be reminded that RA 7722 (Higher Education Act of 1994) Section 13 stipulates that it is to “guarantee” academic freedom of universities and colleges and its power is clearly limited only in setting the following: (a) minimum unit requirements for specific academic programs; (b) general education distribution requirements as may be determined by the Commission; and (c) specific professional subjects as may be stipulated by the various licensing entities.
The imposition of language of instruction is not part of CHED’s power. We ask that the technical panel for General Education and the CHED commissioners to continue upholding academic freedom and not enter into any concession with any interest group. Moreover, we would be greatly relieved if CHED issued a formal statement endorsing the use of any local or international language in higher education.