DOCTOR Anicia Hizon del Corro’s lecture last Saturday on DepEd Order #74 (the Department of Education’s directive making regional languages the primary medium of instruction) was a gathering of hawks and eagles refereed by a dove.

The hawks were the cultural advocates: Fr. Venancio Samson (translator of the Kapampangan Bible and Bergaño dictionary), cultural activist Siuala Pangilinan, Prinsipe ning Parnaso Romeo Rodriguez, Rey Maniago (representing ANASI), Edwin Camaya (DILA), Dr. Lino Dizon, Abraham Tayag, Kragi Garcia, Fray Francis Musni, the officers of the HAU Center for Kapampangan Studies, TSU Center for Tarlaqueño Studies, AUF Institute for Kapampangan Studies BSU Center for Bulacan Studies and representatives of groups like Katatagan, AGTACA and Akademyang Kapampangan.

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Across the meeting hall were the eagles: Division officials of Pampanga and Angeles City, District supervisors, school principals, and teachers from both public and private schools from towns as far as Arayat, Macabebe, Masantol, Apalit, Minalin, Tarlac and Concepcion.

We expected only 25 attendees but more than 70 showed up—a sign that DepEd #74 was, indeed, hot topic.

Thank God we had the brilliant and articulate Dr. Del Corro as guest lecturer. Her gentle demeanor and stature as the highest authority on Kapampangan linguistics calmed the tension that potentially existed between the cultural advocates who were pushing for Kapampangan above all other languages, and the educators who wanted only the child’s education regardless of what language was used.

The cultural advocates were also eager to take advantage of the window of opportunity opened by DepEd Order #74, and getting impatient that some educators appeared to be either ignorant of the Order, or confused about its provisions, or slow in implementing it.

As a linguist, Dr. Del Corro reiterated that the sole purpose of a language is to make communication easier, and the sole objective of a medium of instruction—any medium of instruction—is to facilitate the child’s learning. If Kapampangan hampers communication and the learning process, why in the world should we insist on using Kapampangan in the classroom?

Fortunately, DepEd Order # 74 agrees with cultural advocates that Kapampangan does facilitate a child’s learning. This should have settled the debate, but Dr. Del Corro wanted to make sure that the educators appreciated the linguistic principles behind the Order so that they’d understand why they do what they are ordered to do.

She reminded everyone that since the Order’s real intent is not to please cultural advocates but to help classroom teachers teach better and students learn faster, the Kapampangan that should be used in instruction is the kind of Kapampangan that’s easily understood by the students. In other words, the classroom is not the place for cultural advocates to advance their cause of promoting or purifying the language. Language is a tool for education, not the other way around.

In teaching math in Kapampangan, for example, it’s better for the teacher to say “Adua times adua” instead of “Adua ipaspas me king adua,” where the child still needs to know the meaning of “ipaspas” on top of solving the mathematical problem. Obsolete Kapampangan words resurrected from ancient dictionaries or new Kapampangan terms coined by imaginative scholars may please cultural advocates but they don’t help pupils very much.

In the open forum, some teachers aired their worries: Will our graduates become less proficient in English and lose their global competitiveness? How will this Order be received by parents who send their children to school precisely to learn English and Filipino? Where are the Order’s implementing guidelines? Will there be enough Kapampangan materials? What happens to heterogenous classes where minority Visayan, Ilocano, Bicolano and Korean students have as much right to learn as the majority Kapampangan students?

For their part, cultural advocates aired their concern over the apparent foot-dragging in the implementation of the Order, and wondered why some schools haven’t even received a copy of the Order, which was issued last July 2009 yet. They also worried if the Order would be consigned to oblivion just like many other Orders before it, especially with the impending change of leadership in the Department of Education after the May 2010 elections.

At that point Siuala Pangilinan raised the room temperature a few more degrees when he asked why Kapampangans always hesitate to use Kapampangan in the presence of non-Kapampangans. I don’t understand, Siuala said, why we always have to go out of our way to accommodate them at the expense of our own language. Since it was their choice to come and stay and earn a living here, the effort to adjust is theirs to make, not ours.

Just then one teacher stood up and asked her fellow teachers the most important question of all: As teachers, did they sincerely believe that it’s better to use Kapampangan in the classroom? Because if they did not, she said, the Order was doomed right from the start.

I learned, long ago in literature class, that there is a literary technique called epiphany, where a character who’s in the middle of a sticky situation experiences a flash of illumination when everything suddenly becomes crystal clear in his head. This enables him to resolve his predicament and the story gets a happy ending.

What happened in that meeting after the lady asked her question was, I think, a collective epiphany: suddenly confronted with a loyalty check, everyone in the room started professing their love for their amanung sisuan.

One teacher stood up to testify that she had experimented with Kapampangan in her math class and discovered that indeed, it improved her students’ grades. Another said many teachers had actually started translating their textbooks because as Kapampangans themselves, they already knew how to.

A Division official gave the assurance that the Division Office had taken concrete steps to implement the Order and would no longer wait for other provinces or the central office to issue more guidelines because, she said, “we all love our amanung sisuan and want it promoted anyway.”

Romeo Rodriguez and Rey Maniago, speaking on behalf of ANASI and the poets laureate, offered translation and consultation services, and the Center for Kapampangan Studies promised to reproduce the Kapampangan instructional materials it has collated and distribute them to schools. .

We exhorted the educators to seize the golden opportunity and not waste time waiting for more guidelines and being overly cautious by perfecting methodologies and materials before implementing the Order. Kapampangan teachers, being native Kapampangan speakers, are, according to Dr. Del Corro, experts of the language and therefore already qualified to translate and create Kapampangan instructional materials themselves and teach the kind of Kapampangan that pupils can relate to. They can just consult cultural advocates for refinement and integration of Kapampangan culture, history and values.

Cultural advocates, for their part, should realize that they do not have a monopoly of expertise and that they should trust teachers to carry on their own cultural advocacy in the classroom. They should just take comfort in the fact that Kapampangan—any Kapampangan—is now being conveyed to future generations, thus ensuring the survival of the amanung sisuan. It may not be the form of their liking, but it’s still the amanung sisuan.

We all agreed to meet regularly to compare progress reports and share best practices, and to resolve the orthography issue and prepare a grammar book. Dr. Del Corro concluded by giving teachers the assurance that learning Kapampangan does not diminish English proficiency. She suggested that English be taught not as a second language but as a foreign language, whose methodologies and strategies are more focused and stringent and therefore more effective.

We ended the meeting on a happy note, celebrating the hope and the promise that no Kapampangan child will ever again be punished or ridiculed for speaking Kapampangan in the classroom, and that educators and cultural advocates, having finally come together, will now proclaim that yes, Kapampangan is not a hindrance but in fact a key to success.