Friday August 17, 2018

Abellanosa: I am not willing to learn Baybayin

Fringes and Frontiers

PENDING in the lower house is HB 1022 also known as the National Writing System Act. It seeks to declare Baybayin, a pre-Hispanic writing, as the country’s national writing system. Proponents believe in the need to promote greater awareness of this lost system of writing. The bill’s chief supporters are the Department of Education and the NCCA or the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

We need not discuss its details. For now, let’s just analyze why in essence the proposal is unnecessary and impractical. Apparently, its proponents would argue on the basis of nationalism. Nationalism, however, is a multi-layered word. We should keep in mind that the idea of nationalism itself did not originate in the Philippines. The earliest Filipino nationalists were inspired and influenced with what they learned from Europe. Nationalism has something to do with “social imagination” but unfortunately this is a socio-political concept developed by Western thinkers.

So at the onset, the underlying philosophy of Baybayin is already foreign. Which brings me to my second point. Why insist in going back to the pre-Hispanic way of writing in the face of globalization. Koreans and Chinese are coming to the Philippines in order to study English. And here we are telling people to learn a system of writing, which is even more foreign than English or Spanish. Let’s face the truth that there’s no way for this country to compete globally if our kind of nationalism is naïve and regressive.

In practical terms we have to ask Congress, DepEd and NCAA: what’s the real point behind this? Teachers and even professors in universities have been trained to do Outcomes-based Education. So perhaps it would be good to ask; what outcome, by the way, are we expecting from learning Baybayin?

Perhaps we should remind DepEd that it has not even presented to us any serious or rigorous study on the gains and benefits of the usage of “mother tongue.” Other than, of course, satisfying people’s regionalistic ego, there is no conclusive study up to now that children are learning better because of mother tongue. And so the issue of mother tongue is still as simple as that – “an issue” and now here is another “brilliant” proposal to further confuse us.

We may also add that this effort to nationalize our system of writing on the basis of “national unity” does not fit into the logic of the administration’s current efforts to federalize. Come to think of this; in terms of political system, politicians are proposing devolution or autonomy. But in terms of language and writing, the government thinks of standardization? Apparently, our policymakers do not have the same “theoretical frames.” So what will be the relevance of Baybayin to those who want to pursue self-determination?

We can always tell our students the history of our writing without forcing them to learn how to write it. Truth to tell, we have not yet even convinced people in the Visayas and Mindanao that Filipino is not Tagalog. And now we want another variable in our nationalist equation more than enough to make us lost.

Our world today does not have a place for “purist nationalisms.” Those who insist that we should learn Baybayin so that we would appreciate our origins should rather think more soundly. Why won’t we all go back to the caves and learn how to draw or carve hyenas, bison, and mastodons and thereby feel that we truly belong to the bigger pre-history of humanity?