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College without culture: Reactions on CHED’s ruling of Filipino and Panitikan

Jose Rizal advocated embracing one’s own mother tongue and culture. Though the “One who does not treasure his own language is worse than a beast or a putrid fish” quote may be misattributed, respect for the native language—as a form of patriotic allegiance—has been ingrained in the consciousness of students in their primary years of school and continues until they enter college. However, current events may change that.

Last May, the Supreme Court (SC) ruled out Filipino and Panitikan as a required college course—much to the dismay of advocates such as Tanggol Wika. The SC states that the advocate groups failed to provide substantial arguments against Commission of Higher Education’s (CHED) Memorandum Order 20 and decided to finally pass it. Rappler reports that various organizations and advocacy groups brand the ruling as anti-nationalistic as it will hinder the cultural progression of the country.   

In an article by the Philippine Star, CHED Chairman J. Prospero de Vera III says that “the ruling recognized that CHED did not abolish Filipino and Panitikan as these were transferred to the senior high school level.” Instead, CHED grants higher education institutions the academic freedom to reform their curriculum to include language proficiency.    

However, among Lasallians, does it really mean the death of Filipino?

The disappearance of wika

“I was disappointed and surprised,” Rafael Maderazo (I, BS-CSNE) shares. He feels that the decision may take the Filipino language away from the people, “[The subject] tries to answer the questions [of] to whom do we owe our freedom today and how we are able to live up [to] the culture we’ve been living for the past few centuries.” It’s through education that one can have a better understanding of their culture, he explains. 

Vonhopper Ferrer, a part-time professor from the Filipino department, shares similar surprise to the ruling. For him, Filipino is our viewpoint to analyze our own culture and identity as a nation. “Siyempre, iba ang turo ng Filipino sa junior at senior high school at iba rin itinututuro nila sa kolehiyo. Mas malalim at nakabatay ito sa paggamit ng wikang Filipino sa ibang larangan tulad ng engineering o sa larangan ng pilosopiya,” he emphasized. 

(The level of Filipino taught in junior and senior high school differs from that in college. The latter is deeper in terms of understanding and is based on its application in other fields like engineering and philosophy.)

However, the quality of education comes into question as Rafael mentions his lackluster experience with his senior high school curriculum, “We were asked to make a research paper and [more] papers, and it didn’t focus on enriching our knowledge about our culture.” Nonetheless, Rafael believes that education has the capabilities to enrich both the people’s culture and the language.   

Unfortunately—due to the nature of his course and the language itself—Filipino is not as utilized as English. There is a lack of official translations for the technical jargon integral to the science courses, especially compared to the social sciences. “Maybe if [Filipino in the technological courses] was more intellectualized, there wouldn’t be a need to take it up mandatorily, but right now, we’re not [at] that point.” 

Necessary shifts

On the other hand, Maria* (I, AB-PHM) argues that the omission of Filipino college courses may benefit students whose degree program do not rely on a greater mastery of Filipino. “If I’m [in] Engineering, I’m [going to] focus on pressing matters. I’ll focus on the math related subjects or subjects related to my course simply because it’s what I need more than Filipino,” she says. 

According to Maria, the course becomes a hindrance for both the student and the course because the student wouldn’t be dedicated in learning Filipino. She explains that it takes up the student’s time and money while undermining Filipino’s importance to their course. For students like Maria, “[Filipino] doesn’t incite interest.”  

However, Maria highlights the Filipino subjects in the senior high school curriculum. “[Senior high school] focused more on the societal attributes of the Philippines,” she says. These attributes include the formation of the many dialects present in the country, analysis of current Philippine issues, and Filipino as a method of communication throughout the country. At least within senior high school, Filipino does not lose its relevance or “popularity” as Maria phrases it. It goes beyond practicing the grammar and vocabulary of Filipino to focus on its utility within modern society.  Its presence within the curriculum ensures that K-12 graduates have a foundation of Filipino comprehension. However, is this “foundation” good enough, or will the foundation easily crumble under the weight of global influence?

Though the ruling overall does seem questionable, Maria believes that its scope within senior high is appropriate. 

A culture under compromise

K-12 is still a relatively new program that requires constant revisions to ensure that CHED’s vision of a globally-competitive and college-ready student from the program  is met. From Mathematics and Earth Science to Academic English and Filipino, the 12 years of training covers a wide range that does not only raise would-be specialists, but also involve participants in nation building. While the intention to further educate is aligned in goodwill, execution is another thing. As advocates for Filipino have emphasized, the SC ruling on Filipino may have halted the cultural development of the nation.

Though our language is far from extinct. From the borrowing of Spanish vocabulary to denote time, to terms such as bongga and trapo being added to the Oxford English Dictionary—Filipino has only adapted and grown to be as dynamic as its speakers. However, Filipino and Panitikan being pushed out of the college curriculum is a wake-up call for those yearning for a nation to fully appreciate its culture. In the middle of territorial conflicts with China and the emerging call for globalism, the question of cultural preservation is more important than ever. 

In the present, advocates such as Tanggol Wika promises to never give up on a Philippines that accepts Filipino and Panitikan as a necessary topic throughout one’s educational attainment. They believe that these are the courses that truly reveal the nation’s evolution, in all its beauty and struggle. Whether or not these subjects must be within the college curriculum, they exist to remind us of our cultural roots and continue to shape our collective identity as Filipinos. From here, we can only speculate on how our culture will adapt.

*Names with asterisks(*) are pseudonyms.

Danielle Arcon

By Danielle Arcon

Anakin Loewes Garcia

By Anakin Loewes Garcia

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