In this current situation of portentous upheaval in the Philippines, any discussion of the “language question,” like the “woman question,” is bound to be imcendiary and contentious. The issue of language is always explosive, a crux of symptoms afflicting the body politic. It is like a fuse or trigger that ignites a whole bundle of inflammable issues, scandalously questioning the existence of God in front of an audience of believers. Or the immortality of souls among the faithful.

Perhaps my saying outright that I am a partisan for a national language, Filipino, may outrage the postmodernists and cosmopolites among you—how can you say such a thing when you are speaking in English? Or, as Senator Diokno once said, “English of a sort. ” How dare I infuriate the loyal speakers of Cebuano, Ilocano, Pampagueno, Ilonggo, Taglish, Filipino English, and a hundred or more languages used in these seven thousand islands. One gives up: it can’t be helped.

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Or we can help lift the ideological smog and draw more lucidly the lines of demarcation in the battleground of ideas and social practices. One suspects that this is almost unavoidable, in a society where to raise the need for one national language, say “Filipino” (as mandated by the Constitution) is certain to arouse immediate opposition. Or, if not immediately, it is deferred and sublimated into other pretexts for debate and argumentation.

Fortunately, we have not reached the point of armed skirmishes and violent confrontations for the sake of our mother/father tongue, as in India and other countries. My partisanship for Filipino (not Tagalog) is bound to inflame Cebuanos, Bicolanos, Ilocanos, and so on, including Filipino speakers-writers of English, or Filipino English. We probably try to defuse any brewing conflict quickly by using the colonizer’s tongue, or compromise babel-wise. My view is that only a continuing historical analysis can help explain the present contradictory conjuncture, and disclose the options it offers us.

Only engagement in the current political struggles can resolve the linguistic aporia/antinomy and clarify the import and consequence of the controversy over the national language, over the fate of Filipino and English in our society. Sa kasalukuyang matinding sigalot sa bansa, anumang talakayan hinggil sa wika ay tiyak na magbubunsod sa isang away o maingay na pagtatalo. Kahawig nito ang usapin ng kababaihan. Laging matinik ang isyu ng pambansang wika, isang sintomas ng pinaglikom na mga sakit ng body politic.

Tila ito isang mitsang magpapasabog sa pinakabuod na mga kontradiksiyong bumubuo sa istruktura ng lipunang siyang nakatanghal na larangan ng digmaan ng mga uri at iba’t ibang sektor. Lalong masahol siguro kung sabihin kong nasa panig ako ng mga nagsususog sa isang pambansang wikang tinaguriang “Filipino. ” Tiyak na tututol ang mga Sebuano, Ilokano, Ilonggo, mga alagad ng Taglish, o Ingles, o Filipino-Ingles. Ngunit hindi ito maiiwasan, kaya tuloy na tayong makipagbuno sa usaping ito upang mailinaw ang linya ng paghahati’t pamumukod, at sa gayo’y makarating sa antas ng pagtutuos at pagpapasiya.

One would expect that this issue would have been resolved a long time ago. But, given the dire condition of the Philippine political economy in this epoch of globalized terrorism of the U. S. hegemon, a plight that is the product of more than a century of colonial/neocolonial domination, all the controversies surrounding this proposal of a national language since the time of the Philippine Commonwealth when Quezon convened the Institute of National Language under Jaime de Veyra, have risen again like ravenous ghouls.

I believe this specter can never be properly laid to rest until we have acquired genuine sovereignty, until national self-determination has been fully exercised, and the Filipino people—three thousand everyday, more than a million every year--will no longer be leaving in droves as Overseas Contract Workers, the whole nation becoming a global subaltern to the transnational corporations, to the World Bank-World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the predatory finance capital of the global North.

If we cannot help but be interpellated by the sirens of the global market and transformed into exchangeable warm bodies, we can at least interrogate the conditions of our subordination—if only as a gesture of resistance by a nascent, irrepressible agency.

Saan mang lugar, ang usapin ng pambansang wika ay kumakatawan sa pagtatalo tungkol sa mga mahalagang usapin sa pulitika at ekonomya. Buti naman, hindi pa tayo nagpapatayan sa ngalan ng wika, tulad ng nangyayari sa India at iba pang bansa. Marahil, napapahinahon ang bawat isa kung Ingles, ang wika ng dating kolonisador, ang wika ng globalisasyon ngayon, ang ating gagamitin.

Di ko lang tiyak kung maiging magkakaunawaan ang lahat sapagkat ang pagsasalin o translation, kalimitan, ang siyang nagbubunga ng karagdagang basag-gulo. Ngunit ang pagbaling sa Ingles ay pagsuko lamang sa dominasyon ng kapangyarihang global sa ilalim ng kasalukuyang hegemon, ang Estados Unidos. Ang makalulutas ng krisis, sa tingin ko, ay isang pakikisangkot sa nangyayaring labanang pampulitika at pang-ideolohya, laluna ang pakikibaka tungo sa tunay na kasarinlan at demokrasyang popular, sa gitna ng dominasyon ng mga mayayama’t makapangyarihang bansa sa Europa, Norte Amerika, Hapon, at iba pa.

Bagamat mula pa noong panahon ni Quezon hanggang sa ngayon, ang isyu ng “pambansang wika” ay naipaloob na sa Konstitusyon, bumangon ito muli na tila mga kaluluwang uhaw sa dugo. Maireresolba lang ang isyung ito kung may tunay na soberanya na tayo, at namamayani ang kapangyarihan ng nakararami, mga pesante’t manggagawa, at nabuwag na ang poder ng mga may-aring kakutsaba ng imperyalismo.

Sa ngayon, walang kalutasan ito, sintomas ng bayang naghihirap, hanggang ang relasyong sosyal ay kontrolado ng naghaharing uri, laluna ng mga komprador at maylupang pabor sa Ingles, wikang may prestihiyo at kinagawiang wika sa pakikipag-ugnay sa kanilang mga patrong Amerikano, Hapon, Intsik at iba pa.  In the hope of avoiding such a situation, which is almost ineluctable, I would like to offer the following seven theses that may initiate a new approach to the question, if not offer heuristic points of departure for reflection.

In contrast to the dominant neoliberal philosophically idealist-metaphysical approach, I apply a historical materialist one whose method is not only historicizing and dialectical—not merely deploying the “Aufhebung” of Hegel within an eclectic, neoWeberian framework (as Fernando Zialcita does in his provocative book--Authentic Though Not Exotic: Essays on Filipino Identity (2005)—but also, as Marx said, standing it on its head in the complex and changing social relations of production within concrete historical settings.

The materialist dialectic offers a method of analysis nd elucidation of the context in which questions about a national language can be clarified and the nuances of its practical implications elaborated. Thesis 1: Language is not a self-sufficient entity or phenomenon in itself but a component of the social forms of consciousness of any given social formation. Marx considered language a productive force, conceived as “practical consciousness,” as he elaborates in the Grundrisse: “Language itself is just as much the product of a community, as in another aspect it is the existence of the community--it is, as it were, the communal being speaking for itself” (quoted in Rossi-Landi 1983, 170).

As such, it can only be properly addressed within the historical specificity of a given mode of production and attendant social-political formation. It has no history of its own but is a constituent part and constitutive of the ideological terrain on which the struggle of classes and historic blocs are fought, always in an uneven and combined mode of development. It forms part of the conflicted evolution of the integral state, as Gramsci conceived it as the combination of political society and civil society.

The issue of language is located right at the heart of the construction of this integral state. Hence not only its synchronic but also diachronic dimensions should be dialectically comprehended in grasping its worth and contribution to the liberation and fulfillment of the human potential. Thesis 2: The function and nature of language then cannot be adequately discussed in a neutral and positivistic-empiricist way, given its insertion into conflicted relations of production, at least since the emergence of class-divided societies in history.

Ferruccio Rossi-Landi explains the imbrication of language in social-historical praxis: “The typically social operation of speaking can only be performed by a historically determined individual or group; it must be performed in a given language, that is, within a determined structure which is always itself, to some extent, both an ideological product and an ideological instrument already; lastly, the audience is determined as well” by the historical-social situation (1983, 169). Language use, in short, the process of communication, cannot escape the necessity of sociopolitical overdetermination.

In the Philippines, the status and function of various languages—Spanish, English, and the numerous vernaculars or regional languages—cannot be assayed without inscribing them in the history of colonial and neocolonial domination of the peoples in these islands. In this regard, the terms “national-popular” and “nation-people”—as Gramsci (1971) employed them in a historical-materialist discourse--should be used in referring to Filipinos in the process of expressing themselves (albeit in a contradiction-filled way) as diverse communities, interpellating other nationalities, and conducting dialogue with themselves and other conversers.

It is necessary to assert the fundamental premise of the “national-popular,” the nation as constituted by the working masses (in our country, workers and peasants), not the patricians. Otherwise, the nation (in the archive of Western-oriented or Eurocentric history) is usually identified with the elite, the propertied classes, the national bourgeoisie, or the comprador bourgeoisie and its allies, the bureaucrats and feudal landlords and their retinue of gangsters, private armies, paramilitary thugs, etc.

Actually, today, we inhabit a neocolony dominated by a comprador-bureaucratic bloc of the propertied classes allied with and supported in manifold ways by the U. S. hegemon and its regional accomplices. The recent unilateral policy pronouncement of the de facto Philippine president Arroyo that English should be re-instated as the official medium of instruction in all schools can only be read as a total subservience to the ideology of English as a global language free from all imperialist intent.

Obviously this is propagated by free-market ideologues inside and outside government, even though a bill has recently been proposed in the Congress to institute the mother tongue as the medium of instruction up to grade six of the elementary school. (One needs to interject here that this idea of using the mother tongue in the first years of education is not new; it was first planned and tested in the Sta. Barbara, Panay, experiment conducted by Dr. Jose V. Aguilar in the late forties and fifties.

But this finding has been buried and forgotten by the neocolonialist policies of all administrations since 1946. ) As Peter Ives pointed out in his Language and Hegemony in Gramsci, issues of language policy in organizing schools and testing curriculum need to be connected to “political questions of democracy, growing inequalities in wealth and neo-imperialism” (2004, 164), since the daily acts of speaking and writing--in effect, the dynamic field of social communication-- involves the struggle for hegemony in the realm of civil society, state institutions, and practices of everyday life.