Member, House of Representatives

Republic of the Philippines 


I am truly honored to introduce our first keynote speaker, the Honorable Magtanggol T. Gunigundo.


Of the many gifts and talents of Congressman Magi, the name we use—we who are part of the struggle to fight for the right of our people to their own language and culture in a culturally and linguistically diverse country like the Philippines—one that strikes me most is his sense of humility and his simplicity.


In a country like the Philippines where these virtues will lead you to salvation, and therefore to the seventh heaven, it is rare to find a political leader like him who walks with and among us on the ground, we who are there with the people all the time and see the dirt and grime of how to fight, and how to fight with dignity for even the most basic things in life as one’s language and culture.


Congressman Magi will be remembered as the primus motor—the prime mover—of the movement to change the policy direction and bad educational philosophy in basic education in the Philippines—the education of our educatees in the basic life-long skills in a language not their own. Now called the RA 10533, or the Enhanced Basic Education of 2013, Congressman Magi was the legislative heart and soul of this movement, joining us in campaigns from Zamboanga to other places.


When I first met him—he was the deputy majority floorleader of the House of Representatives at that time—we were on our early morning flight to Zamboanga City. I looked at him from my corner, and he was there, seated in his corner, in that Ignatian silence he probably picked up from his law studies at the Ateneo, a kind of silence that, perhaps, not common at the University of the Philippines in Diliman where he finished his bachelor’s in political science. To enhance his political skills, he want to Harvard for a course on the management of economic reform. We now know that the peoples of the Philippines are the beneficiary of these gifts and talents.


I am part of an advocacy group based in the Philippines, and the thinking of this group is that we have in Congressman Magi the making of a good secretary of education. We want him to be the next one because he knows how to become one. Like Valjean in Les Miserables, I want to sing that song, ‘Bring Him Home,’ to ask the divine that opportunity be given to him so that, finally, the Philippines will have a person who understands the implications of diversity and multiplicity in basic education and in state-building. I am proud—and I truly am—to have, one way or the other, worked with a sharp and brilliant mind like Congressman Magi. 


Dr Quirico S. Samonte Jr.

Professor Emeritus, Eastern Michigan University


There is one thing in Dr Samonte that so few people know: that the University of the Philippines lost him to the Eastern Michigan University, and this American and the American public gained a man, and a proud Ilokano at that, who is oozing with humility and brilliance. There is no other proof than his having achieved the highest honor one can be accorded to an academic, the position of Emeritus Professor, a post he holds at Eastern Michigan.


I have had the good fortune of doing a critical review of his two narrative works, Panagani and Not At the Table, Please, for a newspaper. In those works, I saw in him that capacity to describe with ethnographic accuracy and precision the difficult issues of the day—the big and small social problems affecting the Philippines. His studies in sociology, first at the University of the Philippines, and then another at Michigan, and then eventually in comparative education for his doctorate has equipped him with that unique gift to dissect the social problem, and offer a solution. From his stint in the United States both as a classroom academic, and then eventually as administrator, he has seen what it takes to teach and to pass on the same passion for teaching to his students. In some other periods of his career, he was chief administrator of several education initiatives in other countries, an experience that brought him to the very roots of multiculturalism in education, to diversity in public life, and to the richness possibilities of cross-cultural encounter.


For many years, he remained in the United States, and established a bicultural family, marry Mrs Judith who is a visual artist by whom he has two daughters now grown. This bi-cultural Filipino-American family would make a trip to the Ilocos, to Dr Samonte’s homeland, and would re-experience what the he had gone through as a child of the rural areas.


One country’s loss, another country’s gain. That seems to be the many stories of people gifted people like Dr Samonte—people whose light could not be extinguished. I am honored to present to you, Dr Quirico S. Samonte Jr.



Dr Belinda Ancheta Aquino

Professor Emeritus, U of Hawaii at Manoa  

There are many pillars of the Filipino-American community in Hawaii and one of them is Dr Belinda Aquino.


There are many exemplars Filipino academics at the University of Hawaii and one of them is Dr Aquino.


There are many activists in the State of Hawaii and one of them is Dr Aquino.


There is not one thing that Dr Aquino has not done, and it is for this reason that I am very proud to present her to you today as our next plenary speaker.


At one time the Vice President for Public Affairs of the University of the Philippines when I was just a lowly, unnamed assistant professor, in between her teaching career at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Asian Studies and Political Science Departments, Dr Lindy also served the Center for Philippine Studies as the founding director, and stayed in that position for more than 30 years until her retirement several years ago. She studied English, went on to work for the government, took up an East-West scholarship in political science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and then Asian Studies and comparative politics at Cornell. She was on her way home to the Philippines—and was in Hawaii at that time—when Martial Law was declared. That would become the raison d’etre of her decision to stay in Hawaii until today.


One of the few Ilokano public intellectuals in Hawaii, she knows the story of the Ilokano people the way she knows the back of her hand, and today, we are going to pick so many things from her recounting and analysis of Ilokano history. 


Dr Alegria Visaya

Professor, Mariano Marcos State U &

Chief, Center for Ilocos-Amianan Studies 


Together with Dr Miriam Pascua, president of the Mariano Marcos State University, Dr Alegria Tan Visaya is another primus motor—a prime mover—in the Nakem Conferences movement in the Philippines.


We were able to put up Nakem in the Philippines because she made it sure that Nakem will find a place there. I must say that the history of Nakem Conferences Philippines is a history of our serendipitous encounter when she came for the Nakem Conference in 2006 in Honolulu, and I challenged them—she and Dr Pascua—to pick up the challenge of putting another Nakem Conference in the Philippines. They did—and this was in 2007, with Dr Alegria and myself co-chairing the conference. 


That is how she has put her heart and soul to this movement.


She would call me up about six thousand miles away.


I would call her up six thousand miles away—and by the phone lines we would be able to solve issues, concerns, and problems.  The reason is that she knows how to solve all of these.


She studied mathematics at the MMSU, finishing on top of her class as summa cum laude; went on to study administration and the social science at both Ateneo and the University of the Philippines, and then finishing her degree in educational administration that would lead her to become registrar of her university, professor of graduate studies, and eventually, secretary of the board of regents on top of her being chief of the newly-founded Center for Ilocos-Amianan Studies. 


One of the concerns of the Center is the production of emancipatory Amianan and Ilocos knowledge via museum and the maintenance of a library and information services. This is what she is going to talk about today. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my privilege to present to you, Dr Alegria Tan Visaya.  




By Aurelio Solver Agcaoili

U of Hawaii at Manoa
Presented at the 8th Nakem International Conference on ‘The Center from the Margins,’ U of Hawaii at Manoa, Nov 14-16, 2013
“The Call of the Margins, The Crisis of the Center”
The argument of my presentation is simple: that in a state such as the Philippines, a state marked by multiplicity, there is no place for the fascistic notion of a nation-state built upon the 19th century notion of state and the search for a proverbial ‘national language’ at the expense of other languages of the multi-nation state.
Let me be clear with my concepts: Multiplicity is meant the quality of being various, many, manifold, or multiple. Fascism’s many components is ‘the belief of the supremacy of one language, or one ethnic group’ over other languages or ethnic groups in a political body, or state.  ‘National language’ is the language imposed upon a people by law, by instruments of the law, and by the cultural and educational institutions and apparatuses of the state that believes in that fascistic component of the supremacy of one language.
The issue of multiplicity in the Philippines, as well as in the United States, and many other countries for that matter is a fact.
There is not only a single Philippines, with just in the center.
There is, at the very least, per Ethnologue data (retrieved August 15, 2013), we have 185 languages in the Philippines, with 4 already extinct (based on estimate of Wurm 2007), Crystal 2003, Lobel 2004, 2005, 2012). This leaves us with 181 living languages but with this situation per Ethnologue: 43 are institutional, 70 developing, 45 vigorous, 13 in trouble, 10 dying.
We are not going to look too far for the reasons of this terrible situation of the Philippine languages: except for Tagalog (also known as P/Filipino, and English), there has never been public appreciation, valuing, respect, and recogntion of the importance of these community languages by the government. This attitude is the same attitude of all countries that are obsessed with coming up with its own ‘national’ language as a symbol of its being a nation. We forget that nationhood is not in the language, but in the collective commitment of people to bind themselves and for a union, and from that union, presumably a state would be created, with the state making it sure that the good of everyone, what we call in Latin as summun bonum, is protected and assured.
The summum bonum—the highest good or the common good—is the primus motor of the building of a society. Why build a society when the rights of everyone, when the good of everyone, is not protected? One might as well live in the mountains, or in the wildness and do a Henry David Thoreau and create our own Walden Pond. 
I will argue that the evolution of the national language is a bad concept, a bad ideology, and an anti-people provision of human rights, and if by human rights here we mean the rights of people to their sense of the good life, to their person, their property, and their sense of freedom.  The 19th century ideal of a ‘nation’—an ideal borrowed from the Italian, Spanish, German, English, and French sources—is a phantasmagoric dream and a case of that which is surreal.
What happens with this borrowing of templates—of the wrong models of nation-building—is a repeat of the same horrific acts of these countries, acts that are tantamount to the suppression of the basic rights of peoples to their languages. Let us take France, one of the countries that would fight to death the maintenance of French as its official language. It has this situation: it has 25 languages, 2 of these already extinct. Of the 23 living languages: 5 are institutional, 11 developing, 3, vigorous, 2 in trouble, and 2 dying.  Considering that France is the country of ‘egalite, franternite, and liberte’, I wonder where the contradictions lay—if at all there is—in officializing only one, and with the rest remaining in the margins or in the periphery?
Let us see Spain: 15 languages in total, all are living. The situation is bad as well, with 4 in trouble of becoming extinct. Of these 15 too, 5 are institutional, 2, developing, and 4 vigorous.
Given the above argument, and limiting the discussion to the Philippines in the hope of expanding the argument in countries that are also linguistically diverse, we have a problem in the ‘nationalization’ or ‘officialization’ of one and only one language from within, and one and only one language from the outside. When we push this situation further, we end up with the absurd, such as educational practice that penalizes students for every word of their own community language that they speak, or at worst, having them expelled as in the case of the three students heard speaking Ilokano in a sectarian school that has adopted an English-only policy. The intention in these practices, of course, is noble, with the provision of mechanism for students to get to speak either Tagalog, or English, or both—so that they will be able to demonstrate their national, and so that they would become the literate group of English-speaking elite in the Philippines.
There is however, a principle in ethics that talks about the integral good, and saying that ‘bonum ex integra causa malum ex cucumque defectu: or, for a good to be good, it must be entirely good, and that any defect it has vitiates its goodness.  We look at this whole exercise in the Philippines—an exerce that has been going on for the longest time—for three generations, or 78 years since 1935, or 76 since 1937. These dates are crucial for our argument.
Let us look at the very ideology of state education, and we see here the bundle of contradictions in the Philippines: we are not fully accounting our languages in the Philippines, and that the only myopic way we look at our language is to make them instrument of a presumed, even fantasized, national communication and conversation.
We forget, of course, that prior to the evolving of Filipinas, our own diverse people have been conversing with each other because we know how to deal with each other, and because we spoke the language of each other, or the other. Today, we have forgotten the very tenet of good community relationship by insisting on the singularity of a national language and aided by the use of a language of international communication.
The whole thing, really, is bad governance.
When you deprive the students and communities of their own language—and therefore their own culture, you are pushing them to extinction. And if we care about birds going extinct, or tarsius monkey becoming memory, there is that clear paradox why we cannot seem to be alarmed by the extinction of one of our own languages. We have succeeded in making extinct 4 of our languages and 10 are already dying. When we factor in the fact that it takes a thousand of years, at the very least to evolve a language, our situation is truly alarming. But when we look into the real nature of language—as the carrier of our being, as abode of the human soul, as depository of human knowledge that took hundred of years of crystallization—we are all in the wrong.
Thus, our notion of the center—with the national language as the pivot of national conversation is utterly poor, impoverished, and unfair. The languages pushed to the margins must now begin to account its own possibilities and declare once and for all that languages—all of our languages—are our social resource.
The rainbow is beautiful because it has those colors and hues that are diverse and manifold. 
This is the way we should look at the Philippines. This is the way we should look at the languages of the world.

Rising from Death–Daniw Maipapan iti Yolanda

[For Rommel Maitim and all survivors of Yolanda.] 

I do not know where Yolanda is now. I cannot text her, I have no cellphone. Maybe she and Ondoy are together in the afterlife. I want to text her, ‘Don’t ever come back. You put me through a worse experience than Ondoy.–Rommel Maitim, a survivor of Yolanda and Ondoy 

You cannot but face it, this death by the doorstep. 
And you have made it to shore, and here, in these lines
Are the stories you wrested from the surge of the sea
Raging to take what it can, and then burying in its abyss. 

There is lottery in life as in death. A numbers game, this, 
And between sobs and the anguish of welcoming the morning
Is the question demanding an answer. And there is none
To wait for except to keep the laughter within, threatening

Threat itself in order to have the chance to live. 
You held onto a tree trunk or flotsam or fear
And here you are telling us how how you managed
To float, your body the altar of courage with limits. 

This birth of a child past Ondoy to welcome Yolanda
Is a syllable of hope, one at a time, until the breeze 
Of the future comes back into the present to offer
Something better than what was in these thousand deaths. 

Hon, HI/
Nov 17, 2013


Tearing up for Tacloban


[For a son who understands what Yolanda meant to the poor and the wretched.] 

We do not have the sun with us as well. 

The rays streaking through our picture window
take their leave today. You open the gauzy curtains

of light green, a remnant of your mother’s Divisoria-going
days to let in the skeletons of morning light. It is the Sunday 
of rest. But in this living room filled with boxes meant

for others, we calculate how much offering we can give 
to ease what can be eased by the tender mercies 
of our drunken days. The world up there in the Central Visayas
must be crazy. You have blood coming from there, 

the warrior Waray people by your mother’s side, 

and the Chinaman ancestor who came to clear the fields, 
and then in Ormoc planted sugarcane to make 

hardened molasses for his immigrant dreams. 
These are your people, son, and I understand
where the tears come from. These are your people

and some of them have died in fear. And the children, 
dead too in the arms of their dead parents, what
anguish is this, what Camus cannot lie, what Camus
cannot protest against those who lie in life

as in death? I must tell you: two years ago, I was 

a peregrine in Tacloban, and the iniquities 
are a full act play that begins in that altar of a god-child,
ends in the streets with jaywalking tickets

for those who do not cross through 
the dotted lines. It is a city pretending to be one,
and here, in street corners are the catafalques 
of a false god, this urban nothingness gone wayward. 

The storm surge was biding its time.

It knew where to go, wiping off desires 
so we can begin anew, from the rubble 

from the garbage and the flotsam, 
the garbage to the altar of the child-man, 
the flotsam to the calming sea that settles 

in the abyss of another time. 
Tear up, son. You need that first act
to remember what can be remembered,
to permit courage to reside in our broken hearts. 

Nov 10, 2013



A Waray Father’s Poem



(From a front-page photo, Inquirer, Nov 11, 2013) 

Its name changes depending on where we are looking. 
It is Haiyan. It is Yolanda. It is death as this wall of water
reaches up to the limits of this small Tacloban universe

where lives are lived as before. The rich earth is sacred,
the calm water so, and the all-giving sea, sanctified forever
even as it buries bodies bloated after days of buoyancy

in the wrong places and times. It is carcass we see, 
and let us all shoo away the insatiable birds of prey, drive them 
to where no woman or man is found, to the depths of this pain

that you all have go to through. Now, now, let me speak 
with you, nameless father holding your own daughter,
dead to the world, dead to life, her arms and legs

limp as you hold her like a gift. I see Abram before
he conquered his fear. I see Isaac, and your daughter
is one oblation to life, not in the appropriate places, 

but here we go, co-father, what else is there but grieving 
and this grief, personal and private, public and phantasmagoric!
I do not like these adjectives, but let me die a thousand death

with you for I am a father too, sir, and I know what happiness
there is to carry your young child, caress her so, smoothen
her unruly wavy hair blown by this hurricane of a restless wind 

whose name changes in the way our fortunes do. 
Let me walk with you, co-father, and pray
that each step you take will lead you to belief,

this one salve we can have after the chaos has subsided. 
You will grow strong, and you will have other children
and you will see your daughter in your neighbors’. 

And please, accept our prayers for you and for her.
Let her, this dear daughter, go with the blowing wind, free
and freed from this violence, go forth in that life hereafter,

and become the good, generous earth, the sweet water, 
the gleaming ray of the sun in this tragic Tacloban, 
this sunken city of your mourning, grieving soul. 

Nov 11, 2013

Poem: The syllable of desperation



TACLOBAN, Philippines — In the wake of the devastating Super Typhoon Haiyan, international help trickled into the central Philippines Monday, with promises of more help on the way soon. But in the city of Tacloban, desperate survivors seeking to flee the typhoon one were made to wait another day. weather.com & AP, Nov 11, 2013

The race is on, this lifting of babies, 
an act to catch some hope to get out
of this wasteland. It used to be home,

this city of crisp laughter and refreshing rain,
comely maidens dancing with their young lovers
weaving what rainbow dreams can be woven

out of fertile fields and magical mountains.
In the remote past, healing words came out
of the murmur of riveting rivers, swaying seas 

singing of the future, sunshiny bright
and warm and loving, a time after time
but this, this desperation in its deathly form! 

It is ten thousand ceremonies of sorrow. And more. 
When grips let loose and we have but this,
we permit the young ones to go away. 

They do not deserve any second of this,
not this sadness that reminds of how the hours 
were too long to wait, and the misery

is longer, far more, with no blue water
nor savory food to imagine. It is the usual meal
announcing its absence, and death

is by the door, and every door is let loose, 
swung open for the rampaging waters to come in,
wrestle with everything, life and limb including, 

carry all these beyond memory, 
beyond seeing, to the depths of unseeing. 
It is Tacloban, this city. It is more,

And the towns will recount what hit them, 
and then we will no longer sing. At this
time, to lament is the order of the day. 

See the syllable that is in the dirge,
this despair that stays, staying death
to appear for a while. Until then,

we count each sound we can count, 
each meaning we can make out of this,
even as we try harder not to come to our knees. 

November 11, 2013