3 students expelled for speaking Ilocano – in Ilocos Norte
MANILA, Philippines – It's Buwan ng Wika, the month when Filipinos are most strongly encouraged to speak in their native languages.
All this seemed lost, however, on the president of a school in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, when he allegedly threatened with harm and then finally expelled 3 students for speaking Ilocano during a break at the English-speaking campus.
In an August 6 blog post, The Ilocos Times columnist Herdy Yumul recounted the story of 3 Grade 8 students, who were reportedly dismissed from Saviour’s Christian Academy (SCA) for speaking in their mother tongue.
Students Kleinee Bautista, Carl Abadilla, and Samuel Respicio – all 13 years old – were in their classroom on July 30 when they spoke in Ilocano during breaktime. One of their classmates reported them to the school authorities.
The school allegedly has a reward system for students who report anyone who does not follow an English-speaking policy, Yumul told Rappler over a phone interview on Tuesday, August 6.
Pictures retrieved by Rappler of SCA's student handbook show that under "Behavior on and off the campus," not only students but also parents and chaperons must speak English "at all times within the school compound."
As of posting, Rappler could not reach SCA's lawyer after several attempts.
The next day, July 31, SCA president Reverend Brian Shah called the 3 to his office and asked them if they violated the policy and spoke in Ilocano. When they admitted their “disobedience,” Shah told them to look for another school.
“You are not respecting my school!” Bautista quoted Shah as saying.
The school then called Bautista’s mother and handed her this memo that stated: "After you have been warned by Pastor Brian Shah not to speak Iloko, you still continued to defy his order. In view of this, you are advised to transfer to another school effective today July 31, 2013."
Another relative of Bautista also talked to the school about the decision, saying the family is not inclined to follow the school’s advice. But the principal, Cristeta Pedro, told her the president’s decision is final.
Yumul wrote that speaking in the vernacular, according to the handbook, is punishable by a reprimand.
"The handbook also lays out the guidelines in dealing with alleged violations of school codes. The due process includes giving a warning first, and then a conference with parents," he added.
The handbook was written by Pedro and signed by Shah.
“Was the school put to shame [because they spoke in Ilocano]?” the relative said. Bautista's relative added that if expulsion is a disciplinary action for violating the policy, it should have been indicated in the handbook.
SCA high school officer-in-charge Michael Lomabao confirmed with Yumul that a mere reprimand – and not expulsion – is the punishment for violators of the English-speaking policy.
Lomabao also told Yumul the school has dismissed other students in the past for violating the policy.
"Indeed, one wonders, dear karikna, why all these had to happen at a time when today’s thrust of basic education is the strengthening of our mother tongue, a measure meant to fortify the linguistic foundations of a child," Yumul wrote.
He was referring to the Department of Education's Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) program, which seeks to strengthen the use of mother tongue both as a subject and as a medium of instruction.
Ironically, SCA follows the MTB-MLE program for their kindergarten to Grade 3 pupils. Bautista's relative said her own daughter, who is second grade, speaks Ilocano in their classes.
In less than 24 hours, the blog post was shared all over social media and has called the attention of Ilocanos and non-Ilocanos alike.
Dr Alegria Tan-Visaya, chief of the Ilokano-Amianan Studies Center at the Mariano Marcos State University where Yumul also works, said the incident is “a form of linguistic disrespect and cultural discrimination.”
Aurelio Agcaoili, coordinator of the Ilokano Language and Literature Program at the University of Hawaii, said they plan to start an online petition at change.org to “oust” Shah.
"All those responsible for this dastardly act, from this abominable man of the cloth to the other administrators, must be held to account. We are not going to let this happen, not in Laoag," he added.
Respicio’s parents, who are also churchmates with Shah, both work at the SCA and “has accepted the decision silently,” Yumul wrote. The student has since transferred to Sarrat National High School.
Abadilla’s mother told Yumul they transferred their son to SCA after being bullied in his previous school.
“Little did we know that our child will be bullied by the school president himself,” she said. Abadilla now studies at the Divine Word College, also in Laoag City.
Bautista, on the other hand, plans to enroll at the Holy Spirit Academy in the next 2 weeks.
An incident complaint was filed at the DepEd Laoag City Division on August 2.
DepEd Superintendent Araceli Pastor, who Yumul said is perceived by some parents to be close to Shah and his wife, has started investigations on Monday.
Abadilla's mother, who works for the Branch 13 of Ilocos Norte Regional Trial Court, said Shah is ignoring them so she will be filing an official complaint on Thursday. Pastor expects SCA's official statement on August 7. – Rappler.com
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