“You are not respecting my school!” yelled the school president. Then, gesturing like he was going to smash his mobile phone unto the boy, he exclaimed, “You want me throw my cell phone at you? You bit*h!”
This, a teary-eyed Kleinee Bautista recalls, is what happened when Reverend Brian Shah, president of Saviour’s Christian Academy, talked to him in his office Wednesday last week, July 31. Already devastated by the harsh words, the 13-year old boy’s world crumbled when the pastor-president handed a decision: he is dismissed from the school.
Kleinee’s offense? He, along with two other Grade 8 students, spoke Ilocano inside the campus.
Located in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, SCA has an English-speaking policy that bars everyone—parents, teachers and staff, and students—from speaking in Philippine languages, be it Filipino or Ilocano, within the campus. Their student handbook says speaking in the vernacular 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.
Why and how Shah could get away with due process and arbitrarily ‘kick out’ students is something the family of Carl Abadilla, another dismissed student, could not understand. His mother sent two letters appealing for reconsideration, both of which Shah ignored.
The experience has been traumatic for both kids. Kleinee did not eat for days and could not sleep. Carl felt very hurt and “nawalan na ng gana.” At a young age, they bear the stigma of being kick-outs.
Kleinee has studied at Saviour’s school since prep. That school is the only one he has ever attended. It has really become his second home. Together with his friends, he has kept memories and shaped dreams in that school.
Meanwhile, Carl has been at Saviour’s for only a month and a half. A victim of bullying at St. Mary’s Seminary during his freshman year in high school, he transferred to SCA, expecting to find refuge. “Little did we know,” Carl’s mother said in an interview with The Ilocos Times, “that our child will be bullied by the school president himself.
Samboy, the third student who was kicked is the son of a pastor. Both his parents are working at SCA, and are under Shah, so they opted to just accept the decision silently. But one can imagine how difficult it is for the boy, too, to be kicked out from the very school served devotedly by his family.
Classes have been going on for two months, and it is difficult to find a school that will accept the “dismissed” students. Fortunately for Carl, Divine Word College of Laoag accepted him with wide open arms. As of this writing, Kleinee is still an out-of-school youth.
According to SCA teachers who spoke on condition of anonymity, the three students have been performing well in school and have exhibited proper behaviour until they were dismissed from the school for speaking Ilocano.
“Speaking Ilocano is a crime,” some students quote Shah as saying. “But does that make all Ilocano speakers criminals?” wonders Carl’s mother, a regional trial court employee.
The issue has come out on radio, but Shah has consistently veered away from media interviews. Asked for a reaction, he declined to comment by saying, “No thanks, I’m busy” before he hurriedly hung up the phone. Instead, it was Ms. Cristeta Pedro, SCA’s high school principal, who has spoken for the school. She stands by the school policy and justifies the punishment meted out on the students. What the parents of the kids lament, however, is that Pedro claims there was due process when the parents claim there was none. After some students reported hearing the three speaking in Ilocano, and Shah immediately dismissed them in the absence of a thorough investigation and trial and without conferring with the parents. Whether the supposed offense is commensurate to the punishment—that of being dismissed during the school year—is, to say the least, questionable to many.
In an interview with Mr. Michael Lomabao, who is currently the high school’s officer-in-charge (Ms. Pedro is on leave and is said to be in the United States), this is not the first time the school dismissed students for violating the language policy. Lomabao also confirmed the punishment specified in the handbook for the violators: a mere reprimand.
JF, an SCA alumna, attests to this. She shared, “We were talking casually in the canteen when Pastor Brian heard two of my friends speak in Filipino; they were almost kicked out by Pastor Brian. He was very angry.”
“This is a form of linguistic injustice and cultural disrespect,” opines Dr. Alegria Tan-Visaya, president of Nakem Conferences Philippines, and chief of the Ilocano-Amianan Studies Center at the Mariano Marcos State University.
This observation is shared by Eugene Carmelo Pedro, a Philippine languages activist and currently a law student at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
“I admire that they want their students to be fluent in English in words and in thought, but I think their policy is foolish and dated,” says Eugene, who is not related to SCA’s high school principal. “Immersion is really one of the best ways to become fluent, but it doesn’t really work when the school shames students for speaking their native language,” he adds.
Even poor teachers are victims of Shah’s linguistic dictatorship. Teachers have been warned not to use Ilocano or Filipino in conversing with students in social networking sites (even if they are using the Internet in their own homes.). If Shah finds out, they were informed, the punishment is forfeiture of a month’s salary.
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.
Research done in various developed countries show that proficiency in one’s mother tongue or first language will increase one’s chances of being good at other languages, both local and foreign. In short when one is good in Ilocano, our first language—not only in conversational use but in formal reading, writing, and speaking—one is better prepared to learn Filipino, English, and other languages.
With this in mind, the Department of Education is now on its second year of implementing the MTBMLE or the Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education. According to Mr. Lloyd Rosquita, education supervisor for private schools (DepEd Laoag City), although SCA is a private school, it is still under the supervision of DepEd. Moreover, SCA is also considered as a regular private school. Meaning, it is not an international school accorded more autonomy in terms of school curriculum and operations. SCA is thus not exempted from implementing MTBMLE.
And though Reverend Brian Shah and his wife May, the school administrator, are Singaporean nationals, they are not over and above our laws, especially not our Constitution.
Article XIV Section VI of the 1987 Philippine Constitution mandates the Government to “take steps to initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official communication and as language of instruction in the educational system.”
Some parents, however, while feeling strongly about the issue, have expressed doubts if any case to be filed against the couple will prosper. They are perceived to be chummy with a top provincial politician and a top DepEd Laoag City official. They are believed to be “untouchable.” It doesn’t matter, say parents of the affected children. “We will still pursue justice for our kids.”
But of course, dear karikna. The parents should. No, we should. For these foreigners have obviously abused our hospitality. We welcomed them warmly. We allowed them to establish their church and school in our land. We have entrusted our children to them, and then this. This disrespect. This injustice. This unparalleled arrogance Shah fittingly exhibited at the best time possible: the eve of Agosto, the month of Philippine languages.
Though supposedly a modern-day Christian, Shah puts to shame the decrepit men-of-the-cloth in the middle ages. And this reflects in the way he manages the school. This reflects in the way he wants their students to learn English. This shows in his strong belief in a world where fear and punishment are more powerful than inspiration and role modeling.
You want students to be good in English? You show them how that language can be useful to them. You let them realize how it can help make them better persons. You inspire them to be as good as you are, or even better, in its use. That is a real educator’s way. That, I say, is a real Christian’s way, that of love and compassion. For all his language tyranny, it is common knowledge that Shah’s English is terribly painful to listen to. And it is not because he is Singaporean. It is simply because his English is terrible.
So how can Shah, this Singaporean, do such cruelty to those kids and their families who share the pain? Is it because he looks lowly at Ilocanos? Can you imagine a school in Singapore kicking out students simply because they speak Chinese? Not there. Not in Shah’s home country which has embraced a vibrant multiculturalism.
Supporters of the school can say that those who do not want SCA’s language policy should not enroll their children there. But that is not the point. For, by the same logic, I could say, if Shah hates the Ilocano language that much and treats its use inside his kingdom-of-a-campus as a crime, then he should not establish a school in Ilocos. He should instead do to his countrymen what he has the misplaced balls to do here. And let’s see if he can dare smash a cell phone on a Singaporean kid the way he tried to do so on one of our own here.
I am, dear karikna, grieving. Grieving for the kids. Grieving for the disrespect on our language. Grieving the fact that bit***s now come in the form of pastors and school presidents.
You may also read…
the news written by Ira Pedrasa at abs-cbnnews.com Students kicked out of high school for speaking Ilocano
news by Jee Y. Geronimo at rappler.com 3 students expelled for speaking Ilocano – in Ilocos Norte
Anton Nicolas’s reaction: The Insolence of an Ungrateful Alien