[Blueboard] Agenda for Hope in BusinessWorld: Dr. Rainier A. Ibana

Liane Peña Alampay lpalampay at ateneo.edu
Tue May 11 19:40:49 PHT 2010

Dr. Rainier Ibana writes for Agenda for Hope in his column entitled,  
"Our Society's Linguistic Foundations". Part 1 of his column was  
published in April 13 and Part 2 appeared in the April 15 issue. You  
may read the article in its entirety below.

Every second and fourth Tuesday of the month, BusinessWorld publishes  
a column that brings to the fore the Ateneo de Manila University's  
agenda for hope for our country. These columns are based on the Agenda  
for Hope papers written by Loyola Schools faculty. The books were  
launched last December 9, 2009 as our scholarly work contribution to  
commemorate the Sesquicentennial year of the Ateneo.


Our Society's Linguistic Foundations - by Rainier A. Ibana

The tendency among Filipinos to reduce a whole range of human  
activities to the level of social relations is indicated by the  
linguistic power of the prefix ka. The social dimension of experience  
can be constituted by merely affixing this prefix to words that refer  
to the world of objects, events, and even human beings.

This propensity to overvalue social conventions, however, has to be  
balanced with a sense of self-responsibility or pag-akò in order to  
develop a more reflexive understanding of a national identity that can  
withstand the challenges of the global tide of cultural domination  
mediated by commercialization and new information technologies, on the  
one hand, and the difficulties of social transformation that springs  
from the conservative tendency to merely conform to prevailing social  
conventions, on the other.

The social context of objects, such as tables and buildings, for  
example, can be indicated by affixing the prefix ka-. Ka-table refers  
to the other person with whom a table is shared and ka-building is  
about other occupants who live or work in the same building.  
Significant events such as weddings and baptisms extend family ties  
with ceremonial co-bearers (katuwang) whose relationships are  
commemorated with references to the events that made them fellow  
godparents or kumpare and kumare. Classmates (kaklase) can even become  
latent resources for the accumulation of social capital that can be  
harnessed during times of distress such as a coup d?etat or in  
claiming one's rightful share of relief goods when unexpectedly struck  
by natural calamities.

Those who have won the support of the vulnerable sectors of society  
are then endowed with the honorific title Ka as in the case of Ka  
Erdie, Ka Amado, and Ka Crispin while virtual persons mediated by the  
new wave of information technologies are referred to as ka-chat,  
ka-text, ka-twitter, ka-e-mail, ka-e-group, ka-social networking, etc.

Popular television stations have been quick to capitalize on this  
linguistic propensity by identifying their broadcasting networks in  
terms of family relations (ka-pamilya) and audience sympathizers  

Even enemies (kaaway) and competitors (kakumpetensiya) are embraced by  
affixing the prefix ka-. Opposition, after all, is premised on the  
active participation of opponents (kalaban) in their shared enmity or  

Notwithstanding the inclusive function of the prefix ka-, however, is  
the exclusion of many others whose lives are lived beyond the ambit of  
the attached root-words. Non-family members, for example, are  
marginalized from the affairs of kinsmen and kinswomen (kadugo) which  
has bred socio-political vices such as nepotism and political  
dynasties. Other familiar examples are the attendants (utusan) who  
serve as orderlies in household chores; unlike the more privileged  
helpers (katulong or ka-sambahay) who are treated as relatives or part  
of the family.

It is therefore important to extend the ambit of inclusion beyond  
those who are similar (katulad) and conformable (kasundo) in order to  
also embrace those who seem to be different (kaiba) and opposed  
(kalaban) to us.

Co-bearers (katuwang), for example, are able to contribute to common  
tasks, such as carrying a heavy burden or rearing godchildren,  
precisely by standing at the opposite side of the object to be carried  
or by balancing the number and gender of godparents during weddings  
and baptisms.

The social principle of complementarity, as the critical theorist Karl  
Otto-Apel puts it, requires opposite values that need not be reduced  
to each other. Contemporary global problems, such as climate change  
and poverty, require the complementary participation of all  
stakeholders so that individual, albeit herculean, efforts are not  
cancelled by others.

Belonging to the opposition, however, requires taking personal  
responsibility (pag-akò) for the common goods shared by the community.  
Recent cultural studies on the causes of underdevelopment among  
nations have pointed to the tendency of less endowed nations to  
habitually attribute to others the failures or successes of their  
projects while those who belong to the more developed societies are  
able to squarely confront problematic situations by taking  
responsibility for their deeds or misdeeds.

Heroic individuals who succeeded in transforming the cultural ethos of  
their societies have actually taken the burden of self-responsibility  
for the social institutions that initially formed their personal  
identities.  Andres Bonifacio, Jose Rizal, Benigno and Cory Aquino,  
just to take some of the more familiar examples, advanced the moral  
consciousness of the Filipino nation by subsuming the prevailing  
cultural ethos of their time towards the direction of higher values.

The exemplary sacrifices of these heroes were not only admired by  
spectators but actually lived up to by many others who realized that  
the future of their societies can be secured not by merely repeating  
the age-old habits of thinking and dealing with their surroundings but  
by a qualitative transformation of their ways of living.  Social  
development requires taking stock of current social conditions and  
reformulating new perspectives in view of better possibilities.

Social values such as getting along with others (pakikisama) and debts  
of gratitude (utang na loob) can become instrumentalized for extrinsic  
ends such as the accumulation of power and money when they are left  
unexamined and are habituated by the inertia of daily life.  The  
intrinsic values of these social practices must therefore be  
revaluated in terms of their intention to promote human dignity and  
conformity with the unconditional norms of social justice.

Cultural practices are not ends in themselves that can be used to  
justify habits of corruption but are mere unexamined intellectual  
coping mechanisms that serve the broader context of human survival.

Human behavior, moreover, is characterized by the exercise of critical  
reflection and deliberate choices.   Moral virtues, as philosophers  
have taught us, are cultivated by means of deliberation and not merely  
absorbed by means of osmosis from the prevailing cultural ethos.

The syllable ka, when taken by itself, for example, primarily refers  
to the other person to whom speech acts are addressed.  It is the  
singular second person pronoun, the other with whom one hopes for  
sympathetic understanding (pag-uunawa) about mutual concerns and  
shared interpretations of common life contexts.

A more inclusive society, therefore, can be built by treating others  
as others.  This is evident in the cultural propensity of Filipinos to  
be interested in the personal affairs of their clients as they build  
their social capital in service oriented professions such as the  
entertainment, care giving and call-centre industries.  Work places  
are thus conceived not only as spaces where one earns a living; but  
are also dwellings inhabited by other human beings who can make life  
worth living.

The heroic deeds of our people as a nation of ka and pag-akò date back  
to the founding events of the Philippine Republic, during the first  
revolutionary upheaval against colonial rule in Asia, when our  
forebears unfurled the baybayin script ka as their banner that  
symbolized their aspirations for nobility, human dignity, and  
fraternal unity (Kataastaasang Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak  
ng Bayan).

These egalitarian aspirations continue to haunt the weaknesses of our  
social and political institutions today if we merely pay closer  
attention to the radical and reformist social movements that threaten  
the social order whenever they raise this ancient script as a spectre  
to remind ourselves of the primordial aspirations of our people.

The so-called Magdalo soldiers, for example, resurrected the  
symbolisms and rituals of the Katipunan in order to catch our  
attention to their cause. The premarital law and martial law years  
have also witnessed the re-emergence of this script when it was used  
as part of the insignia of the Kabataang Makabayan, the Kabataang  
Barangay and other youth organizations.  It is actually still etched  
on the emblem of the Philippine army and inscribed on the medals of  
national artists.

The meaning of this script played a pivotal role during the founding  
events of the Filipino nation when the Magdiwang and Magdalo factions  
argued about the significance of their revolutionary emblem when they  
decided to establish the Philippine Republic.  Their differences  
notwithstanding, the baybayin script ka  served as the banner of the  
Philippine government until that fateful day of December 30, 1898 when  
the flag was hauled down as a temporary respite from the revolutionary  
hostilities against Spain.

The historical efficacy of the terms ka and pag-akò in our linguistic  
utterances and cultural practices should give us reason to pause and  
reflect on the ?Lessons of the Katipunan of the Children of the  
Nation? that pinned hope on those who are ?Pure and truly esteemed,  
beloved and noble is the person even if he or she was raised in the  
forest and speaks nothing but his native language?  (Wagas at tunay na  
tao kahit laking gubat at walang nababatid kundi ang sariling wika).

Studies about the cultural elements that led to the development of  
nations indicate that pride in one?s national identity is one of the  
keys towards social progress and economic development.  We could do  
well to promote the nobility of our national character by reviving and  
cultivating indigenous moral virtues that will make our people proud  
and our nation flourish.

Such virtues, when profoundly embraced as part of one?s deepest  
personality, transcend the narrow confines of national identities and  
open up to include other peoples who can likewise recognize the  
concretely embedded aspirations of humanity within the kernel of a  
national heritage.

Dr. Rainier A. Ibana is Professor at the Philosophy Department.

Liane Peña Alampay, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Psychology
Ateneo de Manila University
Loyola Heights, Quezon City 1108

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