[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
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
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
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
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
Dr. Rainier A. Ibana is Professor at the Philosophy Department.
Liane Peña Alampay, PhD
Department of Psychology
Ateneo de Manila University
Loyola Heights, Quezon City 1108
More information about the Blueboard