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Uvovug, Bida, Abid

Protecting Cagayan Valley’s indigenous languages

Contrary to how many Filipinos might think of the people from Cagayan Valley and northern Luzon in general, Ilokano is not the sole language and ethnic group living in these said regions. Under the shadow of the Ilokano language’s state of being the lingua franca of the north, are the highly diverse and numerous other languages, of which most are indigenous or native in areas such as the Cagayan Valley or the Cordillera Region.

The Cagayan Valley Region alone is home to languages such as Ivatan, Itbayaten, Ibatan, Ibanag, Itawit, Malaueg, Isnag, Atta (Pamplona and Faire languages), Agta Labin, Agta Dupaningan, Yogad, Gaddang, Agta Palanan, Agta Dinapigue, Agta Casiguran, Ilongot, Agta Nagtipunan, Isinay, Ayangan Ifugao, and Kalanguya, among others. These are spread across the five provinces of Region 2.

Unlike Ilokano, these languages are spoken by minorities, many of whom are under the influence of Tagalog and even English linguistic dominance, such that many young native speakers are no longer taught the mother tongue of their parents. This results in the reduced vitality of these minority languages, where the number of speakers decrease through succeeding generations. Until responses are made, the decrease could possibly lead to language extinction and loss of language diversity.

This phenomenon is not only true for the indigenous languages of Cagayan Valley. The fact is, many minority languages all over the world are undergoing the same experience and at an alarming rate. This therefore formed the basis of the United Nations’ launching of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL), a global movement that aims to  promote, document, preserve, and revitalize indigenous languages all over the world through a Global Action Plan that will be implemented from 2022 to 2032.

In living its advocacy of protecting a threatened language such as Ibanag, the PIA-2 recently launched Pallipay: An Ibanag Anthology, which hopes to encourage young Ibanag to learn how to use their mother tongue in reading and writing.

The Philippines’ spot in the IDIL has already been established through the initial activities conducted this year by NGOs such as Tebtebba foundation and 170+ Talaytayan MLE among others. An example is the Philippine Conference of Indigenous Languages held at the University of the Philippines Diliman from October 25 to 27, where speakers of diverse Philippine languages assembled to discuss the implementation of the UN Global Action Plan for the IDIL in the country. 

The gathering was supported by various Indigenous People’s organizations, NGOs, and government agencies such as the Department of Education, National Commission of Indigenous Peoples, Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

The native languages from Cagayan Valley Region represented and featured during the conference were Ibanag, Itawit, Gaddang, and Dupaningan Agta, with PIA Region 2 Information Officer Jan Karl Coballes and Ilagan-based St. Ferdinand College President Fr. June Castaneda both representing the Ibanag language, while Cagayan Heritage Conservation Society President Ar. Michael Tabao and member Harold de la Cruz represented Itawit. The Gaddang of Nueva Vizcaya and Isabela were represented by Mr. Antonio Cayyog, a Ga’dang from Paracelis, Mt. Province who is affiliated with Tebtebba.

The Philippine Conference of Indigenous languages held at UP Diliman from October 25 to 27 was attended by various indigenous language speakers and researchers from across the country, Batanes to Tawi-tawi. (Photo by Dr. Ricky Nolasco)

After the formation of a National Steering Committee for the implementation of the IDIL global action plan in the Philippines, the representatives of Region 2 will become part of a regional committee for the Cagayan Valley, which will initiate localized language promotion, documentation, preservation, and revitalization efforts for the next decade that will include all other indigenous languages in Cagayan Valley.

On the other hand, the Philippine Information Agency in Region 2 has already initiated its own language protection effort that is in line with the IDIL. Specifically, the agency has released a pioneering anthology of modern Ibanag literary works, whose themes revolve around traditional Ibanag customs and material culture. The said publication is noteworthy as it encompasses the whole Ibanag-dom from Cagayan to Isabela. 

Hopefully, this initial achievement of the Ibanag people will be emulated by other ethno-linguistic minorities in Region 2 so that their respective languages, which are symbols of their indigenous identity and sources of confidence and well-being in a globalized era, would be strengthened and led away from endangerment and extinction.

The movement to save language diversity in the Cagayan Valley appears to be hopeful. The IDIL efforts will not only be a struggle for the regional committee; internalizing the vision of the  IDIL is inclusive to all– from the academe, to the local government units, provincial governments, the Church,media,  government and non-government institutions and organizations, as well as individuals who have the passion to promote, document, preserve, and revitalize the threatened indigenous languages of the Valley. (JKC)

About the Author

Jan Karl Coballes

Regional Editor; Research and Development Officer; Tuguegarao City and Batanes Information Center Manager

Region 2

Ibanag. Writer. Researcher. Ethnographer. Ethno-historian. Graduate student focusing on linguistic and cultural anthropology.

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