Kenneth of Philippine Genre Stories seems to have re-ignited a debate that won't be ending soon. His more recent entry is The Continuing Conumdrum which talks about what defines Philippine Speculative Fiction (or Philipine Fiction for that matter). Bhex, on the other hand, seems to have taken an extreme (but insightful) position on the matter: that Filipino Speculative Fiction should be written in Filipino and must incorporate Filipino elements and culture.
As I said before, my views on most matters usually tend to avoid extremes but somewhere in the middle or a form of reconciliation between the various extremes. In countering Bhex's argument, there's this experience I want to clarify. I feel that a lot of Filipino writers, when someone criticizes them for not writing in Filipino, there is typically one of two reactions: either they become too defensive or they feel guilt. Personally, there is still a small sense of guilt within me whenever I write in English although whether it is justified or not is another matter. The concept of a single national language for the Philippines I think is flawed, not because it works and doesn't work for other countries, but because one has to take into account Philippine history.
Before the Spanish came and conquered this archipelago, some historians would argue that there was no Philippines as a nation back then. Instead, we were composed of several islands and tribes, each with its unique culture and dialects. Whether you agree with that theory is up to you but two things are undeniable: the archipelago was home to several languages and what truly united us was the invasion and subjugation by Spain. For three centuries, the "national language was Spanish", even as various groups retained their native tongue (but most likely somehow "evolved" into its present form although there are still tribes who retain their "uncorrupted" language). And then in the 20th century, the Americans came and initiated their own language policy (and perhaps gave birth to the Filipino national artists who write in English such as Nick Joaquin). Ironically, it wasn't until the Japanese occupation that a sense of native nationalism was instilled by the present government albeit tainted with Japanese agendas. And then the nation was finally liberated and English became the national language once again until the Marcos dictatorship was overthrown and Filipino was declared the national language. Also one must take current events into account. Presently there is Executive Order No. 210 which promotes English as a second language (The Manila Times has their own opinions on the matter). Of course I also want to clarify that a variant of Filipino (Tagalog) was already being practiced ever since the Spanish occupation, although its practice was perhaps limited in geographic scope (i.e. not everyone in the archipelago used it).
So why did I bring up that short history lesson? To show that the country's language development is unique and not to be limited in scope. We have Jose Rizal who wrote in Spanish because that was the de facto lingua franca at the time. Nick Joaquin wrote in English likewise. Francisco Balagtas wasn't writing in the national language of his era but it makes his work no less Filipino. I think it's fair to say that those who received an education prior to 1987 considers English as their national language, even as post-EDSA Revolution babies consider Filipino to be the national language, a reflection of the political and education policy of their childhood. I akin ourselves not to America but to a country like France, where there is one national language but many are in practice, or to a certain extent like Canada, in which two languages have official status. National language is not an intrinsic cultural heritage but more of a political ideology we inherit.
Back to the argument, must THE Filipino Speculative Fiction be written in Filipino? It could possibly be. But at the same time, I am not discounting the possibility that the great Filipino Speculative Fiction novel be written in English. Or Ilocano or some other dialect for that matter. History has shown, our very culture has shown, that the Philippines is culturally diverse and to pick merely one means of narrating is quite limiting. Of course Bhex's argument isn't that you can't tell a Filipino story in English or some other tongue, but rather it is less Filipino compared to one that is written in Filipino. But again, I don't think that's the case. Being Filipino isn't limited to one factor but to a lot of elements; it's not just about language but our mindset, our religion, our paradigm of the world. I definitely think the best Filipino Speculative Fiction can be told in English. But there is one thing I need to qualify: utilize the language that best suits the story.
During our last Lit Crit session, Dean mentioned that there are four ways to tackle Filipino dialogue in English text: 1) narrate it in English instead of spelling out the dialogue, 2) use actual Filipino, non-Filipino speakers be damned, 3) translate Filipino dialogue into English and 4) use broken English/transliteration. Now each of these techniques are valid depending on the story and how it is used. It's seldom a good idea to utilize #4 but Nick Joaquin is an example of someone who manages to translate beautifully Filipino words into English (albeit there's a certain disjoint between reading "pandesal" and "bread of salt"). Dialogue, on the other hand, depends on the subject matter and era. Two maids discussing soap operas for example will most likely use Filipino (or even a dialect) as a mode for communicating. Them speaking in English might be jarring to the reader. But two politicians conversing in English during the American regime is perfectly valid if not believable. I think the question of which language to use is addressed by the story and technique rather than a question of sheer nationalism.
And then there's the question of Philippine elements in the story: Filipino characters, Filipino myths, Filipino settings. Does a Filipino Speculative Fiction story need one or all of these elements to be truly Filipino? Well, the way I see it, if the question was phrased "does a Filipino Literary story need to contain Filipino elements?" If that was the question, I'd say perhaps (but for the most part, still a definite no). But Filipino Speculative Fiction? Not necessarily, especially since this is speculative fiction we are talking about. Speculative for me has been about breaking boundaries, testing the limits. It's about telling stories that go out of your comfort zone, and that might mean not using settings, characters, tropes, or even language that is familiar to you. I think via our nature, we'll subconsciously including something Filipino about it whether it's a mentality, a practice, or a world view. But one can easily write about a post-apocalyptic Neptune in a parallel past with Wendigo's and Yuki-Onna's and dancing sentient penguins yet still be Filipino. Perhaps not distinctively Filipino but Filipino nonetheless.
A more practical consideration albeit perhaps less artistic reason is translation. Do Filipinos have a Jay Rubin who will translate flawless Filipino into inspiring English? Which is to say even if the great Filipino novel is written in Filipino, there is no guarantee that the world stage will see it. That doesn't mean I'm espousing Filipino writers write in English. Rather that if you're comfortable in English, then go ahead and write in English. If you're more fluent with Filipino, keep at it. Better to master the writing style of the language you're familiar than butcher another (and is perhaps why English Filipino writers as much as possible avoid writing in Filipino). If there is a hesitation among English Filipino writers not writing in Filipino, it's because we're all too aware of the richness of the language and afraid that we won't be able to do it justice.