Three Filipinos all of them in their twenties, born in 3 cardinal points of this Republic were the finalists for YouthAmbassador of Language, Kabataan Ambásadór sa Wika.
The eldest, 23-year old Jhon Joseph D. Pandong II was born in Malaybalay, Bukidnon and is a graduate of the Dalwagan Elementary School, Bukidnon National High School and the Bukidnon State University where he read Secondary Education and majored in Filipimo. He is one of DepEd’s teachers in his province.
Oliver Zamora Manarang and Ahlden Jae D. Salgado were both born in 1997, but Oliver is five months older than Ahlden. Born in Angeles, Pampanga, Oliver went to the Dau Elementary School, the Camachiles National High School in Mabalacat and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary Education; like Jhon Joseph, he also majored in Filipino. Alden Jae, the youngest of the three is from Paoay, Ilocos Norte, son of a security guard and a full time mother. There were scant details about his educational record; he has an undergrad diploma for Culture and Arts Education.
The grand finals of this unique contest were held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in the early afternoon of 27 August; the dress code was “katutubo” which is not quite “Filipiniana”, so none of the lady guests were dressed in a terno, not even CCP President Margie M. Floirendo who gave the welcome speech in Filipino. I wore a citified version of a Tinggian skirt. There were three judges for the finals: Noel Ferrer, cinematographer, best known for the riveting “Muli” and “Astig”, thedistinguished Dr. Bernardita Churchill of the Philippine National Historical Society and Manila Studies Association, and yours truly. To my horror, I was introduced as Miss International of 1964, perhaps because Miss Universe Margie and I were at the same table.
Needless to say, the IKAW (Kabataan Ambásadór saWika) was diametrically different to the contests that transformed Margie and I into instant celebrities. Sometimes, I ruefully think that if I had not taken that path, I would probably have a couple of doctorates in history like Bernardita Churchill, or in Filipino literature like Rio Almario.
There were only 3 questions but none were easy: Mr. Ferrer wanted to know how they would help the National LanguageCommission topromote our native languages side by side with Filipino. Dr. Churchill asked how they intended to reinforce the use of Filipino in a multi-lingual country like the Philippines. I asked what they thought of the CHED Memorandum No. 20 which removed Filipino language and literature from the curriculum, and the Supreme Court declaring that there is nothing unconstitutional about that.
The language question has always been explosive since the days of Pres. Manuel Quezon, so I was quite relieved to hear these three young men declare that we should preserve all our native languages, the mother tongues, and use Filipino as a bridge to unify this linguistically diverse Republic. The unanimous choice was Jhon Joseph, the Binukid from Malaybalay.