Exec who expelled Ilocano-speaking students apologizes

MANILA, Philippines – The president of Saviour's Christian Academy (SCA) in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, has apologized for the expulsion of the 3 students who spoke their native language on campus.

In a public apology letter dated August 15, Reverend Brian Shah expressed his "sincerest apologies to everyone who has been caused pain and offense" by the recent turn of events involving his school.

"As proper authorities are now looking into this controversy, I will refrain from discussing details of the issue, except to say that the policies we craft and implement in the school are well-intentioned and have the best interests of our students in mind," he said in the letter.

Shah, a Singaporean who has served as a pastor in Ilocos Norte since 1987, said he could not intentionally demean Ilocanos who "have accepted me as one of their own."

"It saddens me immensely that this issue of campus discipline has morphed into a war against 'linguistic injustice and cultural discrimination' where I am pictured as chief enemy," he said.

An organization of Ilocanos based in Hawaii started an online petition calling for Shah to be kicked out of the Philippines. Aside from discriminating against the language of his host province and country, Shah is not supposed to own a school in the Philippines since it's prohibited under the laws, they said.

Dr Alegria Tan-Visaya, chief of the Ilokano-Amianan Studies Center at the Mariano Marcos State University, called the incident “a form of linguistic disrespect and cultural discrimination.”

Contrary to these claims, Shah maintained that SCA takes pride in a "vibrant multicultural environment." He added that majority of his church's services are actually conducted in Ilocano.

'Lapse in due process'

Shah has also personally apologized to the families of Carl Abadilla, Kleinee Bautista, and Samuel Respicio during a dialogue at the Department of Education (DepEd)-Laoag City Division on August 8.

On the same day, Abadilla's parents filed a 6-page complaint with DepEd Superintendent Araceli Pastor, seeking administrative sanctions on, and a public apology from, Shah.

During the interview, Shah admitted there may have been some lapse in due process. While he was the president of the school, he said: "I was unaware that the students had 15-days to appeal the decision.  Even the parents were not aware of that.”

Earlier, SCA legal counsel Jaime Agtang insisted the school's move was not expulsion but an advise to transfer. But even DepEd Assistant Secretary Tonisito Umali thought otherwise.

"Mali po talaga 'yun. Walang batang dapat patalsikin dahil nagsalita lang naman ng Ilokano kahit may English-speaking policy,” he said in an ABS-CBN interview.

(That's really wrong. No child should be expelled for speaking Ilokano even in a school with an English-speaking policy.)

House, CHR moves 

Responding to a letter from Ricardo Nolasco of the University of the Philippines-Department of Linguistics, Commission on Human Rights chair Loretta Ann Rosales ordered its regional division to begin investigation into the "horrible" incident as soon as possible and to convene an emergency meeting among schools in Region 1. 

Two days later, Kabataan Partylist Rep Terry Ridon and Ilocos Norte 1st District Rep Rodolfo Fariñas filed House Resolution 192 directing the committee on basic education to conduct an investigation into the incident.

It also urged the House of Representatives to direct DepEd to review all student handbooks of schools to "ensure...these handbooks do not violate constitutionally protected rights and other existing laws regarding students rights."

Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino chair Virgilio Almario, who had earlier issued an official statement, dismissed the school's claim that the English-speaking policy complies with academic freedom. He said he will talk to both DepEd and the Commission on Higher Education about policies like this implemented in schools. – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.