• Zambales and Zamboanga City : tragedy and atrophy

    Marlen V. Ronquillo

    Marlen V. Ronquillo

    In providing the proper preface to the  multiple woes that beset  Zambales and Zamboanga City right now, I will  have to borrow from Martin Niemoller.  First, they came for the glorious dialect that no one  bothered with because, it was, well, just a dying dialect.

    There are two areas in the country where the Niemoller paraphrase is applicable. These are Zamboanga City and the fast-vanishing Chabacano. And Zambal, the dying dialect of Zambales. We exactly cannot present an academic study on why these two dialects got sideswiped by incursive languages (Tagalog in the case of Zambales and  Cebuano in the case of  Zamboanga City)  with less resistance than the others. Because no such research work has been done , and vanishing dialects is considered a minor boil in a  broader context that is stricken with political and economic cancers.

    But for the two areas, the near-extinction of their once-beloved dialects is a fact of life, and it is an irreversible one.

    Still we can’t see the reason for the early surrender by the two areas  in the fight to  preserve the dialects and make them living, though diminished, dialects. The two Zs are outliers on this front. The other provinces have been fighting off, valiantly, the unwanted incursion of outside tongues.

    My own Kapampangan, for one, would not go down without a determined fight. The Kapampangan speakers that are lost in Pampanga, Bataan and Nueva Ecija—for example —are more than offset by the growing number of Tarlaquenos speaking Kapampangan. There is a shift in the locale of users, but it is this that keeps Kapampangan alive. And there are universities in Pampanga that attempt—on an institutional basis—to preserve the Kapampangan dialect.

    It is a different case for Zambal and Chabacano.  There was zero effort to make them current for the next generation to appreciate. Even in the national level, there is nothing on that front. The more prominent linguists often squabble over the “Fs” and the “Ps” of the national language, but they do not bother raising up the issue why dialects such as Chabacano and Zambal will never be heard by the next generation.

    The fast-vanishing Zambal and Chabacano dialects, both hybrids for that matter, would not even factor in now in any discussion on the present and the future of the two areas  given the state of paralysis  that they are  in. It was a spasm of violence that laid siege on Zamboanga City, by misguided and brutal men with  the most sophisticated of weaponry. While Zamboanga’s woes were man-made, it was the wrath of nature that shook to the core the belief that the Pinatubo eruption was a fluke and that Zambales was a place of relative safety.

    The P3.8 billion that Malacañang will be spending for the relief and rehabilitation work of Zamboanga City is small if ranged against what is required to fully get back this historic city from the wreckage. A Zamboangueno friend, Sundance Apolinario, is a polymath, but even he would not dare make an estimate on what is required for a Marshall Plan-type of rehabilitation  of his beloved city.

    More than the physical rehab is building the confidence of the shattered spirit, he seems to be saying. Zamboanga  City had this idea that it had gone through the worst of times, through all forms of blood-drenched Dickensian sorrow. Even then, it was not prepared for the guns of September, in which much of the city was turned into a little Baghdad.

    The city of flowers is now a city of wilted lives. The private sector cannot seem to muster enough courage to help in the rebuilding process, given the magnitude of the destruction. The city government has spent two years of its regular budget  three weeks after the MNLF began terrorizing the city.

    The heightened sense of vulnerability—that just  any group of madmen can  come in and lay siege on the city  and  go on a burning and shooting spree—is the psychic wound that would remain unhealed for years. How can a city gripped by fear carry out a determined effort to rebuild?

    For all its woes, Zambales‘ problems are more worrisome than those of Zamboanga City because we are looking at a 25-year solution to its problems  at the minimum. Why 25 years? This can be explained readily.

    The cause of the killer floods and land slides is environmental degradation.
    Mountains have been logged-over to give way to crowded settlements, especially in the Subic and Castillejos areas. When nature is upset, it strikes back and the bald, logged-over mountains just dumped mud and stones and tree stumps into thickly populated settlements, killing over 30 people.

    An honest-to-goodness reforestation plan, which would restore a semblance of a decent forest cover to the logged-over areas, would  bear  fruit in 25 years, the usual cycle for a reforestation plan. Will the Zambalenos muster the political will to do this? Your guess is as good as mine.

    The misfortunes of the two areas came at a time foreign and domestic tourists have been, I hate this word, incentivized to visit and spend tourism money there, which is anywhere from decent spending to real spending.

    Zambales is host to wonderful beaches and lovely islands, which are yet to be as commercialized as Boracay. A few days back, it celebrated the victory of Meagan Young. Zamboanga City has been attracting its own balikbayan and foreigners intrigued by the history and its hybrid tongue that leave pure Spanish speakers baffled and bemused.

    But right now, the sentiment of  would-be-visitors is aptly captured by an old ditty: “Don’t you go, don’t you go to far Zamboanga.”



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    1. I currently have a group on Facebook with approximately 900 members from the different parts of the globe. Our group’s name is IBA – then and now. In the past 2 years, we have collected and compiled Sambali words that were diligently contributed by our dedicated members who love Zambales as much as I do. As we go online each day, we continue to work on our Sambali dictionary. It is a work in progress and it all comes from the heart as we can not devote 100% of our time on it. We have high hopes that we will one day see it in print to pass on and benefit the new generations of Zambaleños.