Filipino, which is largely Tagalog-based, can be just as imperialistic as English is, and probably more in its own way. Speaking Filipino does not automatically you maka-Pilipino or nationalistic.
Hear me out: Filipino (being mainly Tagalog) is a language that was imposed on the rest of the country. Just because almost everyone in the country speaks it now, does not mean it was not forced on them through education, necessity or practicality over the decades. The Tagalog territories being the dominant center of economic activity for so long did much to make learning Filipino advantageous at best, or necessary at worst.
Can you truly claim you are maka-Pilipino if you use Filipino as a tool of elitism over other Filipinos, or tout its primacy over the rest of the Filipino languages? Before you go “English is the language of the colonizers and foreigners!”, remember that you probably take for granted the fact that anyone in this country can speak Filipino, even if it may not be their own beloved or native tongue.
True, most Filipinos may be familiar with Filipino, even intimately, but that does not necessarily make the language their own. In some cases, they even appropriate it for use in their own way. But, how different is that for Filipinos who appropriate English, because that is what they grew up with or it was practical for them? I was born and raised Tagalog and it took staying in Bikol for years to realize this. The look in people’s eyes when you have to tell them that they must speak to you in Tagalog (because you do not know their language) is not hostile, but it is certainly strange and possibly uncomfortable even if they do not say so.
Most of the time they just carry it in stride or not recognize their discomfort themselves. But sometimes, you get a nervous laughter of sorts or an embarrassing moment where you’re left with a lingering feeling that they think you’re just trying to one-up them.
Some people, like myself, would try to learn the local language, and you can see people appreciate it. It is difficult to learn another Philippine language, but it helps you get a measure of what you’re asking non-Tagalog speakers to set aside for you (probably without a single thought).
It’s when you realize that you simply cannot learn all the Filipino languages though, that you end up with a dilemma; we do need to efficiently and effectively understand each other, after all. You realize that Tagalog/Filipino is fine, English is fine, Bikol is fine, any other language is fine, so long as you can understand each other. However, it’s the change of mentality that comes with the realization that’s important.
I understand that some people use language as a tool of elitism (whether that be Tagalog or English), but that’s part of the problem I’m trying to speak against: if you somehow accept the primacy of Tagalog among Filipinos (or worse, actively using imposing it), then you are as elitist as someone who uses English to step on other people.
We need to treasure our Filipino languages and make them grow, that is true, but perhaps there is a better measure of what makes a Filipino a Filipino. Maybe it’s better if we can look past the language used, see the use of the language, and stop using it to superficially judge our fellow citizens.