Joanna Rose T. Laddaran
Article 30 of the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child, where the Philippines is a signatory, declares, “In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practice his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.”
However, as observed by McEachern (2010), “the vernaculars have been consistently excluded from educational settings, and have even been outright banned”.  In particular, McEachern and Calinawagan (2010) cite that “there is currently no formal Iloko instruction at any level of schooling in La Union, not as a medium of instruction and not even as a subject”.
In response, the Department of Education (DepEd) has started institutionalizing the use of Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) through DepEd Order No. 74, s. 2009. MTB-MLE is defined in the order as “the effective use of more than two languages for literacy and instruction”. According to the EducNews (2012), the official publication of DepEd, in SY 2010 to 2011, DepEd has piloted the implementation of MTB-MLE in 879 public elementary schools. More recently, DepEd Order No. 16, s. 2012 claims that 921 schools including those for children of indigenous people have been modeling MTB-MLE. Also thru DepEd Order No. 16, s. 2012, DepEd has mandated that starting SY 2012-2013, MTB-MLE shall be implemented in all public schools, specifically in Kindergarten, Grades 1, 2 and 3 as part of the K to 12 Basic Education Program.
At present, Iloko (or Ilocano) is the 3rd largest language in the Philippines. However, many parents—especially in urban areas among the middle and upper class—prefer to speak to their children in Filipino or in English rather than in their mother tongue. There are those who prefer to speak Filipino even when they are spoken to in Ilocano. When asked why, others answer that the use of Ilocano is too “native” – indicating that the word “native” has been associated to mean something “inferior”. These are instances of undervaluing one’s linguistic identity, and further, one’s cultural identity as a whole.
As Arzadon (2010) noted, our language is a major part of our identity. Language defines who we are. While the role of mother tongue-based education in shaping and affirming students’ linguistic and cultural identities is cited informally as one advantage of MTB-MLE, it has received little academic attention on its own. Rather, studies on mother tongue-based instruction usually involve describing its effectiveness on formative tests in the core subjects English, Math and Science.
In view of these, this study seeks to examine the role of mother tongue education in preserving one’s cultural identity. Specifically, it aims to find out how MTB-MLE affects children’s perceptions of their mother tongue, and their Ilocano identity in general. It also seeks to provide information to help amend education and language policy in order to get the maximum benefit from the mother tongue and other languages.
 McEachern, F. M. (28 July 2010). Losing the Mother Tongue. Sun Star Baguio newspaper.
 Arzadon, Maria Mercedes. (16 September 2010). Comment on “No longer cool to speak Iloko” by Firth McEachern (9 September 2010), Sun Star Baguio newspaper. <http://ilocanoonline.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/no-ibainmo-ti-ag-ilocano/#more-1373>.