I nearly missed the news because it was buried in Page A6. At least it was in Section A, but I thought—being biased, of course—that it should have been on the front page.
Over at UP Diliman, no one had informed me about this great honor, or maybe everyone was just preoccupied with the paper rush that comes with the end of each semester.
I’m referring to Johanne Jazmin Tan Jabines, a UP Diliman business administration and accountancy student, winning the International Public Speaking Competition last Friday over 51 other public speakers from all over the world.
So today let me brag a bit about Jabines who, incidentally, I have not met yet but hope to soon, and I’m imagining students calling out, “Speech, speech!” I will add some more information on what she did in London, to supplement the report of the Inquirer’s Jhesset Enano, emphasizing how Jabines brought honor to UP and to the Philippines, providing a glimpse of our country and our people in an honest way.
I will also talk about the people behind the competition and why we need to give more importance to what they are promoting: oracy, or competence in speaking and listening.
Jabines and six other grand finalists had been asked to prepare their speeches on the theme “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Jabines chose to speak on the lives of our overseas Filipino workers in a speech titled “One Hour at a Time,” coming out of her own experience at seeing an OFW aunt in transit at the airport. Jabines spoke about the difficult lives of our OFWs, including having to go TNT (tago nang tago, which she explained as “going into hiding,” and which I thought would have been more dramatic in the literal translation of “hiding and hiding”).
Jabines talked of the irony of overseas work: “To show someone you love them, you often have to leave.” She does not glamorize the diaspora, but praises OFWs for “finding new ways to succeed, where none exist” (I thought of our Filipino expression “makakahanap ng paraan,” or finding a way). In essence, Jabines talked about OFWs and their loved ones having to constantly invent and reinvent themselves, in all kinds of places, including the computer screen during a Skype call, the visits home, the transit time in airline terminals.
For Jabines, it was this constant invention of new ways to connect that allows us to predict the future of our families in this age of diaspora.
I found the speech to be courageously sad, reflecting how we, as a people, are always wondering when (or if) our situation will get better. But it was important for Jabines to be honest, to bare our soul to the world.
There was time, after each of the grand finalists’ speeches, for questions from the audience. So Jabines was asked, and she replied spontaneously and with substance, about patriotism (“Is it patriotic to leave?” She answered that patriotism could take different forms, including living and celebrating our culture abroad, and helping fellow OFWs), about Kuwait.
Why is this competition so important? Notice how we celebrate victory in beauty pageants or boxing matches on the front page of newspapers. Young people winning in science and math competitions? That’s relegated to the inside pages.
Public speaking and debating matches get even less attention, which leaves our young people with few role models.
The international public speaking competition that Jabines participated in was organized by the English Speaking Union, established in 1918 to promote oracy, or competence in speaking and in listening. It’s a British organization, so the bias is of course English, and many of its international activities emphasize participation in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. But this English Speaking Union has expanded, with chapters now in many countries including the Philippines. The local one is based at the Far Eastern University (it’s on Facebook), and it is these country chapters that do the first round of competitions.
This last competition was said to have involved some 600,000 participants from more than 50 countries, reflecting the way English has become a world language. Jabines’ competitors in the final round were from Hong Kong, South Korea, China, Estonia, Lebanon and the United States.
One would have thought that Jabines was majoring in speech or theater, but, precisely, her being a business administration accountancy major, one of the toughest in the UP system, tells us that oracy is a skill that should be better appreciated by all kinds of disciplines.
Very quietly, UP Diliman students have also been winning in international debating competitions, and the students don’t just come from law, where debating is taken very seriously. We’ve had top debaters—I notice the women do better than men, maybe reflecting Philippine society’s gender norms — from all kinds of academic backgrounds.
Watch a video of Jabines giving her speech and you find a style that might actually run counter to the way we’re usually taught in English and speech or communications courses. There’s a tendency in Asian countries, the Philippines even more, maybe because of our Latin background, to be emotional and bombastic. We also tend to think of speeches as something delivered jubilantly and in celebration—thus, Speech, speech!
The style used by Jabines fits more into no-nonsense, almost stoic English (as in the people, rather than the language) mode, which is used to present and argue issues, similar to the way essays are written. It’s a style I like because it emphasizes substance.
Yes, I do worry about the more popular modes of public speaking and communications, including fliptop, where the competitors fire off at each other and gain points for being inflammatory, even disrespectful (bastos in Filipino). I’m proud to say one of the best fliptop artists (they’re called “battle emcees”) is a UP alumnus, BLKD (pronounced Balakid), who is challenging the fiery rap style and promoting a more composed, but still firm, delivery.
Our times may well be remembered as an era where new communication technologies led, not to more peace and understanding, but to post-truth and fake news. It should not be surprising if public speaking excellence is brought down to the dismal levels of social media’s insults and rants and of “shouting down” opponents rather than engaging in calm and collected argument.
I hope our public speaking teachers can use this latest international public speaking competition to get students (and faculty) to think about how communication becomes more effective with oracy, which is not just about speaking but also about being a good observer of the world around us, and listening well to that world.
The text of Jabines’ speech can be found on: https://www.rappler.com/views/imho/203028-philippine-diaspora-ofw-one-hour-at-a-time.
There is a video of the grand finals, including Jabines’ delivery: https://www.facebook.com/the.esu/videos/10155630385368576/
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