‘Chicharon’ | Inquirer Opinion
There’s The Rub


/ 03:03 AM September 26, 2011

Lito Lapid worries about the wrong things.

He’s dying to plunge into the Senate discussions on the RH bill, he says, but he doesn’t know if his English is good enough. “Much as I want to interpellate, my tongue is not used to English. What if they don’t understand my Tagalog or I don’t know how to answer their questions in English? These senators are also lawyers who spent 10 years in law school while I spent 10 years practicing my stunts.”


His concerns about RH include: What if we end up like Singapore and South Korea that have aging populations because of family planning? And do contraceptives produce bodily defects on those that end up getting born anyway? His basic standpoint is respect for women. “Consider that a Filipina always covers her chest when she bends to pick up a coin, a handkerchief or a set of keys. What is she protecting? Is it not her body?”

Well, if he worries that he cannot engage the other senators in a discussion or that he doesn’t have the tools to carry out his sworn obligations, why in God’s name did he run for senator in the first place? Surely those concerns should have been apparent to him from the start?


In any case, why should he feel inferior about their different former occupations? It’s just learning one stunt and another. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Juan Ponce Enrile themselves just learned the stunt of surviving by switching allegiances from one boss to another, in Enrile’s case all the way to Marcos. They’ve been practicing that for more than 10 years. At least Lapid’s stunts have caused bodily harm only to himself, Miriam’s and Johnny’s have caused irreparable harm to the nation.

But if those are the kinds of things Lapid wants to raise in the Senate, he truly has a reason to fret, he truly has a reason to fear. He shouldn’t be worrying about the quality of his English, he should be worrying about the quality of his mind.

It’s an indication of the quality of his mind in fact that he should be worrying about the quality of his English. Why on earth must he feel compelled to talk in English, raise questions in English, argue in English? His colleagues are vying with each other to be expansive and accommodating. Santiago says: “I will try my pidgin Tagalog to try to explain the issue to him, although I am ashamed of my Tagalog. I don’t have an extensive vocabulary.” Sen. Pia Cayetano says: “There should be no problem because if you will notice, I also use Tagalog to emphasize some points in my explanations on this issue.” Tito Sotto says he doesn’t have a problem with Lapid asking for a shift to Tagalog in some of the debates. “I will support him if he asks for certain accommodations.”

That is all very well, except for one thing. Why should Tagalog, or indeed Filipino, need to be accommodated? Why should Tagalog, or Filipino, need to patronized? Why should Tagalog, or Filipino, need to be taken as the exception rather than the rule in debates? Particularly in debates by a national legislative body, particularly in debates that have to do with the fate of the nation? Last I looked, the national language was not English, it was Filipino.

But of course you ought to be ashamed of yourself if your Filipino is horrible, particularly if you are a senator, particularly if you are a congressman, particularly if you are a secretary. That is so whether you are Ilonggo or Ilocano or Zamboangueño. You want to be a national official, learn the national language. You want to participate in a national debate, speak the national language—fluently.

In fact the question is not: Why should Lapid be accommodated and the debate reduced to Filipino? The question is: Why should the other senators speak in English and the debate not elevated to Filipino? The second is the natural order of things. The first is the tail wagging the dog.

What makes Lapid’s trepidations—and the way he is being assuaged—bizarre is that P-Noy himself has just demonstrated the incalculable power of speaking in Filipino. That is what he has done in his major speeches, and the last State of the Nation Address in particular has had the most dramatic effects. Indeed, what a difference a speech makes. Before that speech, he was getting brickbats from various sectors and his approval ratings were falling. After that speech, he soared mightily, enjoying nearly three months now of peace and prosperity, and his enemies are scattered and fighting for their lives. Speaking in Filipino, he showed a President who wanted nothing better than to communicate with his people. Speaking in Filipino, he showed a President who wanted nothing better than to be understood by his people.


Behold the power of articulation. Behold the power of Filipino.

Most Filipinos speak Filipino—or Tagalog if you want to insist on it—not English. That is more so today than yesterday, all the (free) TV stations now broadcasting their news in it. English-language news in local networks is a thing of the past. Why shouldn’t that be the case for the Senate, the House, the Cabinet, and the courts as well?

The argument that English is the traditional language of governance is no argument at all. If so, then change it. Governance in fact is the very reason for using Filipino instead of English. To govern, you must communicate. To govern, you must be understood. To govern, you have to touch the governed to the core of their being. Unless of course you think of governance as the art of screwing the people. Which it has been so here, English doing for officials what Latin did for the friars: As a means to exclude, a means to intimidate, a means to delude people into believing you know more than you do. English being the initiating ritual for a secular priesthood: You don’t know the coded language you’re out.

You’re chicharon, Lapid’s or not.

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TAGS: Language, Lito Lapid, RH bill, Senate Debates
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