Is diskarte more important than good English as Marian Rivera says?

Don’t look now but Marian Rivera’s come out swinging at her detractors, presumably over the subject of her famous English language skills (or lack of it). I’ve always found Marian fascinating. Her face and physical stature does not match her style of speech. Perhaps this is what endears her to her fans — she physically looks sosyal but, once she opens her mouth, suddenly comes down to a level the masses can relate with. I suppose it’s sort of like how Pinoys are so fascinated with “foreigners” who speak Tagalog.

So I wonder why the sudden need to reaffirm herself now. According to Marian, how well someone speaks English is not good basis for judging a person’s intelligence.

“Sabi ko nga, ‘yon ba ang basehan ng mga tao sa pagiging matalino?” wika ni Marian sa umereng episode ng “Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho” nitong kamakalawa nang bisitahin niya ang pinagtapusang De La Salle University sa Dasmarinas, Cavite.

Marian Rivera's looks allow her to get away with palengke English.
Marian Rivera’s looks allow her to get away with palengke English.
I would’ve thought she owed nobody any explanations or apologies for a quirk of hers that made her famous and endeared her to her fans.

What she says is true, of course. Some of the smartest people I knew in college did not speak good English. In fact, a lot of them came from prestigious science high schools like Philippine Science and Manila Science. They were top-notch at science and math subjects and pretty much humbled us private school snobs who came out of high school thinking we were a cut above the rest. See, we pretty much dominated the social scene in college because of our private school swagger and loud and twanged English speaking. But engineering school is not kind to “social” people. It rewards the quiet achievers. And many of these achievers stayed quiet because they couldn’t speak English well. So while us “bratpackers” loudly took up space at prime campus tambayans, the non-English “underclass” on campus beavered away at libraries and second-tier hangouts.

That said, I still have a problem with the sort of message Marian is bringing across to the Filipino masses by downplaying the role of English skills. The thing is, Marian can afford to speak palengke because she is beautiful. When you are beautiful and fair-skinned in the Philippines, you can pretty much get away with anything. That, as a matter of fact, is what “Nasty” is saying in his famous tirade; that the elite-looking “but uneducated, aquiline-nosed and light-skinned ******** picked up from some gutter somewhere” could “just flash their capped-tooth smiles and policemen let them get away with traffic violations” or “bat their false eyelashes and customs officers impose no duty on their suspicious balikbayan boxes.”

But the majority of Filipinos do not look like Marian Rivera or, for that matter, her hubby DingDong Dantes. Most Filipinos are short and dark skinned. Even the most English-proficient folks of this sort have to work doubly hard to get noticed in a room of tall, fair-skinned people. So you can imagine what it would be like for short dark-skinned people who don’t speak English well. Story of Vice President Jejomar Binay’s life, right? Thing is, not everyone is as smart and politcally-savvy as the Vice President too.

All things being equal then, Filipinos who could speak English well have an edge. Only 1% of Filipinos look like Marian Rivera. So for a person who counts in the 99+ percentile of the elite in terms of looks to tell average Filipinos that not being good in English is “ok”, is borderline irresponsible, I dare say.

Not surprising then that you will see a lot of people who take perverse pride in speaking baroque English — which is why people like Erap Estrada win presidential elections. Beautiful and idolized celebs telling their fans that bad English is good give validation to a majority who were unfortunate enough not to have been raised to speak great English. It enforces an anti-intellectual attitude in Filipinos, because it stigmatizes English rather than make it a skill to aspire to master.

Inggles Inggles ka pa diyan, Tagalogin mo na lang.

That familiar admonition from Filipinos to demonize people who prefer to express themselves in English is really a symptom of that unsavory psyche of Filipinos that probably keeps them poor. Most books on science and math are written in English. Maybe there are some written in Filipino, but they are very rare. And even among those rare ones, most of them will probably just be translations from original English texts.

As far as I’ve also observed, in the corporate world, people who could speak and write English well are also looked upon favorably by employers. In the old days, it was even common for job ads to include warnings like “non-grads of Ateneo, La Salle, Assumption, and UP need not apply”. Sometimes they even leave out UP! Lol!

But people like Marian Rivera don’t need to speak great English to get ahead. In fact, she need not even speak.

But for the millions of average Filipinos, communication skills are important. Look no further than the armies of unseen and invisible call center and BPO workers whose only puhunan is their language faculties.


Post Author: Kate Natividad

Frustrated artist doing geek for a living.