William “The Chair Wrecker” Esposo of Philstar.com has joined in the debate about the Philippine national language (or lack of it) in his recent column. This was in response to the controversial and now removed article written by James Soriano from Manila Bulletin. While Esposo rabidly defended our constitutionally mandated national language, Tagalog, he wrote his article in English. Of course the irony of this will likely get lost in the average Filipino mind. The columnist gets funnier every time he sets out to defend something that is or someone who is un-defendable. President Noynoy Aquino (PNoy) comes to mind…but I digress.
Mr Esposo is ignoring the fact that one of the reasons why he is a columnist for one of the major publications is because he can string a word or two in English. Some of his articles may not make any sense but he is proof that if you can write or speak well in English, you are guaranteed a good job in the Philippine work force. In his column, Esposo gave eight reasons why “some Filipinos adopt very narrow-minded perspectives to the language debate”. But before I get into that, let’s look at the facts:
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Just a little over a year ago, PhilStar.com, the same publication where Esposo publishes his articles reported that, “Three quarters of the country’s employers turn down job applicants with poor English, according to one of the country’s leading job search sites”. Furthermore, according to an industry expert JobStreet General Manager Grace Colet, “studies showed 75 percent of employers had turned down jobseekers with a poor command of English, and 97 percent believed those with good English were also more productive”.
Here’s an eye-opening excerpt from the article:
“It is important that a jobseeker has command of the English language,” Colet said.
Employers were alarmed by the increasing popularity of the “jejemon” culture in the country, a social phenomenon where liberties are taken with basic grammar and spelling to the point of incoherence, she said.
“This new trend which started with text messages and social media sites is seen to encourage erroneous use of language, which can have dire implications on one’s job prospects.”
Obviously, building a workforce universally and equally well-versed in the English language, the preferred language of commerce, would genuinely level the playing field in our society. Just imagine if a kid who studied at a local public school is able to talk straight English just like a kid who studied at the Ateneo. The result of that is, the kid who went to public school will have an improved chance at being hired by a high-paying multinational company later on. It is simple economics that some Filipinos fail to appreciate because they have adopted a very narrow-minded view of what a sense of nationalism is all about.
A real sense of nationalism will naturally come when prosperity in the country is achieved. At the moment, there is very little to love about the country and our culture because of rampant poverty and a tradition of failure. A fragmented society contributes to our dire straits. It is fragmented due to a lot of flawed policies, which includes legislation that forces Filipinos from other regions, the non-Tagalog speakers, to learn a language that is not even beneficial to them. This actually results in resentment and division among Filipinos along tribal and regional lines that go way back.
The way I see it, elite members of Philippine society like Esposo are denying this fact unconsciously or consciously because they actually prefer the status quo. It’s either that or they are just simply totally clueless. Filipinos like Esposo or those who are at the top of the food chain in our society most likely treasure the position they hold because there is less competition from those who cannot speak the lingua franca of the Philippine elite.
Imagine if everyone had a chance at writing for the PhilStar.com. Not only would more Filipinos write and speak English like Esposo, they might even make better sense than him. Then the bar of sense in what is published in mainstream media would definitely be raised for old demagogues like Esposo (perhaps to a point beyond his reach). In scientific terms, that situation is called the “survival of the fittest”. That is more attuned to the natural flow of every citizen’s relevance to society. Right now, there is an imbalance in the roles Filipinos play in society because only the privileged few can move up the ranks and sit in positions of influence. Even the elite clique of the Philippines’ key opinion-shapers is a tiny community, and access to it is restricted by a formidable ceiling — proficiency in the English language.
Now let me give a rebuttal to Mr Esposo’s eight points. Frankly, some of his points are repetitious but I have managed to elaborate on my response even further:
1. The nation pays a greater price for the loss of its identity when we allow a foreign language to replace what is the very soul of Filipino communication — our native tongue. The Chinese, once behind us economically, pushed for a national language — Mandarin — knowing the need for a national language to weld a national aspiration.
What is the Filipino people’s native tongue? It seems that most Filipinos are not aware that Tagalog is not the only language in the Philippines. Not everyone in the Philippines is happy to be forced to learn a language that offers no return on investment to them nor a sense of true belonging.
The Chinese can use Mandarin or Cantonese and it won’t make a difference because they have about five thousand years of history and can hold their own. Their economic rise has much more to do with their relatively recent opening up of their economy to foreign investors and their long and deep thousand-year cultural bedrock tradition of astounding achievement — not their language.
2. The Japanese did not need English to excel economically. On the contrary, the Japanese never had a language problem and they’re a great country because of a language that promoted one mind, one heart in one Japanese nation. In contrast, our counter-productive language debate reflects our damaged culture and the deep divisions in our sick society. Countries that are on the march to progress don’t have this embarrassing debate while those that are basket cases never progressed by shifting to another language.
Similar to the Chinese people, the Japanese have thousands of years of history. They have proven in the past that they can actually survive even without foreign intervention, which is something that cannot be said about Filipinos. In fact, Japan is one of the countries in Asia that went through “extremely protectionist infant-industry phase” and a lot of people seem to agree that this is what helped them build a strong industrial base. Again, this is not something that can be said about the Philippines. Our general lack of ingenuity and competitiveness has nothing to do with less use of our “mother tongue” but perhaps more to do with our use of a language that offers very little real opportunity to its speakers.
3. Both Filipino and English can be learned and this need not be at the expense of losing the natural language of the Filipino mind and soul. A country’s native tongue need not be sacrificed in order to have a facility in English.
More Filipinos find it easier to understand Tagalog compared to English because there is less emphasis in teaching and using English in the first place. Mainstream media plays a big role in teaching kids nowadays. Most shows imported from abroad are automatically dubbed in Tagalog. I don’t believe it is necessary to do that. Tagalog is everywhere. It’s not like it is going to die if the shows remain in English. Added to this, most local shows help make Filipinos dumber.
My colleague benign0 has long and consistently offered a focused and clear argument on the subject of the place of Tagalog in the public education system that drives a strong practical point; one that is relevant to our immediate and most pressing issues:
“In a perfect world where we can afford to indulge our cultural insecurities, then by all means, let’s divide delivery of our tax-funded education between English and Tagalog. But in the wretched world where Philippine budgetary constraints and desperation for economic relief is very real, we should give pre-eminence to the language that delivers results when deciding how we want our school kids to spend their time learning how to make a living.”
4. Technical terms that may not be in the Filipino language are easily adopted. Even the English language adopts foreign terms emanating from non-English minds. Rolando Tinio, the late National Artist for literature and one of the greatest artistic minds of our race, proved in his translations of the classics of Shakespeare, Shaw, Ibsen, Sophocles and so forth that Filipino is a great language and can easily retain the essence of foreign classic literature.
If we have to borrow English words just to explain complicated concepts because there are some words that don’t exist in Tagalog, then we would be better off having English as our first language. It would save the government a lot of money on textbooks and manpower.
5. We’ll be lucky to have five percent of Filipinos thinking in English. Many who claim to be proficient in English actually think in Filipino. They may be able to translate their thoughts in English but the fact remains that they think in Filipino. Note how the Thais, Chinese, Singaporeans, Malaysians, had all overtaken us even if they had never been as good as us in English in the ’50s and the ’60s. English did not get them to where they are.
Whether someone thinks in Tagalog or English doesn’t really matter. What’s important is the promotion of critical thinking. The last Presidential election actually proved that Filipinos do not use their critical analysis. Being well versed in English can help Filipinos be critical thinkers because most materials that can help Filipinos use their logic are written in English. And besides, most major publications that offer insightful content actually use the English language.
6. English can never capture the Filipino national spirit. Try singing the old national anthem — Land of the morningâ€¦ — in English and compare that to the flood of emotions that the singing of Lupang Hinirang draws from your Filipino soul.
What is the Filipino national spirit? Is it mediocrity or “pwede na yan” mentality? Singing the Lupang Hinirang may temporary resonate a melancholy feeling for our country but it is a temporary feeling and does not seem to help Filipinos care for others or their environment. The “padrino” system that entrenches corruption in everyday transactions in the Philippines, is by itself enough to drive any Filipino out of the country for good.
7. More Filipinos can achieve levels of excellence when taught in the tongue they’re most familiar with. The worst-case scenario is to have Filipinos studying engineering, for example, under teachers who speak defective English. In such a case, neither learning English nor learning engineering is facilitated. Using English as medium of instruction merely adds another impediment to progress.
Again, this is assuming that every Filipino speaks in Tagalog. A lot of Filipinos who were born in Cebu for example, had to learn Tagalog. These people are not that familiar with Tagalog. Technically speaking, when Mr Esposo said, “More Filipinos can achieve levels of excellence when taught in the tongue they’re most familiar with,” he should realize that he is just talking about those who are purely Tagalog speakers.
8. We can never trade our national identity and the language of our Filipino soul for the sake of better job opportunities overseas. Those jobs overseas will not be there for us forever.
I feel a sense of paranoia in this last statement. Using English does not mean that we will lose our national identity and the language of our “Filipino soul”. National identity cannot be found in the language alone. A classic example of this is the inhabitants of the United States of America. Americans have a strong sense of nationalism. They are very patriotic bunch of people not because of their language. Heck, Americans even speak the same language as the British and Australians but their passion to protect their national interests is comparable to none.
So, having said all of the above, it appears that it is our influential industry leaders, particularly in journalism that are giving us flawed analysis regarding the issues that is plaguing our society today. They don’t really know our problems; they tend to arrive at ridiculous and illusory solutions. They then become our greatest enemies.
In life, things are not always what they seem.