The truth about Tagalog that James Soriano failed to explain


William “The Chair Wrecker” Esposo of 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.

Author of flawed policy

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,, 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.

Author of flawed arguments

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 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 morning… — 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.

42 Replies to “The truth about Tagalog that James Soriano failed to explain”

  1. You look to be correct in your assessment. The upper class would desire to protect their niche.

    One strategy would be to limit the number of people who have knowledge of English.

    I do suspect that it is also the tactic used to destroy Spanish in the country. An even smaller elite can read the history and the laws of the land.

    They can then control history and how the law is enforced.

    1. Yeah, that is one theory that came to my mind while I was writing this. It’s ridiculous that someone like Esposo would defend Tagalog while enjoying his privileges as a columnist.


        [Allow me to also point out that your notion of English being “the language of the learned” is absolutely wrong. Because to speak English and to be learned is not the same thing. Sarah Palin speaks English, duh.]

        Ironic that he points out Sarah Palin and her stunted intelligence and learning. Would a Tagalog speaker, no matter how intelligent, have the same sort of success?

        A stupid English speaker, has a better chance of gaining a better job, in comparison to an intelligent Tagalog speaker.

        As an Uncle, who is an Engineer working in the UAE, pointed out, you need to be English to be a manager. That means a native speaker of English. He may have the degrees and more experience, but his managers are born with the English tongue.

        Sad, but the way the world works.

        It may change to Mandarin in a decade, but it is still an English world.

        We will fail if we do not compete and the bar is being set higher and higher.

  2. Whatever side you’re taking on the James Soriano language issue (a.k.a. English vs. Filipino), here’s a fun fact. China is the largest english speaking nation on the planet now. Do the math.

    Here’s the extended video from Jay Walker’s TED Talk in 2009 that should enlighten us all.

    1. Many of those East Asians, like the Chinese, seeking to learn English cannot afford the expenses to go to America, Britain or even Australia and New Zealand.

      The Philippines seems to have taken the slack judging from the number of South Koreans coming here to learn.

      Sabotaging our English language skills will ensure those people take their money elsewhere.

    2. The Chinese obviously knows how to play the game. And they know that learning another language won’t hurt their sense of nationalism. If only Filipinos knew how to rationalise properly, we wouldn’t be in this predicament now.

      1. 10 years ago, the chinese adapted a stance of learning the english language for global competence. They said in 15 years, China will become a leading english-speaking country. I guess it took less than 15 years huh. I wont be surprised if call centers here starts packing up and set-up shop in China.

  3. “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.”

    tama. lohika na ipinamahagi ng mga dakila at may tahasang dunong na mga tao ay kadalasang nasasaling sa wikang engles. at ang tao lamang na nakakaungwa at nakakabasa ng engles ang maswerteng nababahagian ng dunong na walang pangiming ipinamahagi ng may mga akda nito. ang mga lohikang naisalin sa salitang intsik ay napakinabangan ng mga intsik, sa salitang hapon, pinakinabangan ng mga hapon, sa salitang arabo, ng mga arabo, sa salitang aliman, ng mga aliman, sa salitang ayon, sa lahing ayon. at maliban sa mga saling wika, pinahalagahan ng kanya kanya mga katutubo, itinuro at ipaunawa, isinapuso ang mga kabutihan at makataong aral ng lohikang pininahiram.

    ang nakakalungkot, karamihan ng mga pilipinong natutong gumamit ng wikang engles ay nalimutang na ang sarili[ng wikang] pilipino. hindi nagawang ipamahagi, hindi ang wikang banyaga kundi ang lohikang kanyang natutunan sa pamamagitang ng paggamit ng salitang engles.

    dagdag kayamanan ang matuto ng salitang bayaga, wag lang sanang ipalit sa sariling wika.

  4. Esposo might need to understand why so many Koreans are in the Philippines just to learn English. Their country is quite progressive, but they still want to learn English. Are they being considered traitors in their home country? Nope. It’s all part of the job environment in South Korea. Even there, the impression seems to be that English skills can get you a better job. Just look at the Chinese in the video Jay Fajardo posted. Are they “unnationalistic?” Baloney. English is the international language… so if Mr. Esposo is promoting the “native language,” then he’s promoting insularism… which for me is bad.

  5. I concur… lol! The Pilipino man is complete and has always been natural for him in knowing dialects of his neighbors’ {demographics as proof} by contact in the course of doing business thus adept at learning. MLQ is a briliant Social Engineer who had succeeded in forcing large number of people to speak Tagalog -nunca mas others, excellently dumping the Spanish language in the proces; what would have been just a part of Filipino tongues. The genious of his diciples’ Social Experiment butchered the psyche of the Pilipino man partioning the body and most important of all is the severing of the mind for what? To favor the leftarm thus the Headcase of Tagalog by the Genious Numbskulls. What the Pilipino man have identity crisis? The history of the Philippines is a known fact, it’s staring in their faces, and what do you call that Genious Intelectuals? These shoredepth-awash-tide-float- thinkers are among the purest of the revisionist rabids, to whom fabrication and manufacturing are their main preoccupation, controling what a Pilipino man ought to be; henceforth, encapsulate him in Tralala-land. Come to think of it, if they are that good, why don’t they all move to Hollywood where they can best use their talents in making fantasy movies? The Tagalog mindset because of its limitations have a crippling affect as exemplified by an old joke captures the thinking: “Balang araw ako ay maghihiganti at pag bubukohin ko kayong lahat’ [‘thus the translation’] ‘Bullit day I will be a giant I will coconut you all.” In the like, The Pambansang Kamao effected the same on his now famous soundbite interview…. “Wow bugbug cerado nga.” On hearing, I fell off my chair.

    1. @Virtud

      MLQ is a briliant Social Engineer who had succeeded in forcing large number of people to speak Tagalog -nunca mas others, excellently dumping the Spanish language in the proces; what would have been just a part of Filipino tongues.

      Indeed. The experiment has long been proven to be a failure but the participants are still caught up in the pretense. I guess it takes a real man to acknowledge that something is wrong because admitting something is wrong means going back to square one and rebuilding again. Most Filipinos couldn’t be bothered to do that.

  6. If you are an OFW; you cannot Eat your nationalism…if you are an immigrant in a foreign country: the more you cannot eat your nationalism. They don’t use Tagalog as medium of instructions in foreign universities. Much more in your place of work…So, it just nonsense to promote Tagalog. Most of us, are OFWs. Some are slaves …some are Drug Mules…A few have succeeded, but not in speaking Tagalog: they are proficient in speaking and writing in English…A few; earned their graduate school degrees.with proficiency in English language; and have good jobs, in Fortune 500 companies…

      1. Nationalism was once a fad…it produced wars and conflicts. Leaders used it to hold onto power. Hitler’s Germany used it as a reason to conquer and subjugate other countries and people: they were the “Superior German Aryan Race”; everybody else, was “Sub-Human”…we are more of a Global Village now; because of the Information Technolology…soon, we will become Universal, if we can travel more than the speed of light…and conquer the final frontier: the Outer Space…

      2. Fortune 500 companies, are the top corporations in the world…a six-figure in annual salary is common, in those corporations…some earn even, seven figures salaries, with bonuses and perks,…but they require people with PhDs, “the best and the brightest” graduates , from those foreign universities. These corporations, come to scrape the “cream of the crop”, and leave the “scraps” to their competitors…

    1. THere are people interested in learning the languages and they tend to be second or third generation Flips. The problem is that Tagalog has also taken over. Some have complained that they cannot learn Cebuano or Ilokano due to the dearth of someone to teach them properly.

        1. No Senor. I wish I did. I studied French but don’t get to practice it.

          It’s quite nice to know that you guys are so into it. 😉

      1. Nonsense! We’re all for the Englischzis language here ‘dre. Besides, what about the Fortune 500 companies ‘tol? ‘Taglish’ an’t got a prayer, ‘teng.

  7. just because i speak and teach my child english doesn’t make me think less of my country because “at the end of the day”, i still pay my taxes which includes filling out forms in english. (okay, it’s a bit OT but i just felt the need to gripe about taxes and the high cost of basic commodities in my beloved country.) :p

  8. Re-post from Phillip Rivera:

    Originally, the group of islands now known as the Philippines were part of a vast Sri Vijayan / Majapahit Empire ruled by people speaking languages of the Sanskrit family.

    That vast area includes Borneo, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

    Analogous to the ancient Greek society, The Kayumanggi (Filipino) would be the Spartans, ruled by the Sultanate gov’t, and enforced by officers called Datu.

    Vizayas and Mindanao are places where most of those warriors landed as they are sea farers, Luzon having less harbors.

    Notice that inaccessible parts of Luzon and Mindanao have weaponry that are not the same with the kris (kalis) and Kampilan and táming.

    Those different tribes were constantly at war with each other. We were only gathered under Spain’s banner, so why would one of the tribes force their tongue to the others yet we were enslaved just the same? Even the history taught to children is Luzon centered.

  9. “6. English can never capture the Filipino national spirit. Try singing the old national anthem — Land of the morning… — in English and compare that to the flood of emotions that the singing of Lupang Hinirang draws from your Filipino soul.”

    Tried that. Every 4th of July, that’s what I do, and I still experience the same flood of emotions.

    “Even the history taught to children is Luzon centered.”

    Amen, brother. Imperial Manila really takes it out of you.

  10. English proficiency is used as a quick indicator of the quality of education one was raised with. Chances are, if the English program in a school is good, the other subjects must be as well…CHANCES ARE. If you’re in HR, you have an executive breathing down your neck on one side, and a pile of 10,000 applications on the other, the last thing you want to do is to administer an IQ test to every applicant. I worked in HR, and mind you, we’ve given chances to applicants who may not be the best english-speakers, nor may have been fortunate enough to go to a more expensive school, but the reality is, 8 out of the 10 times tests and performance indicators will prove that the shortcomings of their education will pose challenges to their perfomance at the work place. The fault is not in colonial mentality or lack of nationalism bladibla, the fault is the educational system. And don’t argue that that’s still unfair, good education DOES NOT mean expensive schools. In the west, the better schools are the PUBLIC SCHOOLS. That’s what BOOKS are for. Books can be REPRODUCED. Reproduce the good books and you’re on your way. But if the government insists on reproducing english books that teach “Run, Tagpi, Run!” as good english, and algebra books only a centimeter thick with gradeschool giant font, then the not-so-rich among us will never stand a chance. If you’re looking for conspiracy, look for it in the right places…try..erm…erm…THE GOVERNMENT???

    1. This is so unfortunately true. And even those who truly are proficient in one technical skill or another, but cannot communicate well in English, are still inherently disadvantaged professionally. That is the reality no matter how many “nationalistic” people drumbeat about “identity” and cultural tradition.

  11. Are you sure you want a “real sense of nationalism?” The nation-state is about 400 years old and on the way out of existence. The Philippines has natural physical boundaries in the numerous islands and it has many different cultures and languages. A centralized government and enforced common language is being resisted because it does not meet the needs of the people. Forcing people into the box of the antiquated nation-state causes problems rather than serving needs.

  12. The question really should be….why the fuck does everyone think large multinational corporations are so great to work for?
    They’ve been proven to treat their employees like slaves and pay them low wages.

    Supporting local business, local culture and local dialect is IMPORTANT.
    Saying that national pride will come when we make money is a farce….money buys happiness?
    Since fuckin’ when?

    We’re not inventive or imaginative here?
    Please explain who invented the single chip GPU accelerator…the Tibay screw, the ‘typhoon breaker’… lights using bottles…LED lights charged with water…..the freaking yoyo….quink….a landslide sensor…..the medical incubator….a self charging electric car…the iBUS system, and many others…

    Who’s groundbreaking research has changed the world?
    Couldn’t possibly have been Jose Rodriguez or Rolando de la Cruz or Dr. Alfredo F. Galvez, or Rudy Lantano Sr. or Francis Duhaylongsod.

    ‘Most local shows make filipinos dumber’
    And Western TV has made everyone so damn intelligent….really?
    The TV is a shitty invention and is used to pump media junk into your brain….that’s not a Filipino phenomenon….that’s worldwide fact.

    ‘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’ve be better off having English as our first language.’

    First of all….’we’d’…….second of all, if that were REALLY true, we should all be speaking Latin right now, since most English (let alone all ) language stems from Latin. Too bad no one speaks it anymore and it’s a dead language because ‘Everyone wanted to learn the new simple language for commerce’

    The Padrino system you’re so bitter about is simply a system and can be destroyed….to say there’s no national pride or culture in the Philippines indicates misled belief and systemic brainwashing.

    If you don’t think national pride can stem from language and dialects…….
    1. You’re not looking hard enough
    2. Try going to Montreal and telling them they don’t speak real french. I dare you.

    1. What you said about Filipino greatness is pretty shit. True, Filipinos gave some semblance of worth to science but simple qualitative rrsearch on how malaria kills you comes no where close to massive biological advancements made by other nations not only in medicine but also in genetics, biologucal enterprise, ecology, taxonomy, evolution, etc. The yoyo? No, ancient Filipino tribesmen did not bludgeon enemies with a yoyo and Filipinos only thought of it but it took the investment of a foreign toy company to get it off the ground. Improvised scientific equipment? Japanese and German engineering will teach you far, far better stuff.

      Yes, money isn’t happiness, but sipping ice cold milk tea while driving a well-kept sedan through a well-built road to go to your parents’ recently constructed 2 storey dream home to trade bon mots and enjoy the old lutong-bahay meals without having to worry about some beleagured robber breaking in and steaing your shit IS HAPPINESS. Not having to work your ass of but still being able to feed your kids IS HAPPINESS.

      Being able to think “nationalist” feelings like you do is only possible through the wonderful world built by capitalism, good governance and money. How are you suppose to live in your imaginary idealistic bubble if it weren’t for the forces you despise? You’re an ingrate you know. Try telling that to the teen pregnant with her 5th child. Try telling that to your superstitious lola with a full blown delusion that the duwendes will take her away. Try telling that to those who can’t read or write because their schools are shit and fucking expensive.

      I used to think like you, but my imaginary idealistic bubble has long been burst by the pragmatic dick stick of reality. You see, fixing the shit comes first before the idealistic sugarcoating. Your words don’t matter to the poor or to the people who know better. Your idealistic bubble is not even a band-aid solution but a sorry excuse for an angsty teen shower thoughts. YOUR LANGUAGE OR YOUR CULTURE WON’T SAVE YOU NOR WOULD IT CHANGE ANYTHING. LET THE PEOPLE CHOOSE THEIR SHIT AND DON’T CALL THEM USELESS BECAUSE THEY DON’T SPEAK THE SAME LANGUAGE.

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