What is the goal of the Philippines’ elite communicators and thought leaders? We are told many times by the Philippines’ so-called “social media experts” that there is a huge responsibility on our shoulders to produce and publish high-quality content that could help uplift the Philipines’ public discourse. The quality of this discourse is important because it is an essential input into the exercise of one’s democratic duties. Thus it is easy to see that the outcome of the practice of democracy in the Philippines today mirrors the quality of the public discourse to a tee — intellectually-bankrupt and bereft of substance.
The question therefore is how this substance in both thinking and discussion could be achieved. The overwhelming majority of Filipino voters have already been shown to be lacking in the skills needed to contribute intelligently to Philippine democracy. This disconnect has long been a source of frustration to “activists” and their so-called “thought leaders” alike. Calls to “vote wisely” have not yielded much outcome and even the quality of the “opposition” delivered by the Philippine Opposition remains wanting in vision and strategic foresight not to mention intellectual substance and even a bit of imagination.
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We therefore need to re-evaluate the notion of trying to reach th masa by talking and writing in masaspeak. The notion of communicating in masaspeak is premised on the idea that messages and ideas need to be sufficiently dumbed down to be accessible to the simplistic thinking of the Filipino masses. But does dumbing down information really help or encourage Filipinos to uplift their thinking faculties? Perhaps we should re-think this through carefully.
One of the notable features that changed in the media landscape in the 1980s when the Yellowtards (members of partisan camps rabidly loyal to the Aquino-Cojuangco feudal clan) came to power was the increased use of Tagalog in national television programming. What was once a dialect confined to noontime variety shows and low-brow Filipino sitcoms and telenovelas started to infest public affairs broadcasting like newscasting and political talk shows. The format of many news, as a result, degenerated into tacky shout-out style spectacles where news readers ditched the once-dignified manner with which they presented the news in favour of the jeepney-themed shrill manner we see today. News reporting was no longer regarded as a public service and instead became a competitive sport played between the big corporate media organisations. The prize was the eyeballs of an enormous and still-rapidly growing population of Filipinos. The race was to exploit the progressively declining English-language skills of this population as Tagalog increasingly trumped English as the lingua franca of public discourse.
The trouble with Tagalog is that it is woefully incompatible with the needs of a society that aspires to at least ape and parrot Western liberal ideals convincingly and acquire their scientific and technological prowess. Thus, what was once a key to accessing the vast knowledge of advanced societies has been supplanted by a dialect that lacks the intellectual depth in vocabulary and nuance to capture this vital input into social progress. Filipino Tagalog speakers, in effect, have been locked out from a vast pool of intellectual capital that the tiny minority of private-school-educated elites of Philippine society have increasingly monopolised.
So, guess what: Filipino communicators who “dumb down” their ideas for masa consumption are, get this, dumbing down the masa. Filipinos don’t need more Tagalog. The supply of content delivered using Tagalog imprisons Filipino minds in the “ideas” dished out by Eat Bulaga and Vice Ganda. It is only through a mastery of English that the really big ideas could be grasped by the Filipino mind. More importantly, proficiency in English makes Filipinos more self confident and more assertive and less of the pipichi-pichi and pabebe style we see in those of the lower classes.
It’s high time Filipinos step up to a real challenge, which is to get themselves re-acquainted with the language that delivers real results. Tagalog is a primitive relic of a society long characterised by its Heritage of Smallness. It is a dialect that keeps languages small and minds even smaller.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.