Use Filipino to empower the poor

Posted on January 24, 2012


The use of Filipino in governance, which is resurfacing in the Corona impeachment trial, is an issue I feel strongly about. It was, in fact, the first story I wrote right after college for Probe.

For that Buwan ng Wika story aired in August 2008, we went to a depressed community on the day of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address (SONA). How much did the public, especially the poor, understand her SONA that was delivered mostly in English?

The negative answers we got from the neighborhood didn’t surprise us.

An expert we consulted, education professor Dr. Andres Julio Santiago, confirmed their feedback. Based on his analysis, Arroyo’s SONA made use of second-year college English. Data from the National Statistics Office showed that only 12% of the country’s population had reached second-year college.

The question we wanted to pose was this: How can the public, most of whom are poorly educated, fully participate in democratic affairs if they can barely understand a thing? (Watch the Probe segment, “Ingglisan sa Pamahalaan,” through this link.)

National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario, whom we interviewed for the story, said it is not merely an issue of word usage but of empowerment. “Kapag ang batas o ang pahayag pampulitika ay ginawa sa Ingles o sa isang wika na hindi naiintindihan ng maraming tao, nananatili silang tanga. Nawawalan sila ng kapangyarihan.

(If a law or a political pronouncement is delivered in English or any other language that people don’t understand, they remain ignorant. They become disempowered.)

The common argument against using Filipino during the impeachment trial is that some terms are technical and difficult to translate. But come on, who says the translation should be verbatim? And who says the trial is 100% technical?

In a process that purports to defend public interest, language and eventually knowledge could be the poor’s only source of power. Let’s begin somewhere.

Posted in: Current Affairs