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PNoy’s speeches: When the president speaks the language of the people

September 27, 2012 7:19pm

Finally, we have a president of the republic who speaks the language of the people—both the educated and the less-educated, the haves and the have-nots. The publication of President Benigno S. Aquino III’s Kayo ang Boss Ko sa Daang Matuwid: Mga Piling Talumpati (Filipinas Institute of Translation, 2012) is a milestone in the history of the Philippines, especially in the development of Filipino as the national language.
The book consists of 37 speeches delivered by PNoy on various occasions all over the country. It opens with his inaugural address “Tayo Na sa Daang Matuwid” on 30 June 2010, and ends with his third State of the Nation Address (SONA), entitled “Sambayanang Filipino ang Gumawa ng Pagbabago,” delivered last 23 July 2012.
The speeches are arranged chronologically, serving as veritable records of the achievements of PNoy’s administration. Many of the speeches (especially the SONAs) are also well-supported exposés of the excesses of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration.
Political and practical utilities aside, however, the speeches in this book are also examples of well-written and well-argued essays. The use of Filipino is almost elegant.
“Matatala si PNoy sa kasaysayan bilang ang pangulong ganap na nagbigay-daan sa Filipino bilang tunay na opisyal na wika ng gobyerno at kapaki-pakinabang na instrumento ng pambansang komunikasyon at pagsusulong ng kapakanan ng sambayanan. Mula rito, masasabi natin kung tunay nga ba siyang naging Pangulong maka-Filipino hindi lamang sa salita kundi lalo’t higit sa gawa,” according to the book editors Romulo P. Baquiran, Jr. and Michael M. Coroza.
Both editors are award-winning poets, and also recipients of the prestigious Southeast Asian Write Award from the royalty of Thailand. Baquiran is on the faculty of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Department of Filipino, while Coroza is with the Filipino Department of Ateneo de Manila University.
Filipino or Tagalog?
While the book is a laudable effort, I can already imagine the violent comments from non-Tagalog speakers about PNoy’s brand of Filipino. Why, it sounds very much like Tagalog! Is the president supporting, or worse, making it official—the Tagalization of our so-called national language? What is so national about it when it is just Tagalog?
Admittedly, this is a very difficult question to answer without fanning the flames of regionalism. Some would even call it “nativism” in today’s language politics, which can be potentially emotionally messy.
But perhaps we should look at the issue from a historical perspective.
The idea of a national language was based on an indigenous language first mentioned in the 1935 Constitution, during the time of President Manuel Quezon. One year later, Quezon created the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa, which chose Tagalog as the basis of the national language.
As expected, the choice was questioned by the Visayans. Why not Cebuano, which is widely spoken in the Visayas and Mindanao? This became the start of the “the war of the languages.”
Nevertheless, President Quezon was dubbed “The Father of the National Language” despite his Tagalog-centric leanings, considering that he is from the Tagalog heartland of Tayabas. Everyone recognized that his vision to develop a national language is an achievement in itself.
In the 1987 Constitution, under the presidency of Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, the national language is clearly named—Filipino. It is still Tagalog-based, but there is a conscious effort to have it developed and enriched by other Philippine languages as well as other foreign languages like Spanish, English, and Arabic.
This means that the national language is still more an ideal than reality. Nonetheless, academic institutions like the University of the Philippines Sentro ng Wikang Filipino (SWF), aside from the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino under the Office of the President, are seriously and actively attempting to make the concept of the national language real and tangible.
For example, the SWF in U.P. Iloilo, first directed by Palanca Hall of Famer Leoncio P. Deriada, gathered words and concepts in the three languages of Panay, namely Aklanon, Kinaray-a, and Hiligaynon. Deriada also gave creative writing workshops in the different schools in Western Visayas, where he promoted his brand of Filipino that he calls “Visayan-laced Filipino.” This is a type of Filipino that is Tagalog-based, but is open to vocabularies and syntax from the Visayan languages.
From Gloria to PNoy
PNoy’s Filipino today is definitely Tagalog-based. Maybe he should, with the help of his speech writers, consider incorporating non-Tagalog words into his future speeches. Perhaps, if he is giving a speech in Cebu, he should use more Cebuano words. If he is in Iloilo, why not use Hiligaynon and Kinaray-a words? If he is in Ilocandia, why not put Ilocano words in his speech? And so on.
Or maybe we can just leave PNoy in his Tagalog-based Filipino. Since he was brought up in Metro Manila, he cannot help but be Manila-centric and Tagalog-centric in his language. Perhaps, we should wait for another great president who can speak several Philippine languages, and mix these languages in order to create a real and more representative national language that would truly be Filipino in form and content.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could have been this kind of president. I heard her once giving a radio interview when she was still President. It was broadcast all over the Philippines, and she was answering questions in Tagalog, Kapampangan, Cebuano, and Hiligaynon. Sayang, she squandered her chance to be a president who would champion the national language.
Whatever his future holds until 2016, once he leaves office, PNoy will perhaps be remembered as the president who spoke the language of the people. After all, more than 90 percent of the population can understand and speak Tagalog-based Filipino because of mass media.
 In the words of National Artist Virgilio Almario on the back cover of this yellow book, “Tumutulong ang mga talumpati ng Pangulong PNoy upang burahin ang mga guwang at hanggahang panlipunan, upang mabilis na mapalaganap sa buong kapuluan ang anumang mensaheng pambayan, at upang higit na mailahok ang sambayanan sa pamamalakad ng bansa. Napakahalagang isipin ng madla na ‘kinakausap’ sila ng kanilang Pangulo ng Filipinas.” – YA/VS, GMA News

J. I. E. Teodoro is an award-winning writer from San Jose de Buenavista, Antique. He is an assistant professor of Filipino at Miriam College in Quezon City. Read his other writings at and 

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