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'Poor English' hampers Sen. Lapid in RH bill debates

Lito Lapid meets all the necessary qualifications to become senator under Article VI of the 1987 Constitution. He is over the minimum age of 35, able to read and write, a registered voter, and a resident of the Philippines for no less than two years immediately before he got himself elected senator. But in an interview published in Wednesday’s Philippine Daily Inquirer, Lapid said he finds it difficult to join the Senate debates on the Reproductive Health (RH) bill due to his poor English – and ultimately due to his supposedly inadequate education. "These senators are also lawyers who spent 10 years in law school while I spent 10 years practicing my stunts," said Lapid, a stunt man-turned-actor-turned politician. "Much as I want to interpellate, my tongue is not used to English." Lapid’s statements went viral on the Internet, with netizens giving reactions that range from sheer amusement to utter disappointment. “Ok lang, may puso ka din naman tulad ng saging, just like your son," said Twitter user @queendemai. “Ayan. Who voted this clown, please stand up," added user @CRISis73. Raising qualifications? Lapid, on the other hand, defended himself from questions about his qualifications, with some suggesting that the Philippines amend the Constitution to raise the academic requirements to run for public office. "Eh kung ‘yan ang ipapasa nila, sa susunod hindi na ako tatakbo kung hindi ako qualified," Lapid said in an interview with reporters Wednesday afternoon. But the senator, who is a high school graduate, said derogatory remarks on his poor English do not insult him. Lapid said he accepts this situation. "Wala akong magagawa kung ipinanganak ako nang mahirap, anak ng labandera, eh. Hindi ako nakapag-aral dahil sa kahirapan. Ewan ko ang ibang tao, baka nag-aral sila, baka naiinsulto pag ganon na hindi sila natapos. Eh ako, tinanggap ko talagang ganito. Anak lang ako ng labandera," he said. Lapid, however, said keeping mum does not mean he does not participate in Senate deliberations. “Sumasali naman ako eh. Depende naman eh. Kasi ‘pag bumoto ako ng ‘yes,’ pag gusto ko ‘yung batas, sali na ‘ko roon. ‘Pag nag-‘no’ ako, ayoko ng batas," he said. He also said he does convey his concerns to the RH bill’s staunchest supporters, Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Defensor-Santiago. “Kung minsan nagtatanong naman ako nang pabulong sa kanila, eh," Lapid said. What does he ask Cayetano and Santiago, for instance? “Yung mga gano’n gano’n," Lapid said. “Sino ba ang magnenegosyo ng condoms, sinong bibili, ang gobyerno o hindi?" “Eh baka naman ‘ka ko ‘yung mga pabrikang ‘yan, ‘yan lang ang nagpu-push dito dahil kasi may negosyo, eh bilyun-bilyon ‘yan eh. Maski gastusin mo sa mga condom at saka mga ano, bakit hindi mo pa ibigay diretso sa tao? Andyan naman ang DSWD," Lapid added. "Perfectly valid" Lapid also said his limited grasp of English does not impede him from exercising his functions as senator. “Siguro nakadalawang term naman ako ng senador, may mga nagawa naman ako. Nakapaghain ako ng panukalang batas na mahigit 500, nakapagpasa naman ako ng law, 'yung tinatawag nilang Lapid Law. Meron naman tayong nagawa," the actor-turned-politician said. Lapid, however, has also committed shortcomings not only in speaking English but also in areas like attendance. He was marked absent for a month last year for undisclosed reasons, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile revealed in January. Meanwhile, Santiago thinks Lapid’s reason for staying silent during the RH bill debates “is perfectly valid." “He's a very, very humble man, I learned. He has never pretended to any facility with the English language, so that's a perfectly valid point. And Pia and I have decided that if necessary, we'll conduct the debates in Tagalog," Santiago said in an interview with reporters. In another interview, Cayetano pointed that Filipino and English are the accepted modes of debate in Senate. “So walang problema ‘yun," she said. Cayetano said that in fact, she uses Filipino to communicate the RH bill to women, most of whom come from rural or depressed areas. “Kasi ang paliwanag din nila sa problema nila, Filipino din. So actually, kumportable tayo diyan," she said. “Ang hindi ko lang mata-Tagalog ay ‘yung mga medical terms," Cayetano added. “Pero kahit naman ‘yun, hindi ko rin naman lahat naiintindihan. Binabasa ko lang naman ‘yung medical definition — kaya ko namang i-translate ‘yon." Qualifications for public office Under the 1987 Constitution, those called to public service have to meet minimum qualifications. Some appointive public officials, like the chairman of the Commission on Elections, must not only hold a college degree but also be a lawyer who has been in the practice for a minimum of 10 years. But quite notably, some public officials who get elected into office need only have the minimum educational qualifications of “able to read and write" – and these include the President, Vice President, senators and congressmen. With such minimum qualifications, it has been said, almost anyone can get herself or himself elected into public office to serve the people. — MRT/RSJ/VS, GMA News