GIVEN the millions that the Palace (or Office of the President) spends annually on its communications office, the president’s spokesmen, its messaging/speechwriting staff, and its public relations consultants, to say nothing of the billions sunk in the black hole of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), we presume that the Administration always has enough change to spare for the hiring of able English translators of the President’s more important public speeches, like the annual state of the nation address.
As is his wont since the beginning of his presidency in 2010, President Aquino delivers his addresses in Tagalog/Filipino, for reasons that are unclear and wrapped in mystery.
We raise this point about a translation service because with President Aquino’s sixth and final SONA, delivered last Monday, July 27, we were once again confronted by the dilemma of publishing the Tagalog/Filipino text of the address in its entirety, and doing an English translation ourselves in order to serve our readers. We posted the Tagalog/Filipino text in our website. That we did not bother to translate it into English is something which we are confident our readers will forgive.
This problem has recurred time and again during the last five years, because of the President’s policy to use Tagalog/Filipino, for his public addresses.
This policy stands in marked contrast with nearly all of the Tagalog/Filipino presidents since the birth of our republic in 1898. While our first president, President Emilio Aguinaldo, delivered his public addresses and statements in Spanish, all our other presidents since 1935 gave their speeches in English, until the advent of Mr. Aquino in 2010.
To deliver public addresses exclusively in Tagalog may seem laudable and highly patriotic. But it quickly turns into just a quirk of personality and affectation when you view it against the broad perspective of our public life and the conduct of our relations with other nations and the world.
The fact is, our public affairs are generally or wholly conducted in English. Both houses of Congress hold their sessions in English. The Supreme Court and the entire judiciary hear cases in English. No member of the Cabinet talks to the public in Tagalog/Filipino. Only Mr. Herminio Coloma of the Palace communications office has copied the weird affectation of communicating to the media and the public in Tagalog/Filipino – which results in incoherent communications.
What lies behind this policy of President Aquino?
The simplest explanation is that he adopted it because it is his prerogative as President, commander-in-chief and chief of state. With typically bizarre reasoning, he and his advisers probably believe that by his speaking entirely and often in Tagalog/Filipino, he will be able to communicate more effectively with his countrymen, most of whom are conversant in Tagalog/Filipino and in English only in a limited way.
It doesn’t seem to matter to this president that when he speaks in Tagalog/Filipino exclusively, he discriminates against English speakers in this country. He walls off whole segments of the population, while favoring only those born to and schooled in Tagalog, which in reality is what our national language is.
The policy becomes absurd when the President takes it to places where the native language is not Tagalog/Filipino. The anomaly was highlighted during the launch of the modernization project for the Mactan air terminal in Cebu province, where he decided to speak to the Cebuano audience in Tagalog/Filipino. He walled himself from his live audience, and was criticized by the Cebu media.
Audiences that are walled off and who would want to read the English translation of Aquino’s speeches include the following:
The Filipino intelligentsia, who by definition are the educated or intellectual people in a society or community.
Foreign nationals and expatriates who live, work or do business in this country, including foreign investors who are coveted by the government, all of whom can speak and write in English
The community of scholars and researchers who carry on the work of teaching in our institutions of learning
Practically all daily newspapers in the country, which are uniformly published in English. The only ones publishing in Tagalog/Filipino are few, and they include such titles as Bulgar and Tiktik.
Radio and television networks prefer to communicate in Tagalog/Filipino to reach their target audiences for marketing reasons. But that’s not a good reason for the President to speak exclusively in Tagalog/Filipino.
A demented adviser probably advised the president that by opting for Tagalog/Filipino in his communications he will attain and sustain high approval ratings. Yet this clearly has not happened because his ratings are now below 40 percent.
Still, the heart of our complaint as a daily newspaper is that the government does not provide and can easily approve a translation service for Aquno’s speeches. We are challenged to spend for our own translations. When the palace finally comes up with an English translation of a president’s speech, it is long after the advent when publishing the English texts would be pointless.
It may be that the main point of this administration policy is to wall off media organizations like the Times from the necessary conversation in our public life, the daily discussions of policy and politics that are so critical in a democracy.
It may be that this is all designed to contain critics and analysts like our Times columnists, who are hard-hitting critics of the government, by rendering them unable to understand what the president is thinking or doing.