Putting it plainly

Marissa C. Marasigan

Marissa C. Marasigan

Three months ago, Sen. Grace Poe filed Senate Bill 1092, otherwise known as the Plain Writing for Public Service Act. Patterned after the Plain Writing Act of the United States, it seeks to require “the use of simple, concise, easily understandable words and phrases in all government documents.”

The first lesson I teach my business communication students is that the message (intended to be) sent should be the message received. Otherwise, failure of communication occurs. I mean, think about the number of times you had to ask a government employee for help in making sense of a form, document, or website.

Consider, for example, the following paragraphs extracted from the Joint DOTC-DTI Administrative Order 01, Series of 2012, providing for a bill of rights for air passengers and carrier obligations. I have underlined the terms that I think most Filipinos would find unfamiliar.

Whereas, an air carrier ticket constitutes a contract of carriage between an air carrier and a passenger, whereby the air carrier, for consideration, obligates itself to transport a passenger by air safely, efficiently and conveniently along a stipulated route at a given date and time, subject to certain conditions and/or restrictions;

Whereas, such a contract of carriage creates an asymmetrical relationship between an air carrier and a passenger, considering that, while a passenger has the option to buy or not to buy the service, the decision of the passenger to buy the ticket binds such passenger, by adhesion, to all the conditions and/or restrictions attached to the air carrier ticket on an all-or-nothing basis without any say, whatsoever, with regard to the reasonableness of the individual conditions and restrictions attached to the air carrier ticket; (135 words)

After having Googled definitions of these terms, I came up with this hopefully clearer and definitely more concise version:

Whereas, an air carrier ticket creates a contract that obligates the carrier to transport, for payment, a passenger by air safely, efficiently and conveniently along a stipulated route at a given date and time, subject to certain conditions;

Whereas, in buying the ticket, the passenger accepts all conditions included in it regardless of the reasonableness of the individual conditions; (59 words)

Alas! With the Priority Development Assistance Fund hogging the Senate’s (and everyone else’s) attention, the bill seems to have been relegated to the limbo of legislation-wannabes. Nonetheless, I look forward to the day when the bill passes the required three readings in both the Senate and the Lower House, and is signed into law by the President. It’s time for government agencies to set the standard for correct, clear, concise, complete, concrete, coherent, consistent, courteous and considerate communication. The main benefits cited after the Plain Writing Act took effect in the United States in 2010 are increased efficiency and reduced government spending. However, equally important benefits would be less frustration and greater productivity of citizens, and reduced unnecessary contact between government employees and the public that could create opportunities for bribery.

To emphasize the importance of avoiding “jargon, redundancy, ambiguity and obscurity” and helping “citizens in availing [themselves of]government services,” Senator Poe proposes that all government agencies designate one or more senior officials within the agency as the point person(s) for the implementation of the Act. These officials should be encouraged by the words of Ludwig Wittgenstein, considered by some to be the greatest philosopher of the 20th century: “Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be said can be said clearly.”

The writer is Vice-Chair of the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. She teaches management and business communication. She welcomes comments at marissa.marasigan@dlsu.edu.ph. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administration.


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