Friday, June 27, 2008

Pilipino versus English: A continuing debate

The debate on the use of English and Pilipino as medium of instruction is a hot topic among the middle class in the Philippines. Lately, I found myself engaging in a nice discussions with learned persons online. Excerpts (unedited):

GERONIMO SY (Lawyer and columnist. Manila Times): It is equally true that speaking English cannot be the end all and be all of our education system, that not to churn out good English speakers condemns the entire learning apparatus to hell and hence the fate of our nation. If it were so, then how do we explain the ascendancy of Japan, the rise of China, the emergence of Korea and the fast coming Vietnam—all with kindergarten English?

Studies now point to the use of the vernacular as a medium of instruction in the early years to facilitate teaching and learning. Media has long embraced Filipino as our lingua franca that sends the message home. It is acceptable and downright fashionable to speak deep and high Tagalog in political circles. It is time we take English what it is - a tool to communicate. Stop the circular arguments on which language comes first.

TESSY ANG-SEE (famous civic leader): Master our own first languages first and we can master the second language better!! In our case, we mastered Tagalog first, then learned Hokkien (our local dialect, lingua franca of the Tsinoys here), then learned English and then learned Mandarin!! We are able to master the first three, mandarin is something else because there was no speech community to support it and it is more alien to us, being a language of the north while Hokkien and Tagalog belong to the austronesian linguistics group.... [i managed to pick up mandarin much later in life while doing research]

DAVE LLORITO (journalist, researcher): Would anybody hire a graduate for her/his "mastery" of Tagalog? (I dont call it "Filipino" because its really is Tagalog.) as English-Tagalog translator maybe, or a Tabloid reporter, but not much else. Should we master Tagalog so that in the real world, in the world of jobs, entrepreneurship and business we are going to use English as the medium of communication? But that's my dilemma. But maybe there is no conflict here. but how do we translate that to policy? Maybe we should learn the basic dialects/language from the first and third grade then shift to English later until college. so we will have Visayans or Tagalogs, or Ilocanos using their languages first in early elementary before they eventually shift to English as medium of instruction. Sounds good to me. But Tagalog should never be imposed. But hey, isn’t English also part of our Filipino heritage as a nation? I'm just sharing my random thoughts here, actually.

ADDIE SUZARA (Finance expert, technopreneur and computer geek): I was born in a large family where Tagalog, Bicolano, English and some Spanish were spoken. I then went to schools where English was the medium of instruction but where Pilipino was taught as a subject and I learned grammar and read literature. I also took up formal Spanish in college.
I can now speak and write English well, speak Tagalog well but write with a little difficulty only due to lack of practice, speak Bicolano with a little difficulty because of lack of practice, haven't tried writing in Bicolano, and can't do much oral and written Spanish. I think it worked out OK for me.

DAVE: Addie, You are a very good case study. The fact is you enrolled in schools using English as medium of instruction and where Pilipino is taught as a subject and it worked well for you. Pilipino only as one of the subjects, and not as medium of instruction! I like that. And I guess no one could question Addie's nationalism, identity and patriotism.

ADDIE: Thank you Dave but let me hasten to add that, until I went to Kindergarten at age 6, Tagalog with a Bicolano flavor was my primary spoken language.

TESSIE: [We are] missing the point entirely when we insist that to find jobs we should know English. We miss to consider the fundamental role of language in establishing identity and ethnicity…

DAVE: I was raising a practical, real world perspective. The job market, the world of entrepreneurship and business, are using English and in that world mastery of this language, plus skills in the math and science are what really matters. I know because I have lots of friends who are nationalistic but who actually enroll their kids in exclusive schools that are teaching purely English. Most of those who actually argue for Tagalog, ehe Filipino, are doing their finest points in English. And they use English extensively at home.

TESSIE: For people from educated families, lower middle class and above, there's no problem using English as a medium of instruction. These are people who have access to other media, books, newspapers, adult conversation etc. Being a nationalist Filipino or not has nothing to do with it. No one becomes less Filipino just because he learns English or another dialect first and not Filipino as a first language.

However we are speaking of 60 percent of our population who live below the poverty line who should have a good grasp of a national language before a second language is forced on them. If you go to Malaysia and Indonesia, what welcomes you at the airport are all Malay greetings and Malay music ..It is a language that binds the nation. Contrast that with what greets us and our kababayan at our airport!

ADDIE: While I do come from the 40% of the population who live above the poverty line, I would not say that those from the 60% did not have all the opportunities available to me in terms of learning other languages.Let us not forget that most of us grew up in at least a two language environment - the local dialect and Tagalog. I spoke Tagalog and Bicolano because my mother was from Taagalog soeaking Labo while my father came from Bicolano speaking Daet. Both these towns are in Camarines Norte. I agree with Dave that the gut issue is when to use English as a medium of instruction. I say "a" instead of "the" because I think we can have more than one medium of instruction. I think our kids wherever they may be can easily absorb a third language. The areas of improvement are in the school system.

DAVE: Again, the question here is translating this to policy. If you are in the Visayas, you certainly will feel that Tagalog or Pilipino is being "forced" on you. If "promotion" of the national language is the Tagalogization of the entire country, that will surely fail and it has failed since Marcos.

The promotion of the local Bahasa language was done under authoritarian regime. It was imposed on them. Example: During the days of Suharto, the Chinese were barred from learning the Chinese language/dialects; they were not allowed to open up Chinese schools in the name of national unity. It's only after the fall of Suharto that the Chinese started putting up Chinese schools. This is what my Indonesian friend told me. Well, it seemed to have worked well for them, given their historical circumstances.

Marcos actually tried the same approach through the imposition of Tagalog, and we called it Filipino, and that policy failed. Maybe Marcos was not ruthless enough? Not really. I think one reason is that English is also part of our national heritage. And it's no brainer why we cling to that language despite the Marcos policy: it has become a ticket out of poverty for many Filipinos. It has become a ticket for many to escape through the claws of the monopolists and the vampire elite of this country. That 15 billion dollars that buttress the economy, that prevents the economy from total disintegration, that has become a safety valve against a Marxist socialist revolution, is the offshoot of our capability to speak and use the English language.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A case for political fact checking in the Philippines

I was wondering how social media or the new media could help improve the debates in the 2010 Philippine presidential elections until I came across This site, being run by a non-partisan and non-profit group from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, monitors the factual accuracy of the statements, ads, speeches, interviews, and news releases by major US political players. The g goal is “to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.”

It's motto: "Holding politicians accountable."

Recent example: “Obama says his health care plan will garner large savings – $120 billion a year, or $2,500 per family – with more than half coming from the use of electronic health records. And he says he’ll make that happen in his first term.” The group says that statement is “overly optimistic, misleading and, to some extent, contradicted by one of his own advisers. And it masks the true cost of his plan to cover millions of Americans who now have no health insurance.” Then the group proceeds to explain and analyze why Obama is wrong.

There’s also a lot fact checking stuff on John McCain, and Hillary Clinton policy pronouncements.

We need something like this for the 2010 presidential election. In fact, we need it to enhance and advance democracy in this country. Who should do this? Suggestion: why not our universities like UP, Ateneo, LaSalle, UST and others form a consortium for this? They should gather a pool of experts, researchers and a secretariat for this effort as soon as possible. Local and multilateral institutions who care about “governance” may contribute money to finance its operations.

This way politicians and decision-makers would be forced to study and think through the issues before they could even think about opening their mouths.

What do you think?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Obama is a free-market guy after all!

US presidential candidate Barack Obama after all “loves the market,” contrary to his earlier posturing as a protectionist. On CNBC, courtesy of Paul Krugman’s blog “Conscience of a Liberal,” he said: “Look. I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market” to the dismay of globalization hater Naomi Klein who castigated Obama for appointing in his policy team Chicago School economists who are supposed to be disciples of free market guru Milton Friedman.

Says Klein: “Obama's love of markets and his desire for "change" are not inherently incompatible. "The market has gotten out of balance," he says, and it most certainly has. Many trace this profound imbalance back to the ideas of Milton Friedman, who launched a counterrevolution against the New Deal from his perch at the University of Chicago economics department. And here there are more problems, because Obama—who taught law at the University of Chicago for a decade—is thoroughly embedded in the mind-set known as the Chicago School.”

Politics and politicians—they are the same all over the world. I wonder if his sentiment extends to international trade, say the Doha Round of trade talks where American leadership is sorely needed. But who knows, he might just change his tune again once he feels it’s necessary to do so just to get the votes? It’s really all about political marketing, if ever there is such a thing. And by the way, if John McCain loves the market and Obama loves the market, will anybody tell me who is who?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The old narrative about OFWs is passé

We usually think of OFWs as “modern day heroes” and it’s so easy to see why. The dollar they send back home is the linchpin that’s preventing the Philippine economy from disintegrating. They work so hard in foreign lands, suffer loneliness and isolation, and some got abused by their employers—all in the name of the dollar or euro that they desperately need to feed their families, send their kids to school, build dream homes and ultimately prop up the economy. But blogger and writer Jessica Zafra has an interesting counterintuitive take on this in her review of Chito Rono's film "Caregiver":

“Hey, we’re not exactly sitting by the pool sipping banana daiquiris either. Most of us work, all of us have problems. It is also possible to experience alienation and isolation in your homeland. How about a little respect for the Pinoys who stick around and do the best they can in truly trying circumstances? No one has a monopoly on suffering, but everyone has a unique story. We need fresh insights on the Pinoy experience at home and abroad, ...”

Oo nga naman.

What social observers often miss is the fact that the narrative about OFWs may have changed. We often refer to OFWs as economic refugees driven to foreign shores by want and desperation. These days, however, a significant proportion of OFWs are high paying professionals (medical professionals, engineers, software engineers, artists, skilled workers, among others) who are attracted by a host of factors other than economic. It’s the brave new world of globalization and our professionals, the crème de le crème of society who may actually have lots of opportunities here, are exercising their options to enrich their lives by experiencing how it is to live in foreign cultures and climes. It’s a decision no different from those Americans, Koreans, and Europeans who settled here in the Philippines for the love of the warm weather and the beautiful beaches.

With the advent of technologies like Internet chat, global roaming, SMS, video conferencing, voice-over-internet calls, it’s possible that the imagined negative social impact of labor migration on family cohesiveness may not actually be that alarming. Maybe, maybe not. But what I'm trying to say is that the old story line by now should be passé and we need to appreciate that.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The secret sauce for progress: lessons from 13 economies

If you want to lick poverty, it’s necessary to achieve high economic growth. That’s commonsensical, right?. But how do you achieve high economic growth and sustain it? Experts say there is no silver bullet. But in a latest study by the World Bank on 13 fast growing economies, experts say they were able to identify the ingredients of a secret sauce. These fast growing economies fully exploited the world economy; maintained macroeconomic stability; mustered high rates of saving and investment; let markets allocate resources; and had committed, credible and capable governments.

These 13 countries are Botswana, Brazil, Hongkong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Malta, Oman, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. These countries posted 7 percent growth rates over 25 years or more after World War 2.

How to sustain high growth? Says the Report: “For growth to be sustained, it must be growth that takes into account that we are living in a more and more globalized world,” says Danuta Hubner, European Commissioner for Regional Policy. “We need growth that is using all the opportunities that are offered by the global economy.”

There you go! Globalization, and making the most out it, is the key.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Brits to burn their trash!

We are suffering from the garbage crisis (trash are everywhere) and yet, we don’t seem to know how to deal with it effectively. Why not recycle it by burning the stuff to generate power? I’m not talking about the old clunky incinerators here but gasification. Britain has recently decided it’s the way to go to deal with its own garbage crisis. Says the Time Online Report:

“Gasification mixes waste with small amounts of oxygen, then heats it at a high temperature — around 1,830 degrees Fahrenheit — in an air-tight chamber. The resulting syngas — a cocktail of light gases, including methane and natural gas — is burned, boiling water into steam to run a turbine. Gasification is an established technique, already used with fossil fuels, particularly coal. Applying it to rubbish opens a new and abundant fuel source. "As a waste-disposal method, it seems to make a lot of sense," says Jonathan R. Gibbins, an energy expert at London's Imperial College.”

Why don’t we consider this type of technology here? The most environmentally conscious countries like Norway and Germany have been using this type of technology. Says the Report:

“Energos — which operates five gasification plants in Norway and one in Germany — says that on balance, the plant will shrink the island's carbon footprint. It will emit the about the same amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as does decay from the landfill. "The benefit is, we're producing electricity" from a renewable source, Grimshaw says. Because those 2,000 homes won't be getting power from a fossil fuel plant, Energos estimates that will cut carbon emissions by 2,000 tons.”

Technologies like these are probably expensive. But who says that caring for the environment is cheap?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Boracay, party island

Even at midnight, the green tea at Lonely Planet Cafe near the Regency Hotel in Boracay looked too green for comfort. A feet away, tourists—mostly girls from as far as Korea, China, US and Europe— in tight minimal summer clothing were grinding their hips against the frenetic urgent beat, their hands raised up high swaying like tree branches being battered by the monsoon winds. Lumen, Kathy and I were not daunted. After all, neither we were there for tea nor the humanly distraction, but a place to sit, chat, breathe fresher air, and feel the white powdery sands push up through our toes. We just had a long walk along the shorelines under the gaze of the distant stars. We needed the break to clear our senses overwhelmed by the discussions that never seem to end.
Surveying the scene, I realized how Boracay has become a place of Becoming, where souls regulated by social mores and expectations could be what they want to be. Then they return to their prim-and-proper selves once they get back into their natural abode.
“It has become a place to get laid,” says one inebriated soul whose identity I cannot recall. “It's more like a place where predators of all types converge—sexual, corporate, or commercial or the combination thereof,” says another intoxicated "social philosopher."
Harsh assessment, shall I say. Unfair.
Despite the overcrowding, there are still some nooks an crannies in the Island where one could enjoy solitude, a corner to write poems and contemplate the meaning of life and the universe. For the right price, of course.