The Philippine Onion

Lies and half-truths shall set you free

The patient English: words and meanings in Philippine politics

Posted by commiedyan on November 22, 2007

by Old Spice

The perfect use of language is that in which every word carries the meaning that it is intended to, no more, no less.C. Connolly, Enemies of Promise

We can probably excuse budget secretary Rolando Andaya with his attempt to dupe us that, in regard to the World Bank’s road improvement loan ‘deferment’ is better for the country than ‘suspension.’ He’s been in denial all along.

We’ll also excuse the credibility-challenged Senator Juan Ponzi N. Really during the resumption of the senate hearings on the NBN-ZTE deal last Tuesday for this quotable:”You pretend that you do not know government processes which I do not believe because if you are dealing for 20 years in this line of business you’d know every gamut of this business…” According to our old Webster’s, gamut means “a whole range or series.” He was trying to intimidate Ernesto Garcia, Joey de Venecia’s consultant on the NBN deal. Garcia refused to budge from his comic account, as we could see from where we sat. (For all we know, the senator might have used the word in its Cebuano meaning, root).

But Raul Lambino? Almost every sentence he uttered violated a rule of grammar, from subject-verb agreement to chronology and tense. His narration was the rightful headline and sounded credible, were it not for the confusion in the sequence of events which made us tense. Add to his crimes dangling modifiers, misplaced prepositions, and a profusion of split infinitives (he was probably absent from class when the English teacher suggested never to split infinitives).

Still we are inclined to believe Lambino’s account on the threats on the lives of the de Venecias, that the army general who reputedly did well in East Timor turned into a turtle in regard to his integrity.

But we should be more wary next time he shows his face selling charter change. Remember that he lied straight-faced (while we cried) that his efforts then were independent of the administration. The preamble of the Charter might look like this:

We, the sovereign Filipino peoples, implored the aid of Almighty God, in the order to build adjust and humane society, and establishing a Government that embodied our ideals and aspirations, promoted the common good, conserved and developed our patrimony, and secured to ourselves and our posterity, the blessing of independences and democracy under the rules of law and regimes of truth, justices, freedoms, loves, equality, and peace, did ordain and promulgated this Constitution.

We are aware of course that legal English is a tool for obfuscation, as lawyers live on clarifying the tangle they themselves create. But how do people with such atrocious grammar pass the bar? Pray tell us Fr. Joaquin Bernas.

English has a way to go to capture the precision of mathematics, as I myself was aware of in a pleading to the high court on the oil deregulation law in 1997. We can hardly wait though for the time we don’t have to ask the court for the meanings of executive, privilege, and initiate.

5 Responses to “The patient English: words and meanings in Philippine politics”

  1. […] post by commiedyan This was written by . Posted on Wednesday, November 21, 2007, at 10:01 pm. Filed under […]

  2. manuelbuencamino said

    Lambino was not lying when he said he was independent of the administration. As you can see, he is De Venecia’s boy. On political matters, JDV and Gloria can see eye to eye. It’s on money matters where they both become cross-eyed.

  3. commiedyan said

    I’d gladly agree with you once the supreme court defines ‘administration’ and ‘cross-eyed.’ Sent you mail.

  4. Zaldy Bolneo said

    I watched a lot of news by Filipino newsreaders from TFC and read a lot of news articles from local to national news publishers. I’m not kidding but everytime I do watch the news or read newspaper articles, I have to take with me a dictionary. Filipino English is becoming too complicated. It’s not just our legal community or our Judiciary crowd who speak complex and confusing English (e.g. bely is always interchanged with deny…these two words ahve different meanings).

    I took Professional English Communication in an Australian University and have lived in Australia for over 20 years and I’ve always learned that to be an effective communicator, one has to use plain and simple English 9e.g. use enough rather than sufficient or intend rather than contemplate). Always consider who your audiences are and try to talk in order to be understood instead of talking in order to get an impression that you’re an eloquent speaker. To be understood and being fluent I think is more important than to choose big words and then to stammer because you are still trying to find those big words that you want to choose. If you notice our politicians speak with a lot of ohhhmm, ahmmmm, ohhh, ahmmm before they could even say what they want to say. Simplicity is beauty and I always believe in that phrase.

  5. I have come up with two books that just might help nonnative English speakers improve their English and make them more precise in their written or spoken communication. I thus hope you would allow me to plug the books in this blogspace.

    The books are “The 10 Most Annoying English Grammar Errors” (2008) and “English Plain and Simple: No-Nonsense Ways to Learn Today’s Global Language” (2004). The first is a new release while the latter is the second updated edition of my first book, which won the National Book Award for linguistics from the Manila Critics’ Circle in 2005.

    My new 122-page book consists of incisive, no-holds-barred critiques of the most vexing grammar and usage errors that crop up in today’s newspapers and magazines, in the broadcast media, and on the web. On the other hand, the 498-page first book seeks to help nonnative English speakers improve their written English without having to go back to the classroom.

    Both books are available from major Philippine bookstores. Group or bulk orders of the books may be purchased at quantity discounts at

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