The Philippine Onion

Lies and half-truths shall set you free

Posts Tagged ‘joaquin bernas’

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.


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