POSTSCRIPT / April 9, 2006 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Better just keep quiet; NYT editorial is right

REINING IN GMA: I thought I had the New York Times pinned down on a typo when I read excerpts from its April 5 editorial saying among other things that “unless the Philippine Congress and courts find ways to reign in her increasingly authoritarian tendencies, democracy itself may be in danger.”

Said editorial titled “Dark Days for Philippine Democracy” had apologists of President Gloria Arroyo raving mad about how the NYT supposedly relied on oppositionist views to stitch together an editorial that was loaded against the Arroyo administration.

My eyes popped when I saw the verb “reign in” in the Manila newspapers quoting from the NYT editorial and the Palace reaction. Several newspapers uniformly carried that “find ways to reign in her… authoritarian tendencies” line.

Checking the original editorial in the NYT website, I was disappointed to see that the venerable 154-year-old paper actually said that unless Congress and courts “rein in” (not “reign in”) Ms Arroyo’s tendencies, “democracy itself may be in danger.” (“May be” is two words.)

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TRICKY NAMES: That NYT near-typo is good enough an intro for my inserting this erratum:

In my last Postscript, the name “Thaksin” — the Thai Prime Minister who is, unlike somebody we know, giving up the reins (not reigns) of government amid charges of corruption and abuse of power — was misspelled in some paragraphs as “Thanksin.”

I was tempted to blame Bill Gates again and his dictionary and spell-check built into his Microsoft Office software. Try typing “thaks” and his spell-check wizard is likely to correct that to “thanks.”

You shift to Tagalog and type the article “ang” and Bill Gates jumps in to correct that to “and.” You end up correcting the corrections all over your piece written in Tagalog or Pilipino.

Here we go again, is our national language, if any, Pilipino or Filipino? Is our lingua franca Taglish or Engalog? (I am digressing, I know, but it is a Sunday and… please relax a bit.)

Anyway, that Thaksin sin was my most grievous fault that day, not of Bill Gates or of PhilSTAR’s much-maligned proofreaders.

I am sure our faithful readers understand the pressure under which we work, as evidenced by my not receiving a single email about the Thai Premier’s name being misspelled. Normally, email pointing out an error would rain on me when I commit some really outrageous boo-boo, but none came this time — and it was not because my in-box was so full that it was bouncing back email.

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SON OF WHOM?: Talking of misspelled names, among my embarrassing mistakes was when I was relaying reports that then Secretary Hernani Perez had received some $2 million from then Manila congressman Mark Jimenez in an alleged extortion.

Just because his nickname was Nani, I mistakenly thought Secretary Perez’s first name was Hernani. It was Hernando.

Recently I also wrote the name of the reigning (with a “g” this time) justice secretary as Raul Gonzales, who I said has this habit of talking prematurely about the merits of cases that are likely to be elevated to him on appeal. It should have been Gonzalez with a terminal “z.”

My Spanish 101 professor at UP Diliman told us (although I did not check if it was true), that the “ez” terminal of family names indicates that they are the children of whosever name comes before the “ez.”

So, she said, Gonzalez means that so-and-so is a child of Gonzalo, a Fernandez is an offspring eternal of Fernando, Yniguez of Ynigo, Rodriguez of Rodrigo, et cetera.

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LIBERATING WOMEN: It was also from that petite teacher of mine that I learned that there was a trend (that was more than four decades ago when life was simpler!) for the dropping of hyphens in the compounded names of married women.

Those who do not want to be hyphenated esposas should not spell their names as, for instance, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Drop that hyphen and be yourself in the same way, my teacher said, the possessive “de” had long ago been dropped to liberate women, especially widows.

Pardon the example again, but we do not identify her as Gloria Macapagal de Arroyo, even when the esposo dies, as if the wife is/was a property of the husband. Even without feminism, this “de” business would not pass. But some years ago, this was rampant on the obituary pages.

Feminism has come a long way, although I think this male-based appellation of married women may have nothing to do with feminism. It is simple propriety.

That feminism bit reminds me of our political science professor. He told us incredulous freshmen that many decades ago, women — together with the illiterate, the feeble-minded, convicts and such low life — were not allowed to vote!

Wow! The present-day colegialas who take many things for granted may not even be aware of this political predicament of their grandmothers.

Hey, look how far that reigning/reining in near-typo in the NYT editorial has taken us.

But then, as I said, today is a Sunday.

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FORGET IT: Back to business, I mean back to the New York Times editorial that hurts because what it says is true.

We should understand that Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, who is also presidential spokesman, is simply doing what is expected of him as defender of the faith when he railed against the editorial. He knows deep in his heart that there is, at least, a kernel of truth in the NYT piece.

What he and the rest of the Palace pack should do is just ignore the editorial. You do not quarrel, or tamper, with the truth. You do so at your own peril as those who had tampered with the 2004 presidential election results are now discovering.

No administration is perfect, certainly not the Arroyo administration. A foreign newspaper criticizes us, so what? Let them be.

As the new US Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney told Philippine officials who swallowed hard and asked her about the editorial — that was the New York Times talking. It is private media and the US government has nothing to do with what the paper says or does not say.

That is basic, and here we are still being reminded of it because it seems we do not know it.

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PR/LOBBY EXPENSE: Btw, are we not spending a good portion of the hard-earned dollars being sent home by Filipinos laboring abroad for a Venable-something-firm that is supposed to do PR for us in the US of A?

What is this PR/lobby group doing? My guess is that if we ask them, they would answer that influencing the NYT is not in their contract. Somebody missed including that paper among the targets. Or Venable would say the same thing Ambassador Kenney said.

If it is not the job of Venable, who in the Philippine embassy in Washington, DC, or the consulates scattered across North America, is supposed to do it?

I surmise that nobody specific has been assigned to that, because trying to influence US media is considered a mission impossible.

Is it, really? How come every time there is an official trip of the President to America, a barrel of money is rolled out to spend for media relations, newspaper and magazine supplements, pre-arranged interviews with editors and TV anchors, dinner for selected media, et cetera?

Nothing substantial or lasting comes out of this expense — except for the commissions and the cuts that some people with sticky fingers pick up on their way to the bank.

Back to the NYT editorial, my unsolicited advice to Malacanang is: Quiet na lang po kayo. Tama ang New York Times.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 9, 2006)

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