UNTIL the spokesman of President Rodrigo Duterte dismisses it as another of those jokes, we take to be final and official the Chief Executive’s announced decision for his native Cebuano tongue to be the language used in Cabinet meetings.
Such preference is not surprising, considering how painfully the former Davao City mayor struggles with English and even Tagalog —which difficulty may explain why he frequently fills with Visayan expletives the dead air in his rambling speeches.
The insertion of Cebuano as a fallback alternative to Filipino and English as the two official languages in government may pose some problems.
The staff transcribing Cabinet minutes must now gain proficiency in Cebuano and its translation to English; Cabinet members who do not speak the preferred language better take crash lessons; contractors chasing projects must invest in a new language course; and foreign diplomats must learn useful Cebuano phrases.
We are hoping the preference for Cebuano does not affect negatively the school curriculum and the qualification of Overseas Filipino Workers who bring in some $2 billion a month to shore up the country’s shaky finances.
Through the decades, a top selling quality of our OFWs has been their English proficiency. They should hold on to this advantage until the new rulers of an envisioned federal Philippines revise the Constitution and dilute that value by adding another official language.
As the phonetician Prof. Henry Higgins in the Broadway hit “My Fair Lady” told Cockney flower vendor Eliza Doolitle in so many words, getting ahead in this world is just a matter of accent.
Duterte recalled that in Cabinet meetings, he could barely understand what, for instance, Perfecto Yasay, an American who had managed to sneak into the Cabinet as foreign secretary, was saying.
(Although I don’t buy Duterte’s line that the Commission on Appointments rejected Yasay because of his American accent — which, btw, many Filipinos incorrectly refer to as “slang.”)
Since it is probably harder for the President to understand the English variety spoken in the Cabinet, he must have decided to take the easier route — for Cabinet members to adjust to his language, to “learn Visayan, Cebuano.”
• Influence of OFWs in the world
THERE is an apocryphal story that in the Buckingham Palace, there lingered for a while some Pinoy expressions (e.g. “You eat na,” “There, o” while pointing to the object with puckered lips) in the quips of then Lady Diana’s sons being attended to by their solicitous Ilongga nanny.
1. Joseph Schooling — Singapore got its first ever gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016, courtesy of 21-year-old Joseph Schooling. He won the gold medal in the 100-meter butterfly event, beating American Olympian Michael Phelps. Aside from his family’s support, he thanked his Filipino nanny, Yolanda “Auntie Yolly” Pascual who has been with his family for 19 years. “Auntie Yolly is like a second mom to me… She’s the one who always takes care of me at home. She cooks for me and made me do my homework. Small things like that really go a long way. She supports me unconditionally. She’s passionate about what I do. I think I couldn’t have a better mom or second mom or nanny by my side to help me through all these.”
2. Anthony Bourdain — World-renowned chef, bestselling author and multiple Emmy-winning TV personality Anthony Bourdain revealed in an essay he wrote for CNN Philippines that his kids’ Nanny Vangie has played an important part in his kid’s life from the beginning. “My daughter is no stranger to sisig and sinigang and adobo and holds me in disregard for being unable to procure her the delicious Filipino pastries and breads she finds at her other family’s home. She knows a few phrases in Tagalog and looks at me pityingly when I don’t know what she’s talking about.”
3. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — Even before he took the job of prime minister, Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie had hired two Filipina nannies to help care for their three kids Xavier, 9, Ella-Grace, 7, and Hadrien, 2. A spokesperson defended Trudeau’s hiring Marian Pueyo and Marilou Nemiada Trayvilla (both now Canadian citizens) under government payroll: “Given the nature of the prime minister’s responsibilities and his young family, the Trudeaus employ two household employees who, in addition to performing other duties around the house, act as secondary caregivers to the three children.”
4. Prince William — Araceli “Lilly” Piccio was the only Filipino invited to the royal wedding of Prince William and Princess Kate Middleton in April 2011. Lilly was a nurse from Bacolod before getting hired as part of the royal household staff by the late Princess Diana where part of her duties was taking care of the young Prince William and Prince Harry. She told Pep.ph that she was personally introduced by her former ward to his wife after the wedding. Lilly recalled that when the newlywed prince saw Lilly, he hugged her and said, “You know, I’m glad that you are here,” and went on to introduce her to Kate. “This is Lilly, and she looked after my mommy.” Lilly said, “Akala ko nakalimutan na niya ako. But he still remembers me. Sa tagal-tagal ko na, na nawala ako sa kanila, kilala pa rin pala nila ako sa kanilang buhay.”