English, et tu?

Last night, there was a debate on ANC about repealing Gloria Arroyo's presidential decree ordering the return of English as the medium of instruction in the academe. This topic has been subject to countless discussions since time immemorial. Personally, I don't see any contest. A waste of time and energy, if you ask me. Not to mention a waste of saliva, airtime, and newspaper space, too.

I say so because for one, I don't see any alternative to English. If not English, what then? Filipino/Tagalog? Can anyone explain to me the difference between a suspension and a colloid in Filipino? What is the Filipino term for currency depreciation? Having to translate all terms from various academic disciplines to Filipino is a colossal task, involving lots of time and effort amongst the country's linguists. In the very unlikely case that this could be done, DepEd would have to print and distribute gazillions of new books, creating a new bane in the already hole-filled pockets of the government. In any case, will the country's established institutions in, e.g. medicine or physics be receptive with a new Filipinized standard? It would take the Pollyanna in every Filipino to believe that any of these could be done.

Anyhow, we've already milked enough from our self-promoted English "proficiency". Aren't our undergraduates and new graduates reaping the benefits of the proliferation of call centers in the country? Ten years ago, the only options for people fresh out of college would be (1) to work overseas as factory workers and domestic helpers, (2) work overseas as nurses or teachers, or (3) work locally and scramble with the rest of the population for a few measly job openings and get paid lousy minimum wage. 

Nowadays, anyone with two years of tertiary education and good English skills can go to any building in Makati, pass resumes to the 20 call centers on that building, and get a job offer by the end of the day. No need to go abroad and get abused or raped to earn big bucks! An average call center agent earns around 16,000 pesos, more than twice the salary of an average office worker. These call centers have given rise to a breed of yuppies who can afford their Starbucks coffee and pay rent without having to go through nursing school. And to think that the American bosses of these firms are predicting unprecedented growth! Too bad they're also getting weary of the decreasing quality of English among Filipino graduates. 

And people are talking about re-replacing English as medium of instruction again. The pros and cons of the call center industry are different topics altogether, but the good some of its employees have gained, thanks to their proficiency in English, cannot be denied. Another generation of poor English speakers may end this industry and obviously, one less career option for the country's graduates, who are already grappling for jobs, even with call centers around.

The country has had a long history of English usage. By 1901, public education was institutionalized, with English serving as the medium of instruction. The 1935 Constitution added English as an official language alongside Spanish. Even as Tagalog was chosen as the national language by the National Language Institute in 1937. The present constitution, ratified in 1987, stated that Filipino and English are both the official languages of the country. 

Filipino is an official language of education, but less important than English. It is the major language of the broadcast media and cinema, but less important than English as a language of publication (except in some domains, like comic books, which are meant to speak directly to the Filipino psyche) and less important for academic-scientific-technology discourse. English and Filipino compete in the domains of business and government. Filipino is used as a lingua franca in all regions of the Philippines as well as overseas Filipino communities, and is the dominant language of the armed forces (except perhaps for the small part of the commissioned officer corps from wealthy or upper middle class families) and of a large part of the civil service, most of whom are non-Tagalogs.

I am not on English's side because I'm elitist or pro-American. English is a practical language that has been used in the country for quite some time now, and we have had a lot to gain because of this. English "proficiency" has been an advantage for us Filipinos and it would be a huge loss if we do not protect this advantage. I'm not even going into the regionalism argument, wherein most people from the provinces would rather speak in English than Filipino. As it is, Filipino is being spoken everywhere in the country, so why lessen the avenues where English is being practiced? If students don't hone their English skills in school, I'm afraid there wouldn't be anywhere else they could master the skill, as most of them prefer using their regional dialects at home or with their friends.

Could we move on to other (more significant) matters?

Soap Rules

(Disclaimer: This post is not in any way about The Fight Club)

Koreans are quick to realize their faults. Filipinos are quick to turn a blind eye. What to say? Carry on, I guess, no matter which star they're effing from.

Fanzine Reveals Inner Workings of Korean Soaps

(taken from The Chosun Ilbo)

The Korean Wave is ebbing, and the backlash is under way. Viewers in the Asian countries that could not get enough of Korean soaps at one stage are now complaining about their monotonous plots and off-the-rack characterization. Critics say the formula is becoming an obstacle to the further development of the Korean pop culture wave. Now, even a Japanese magazine for fans of the Korean Wave has laid out elements of the formula for its readers. "We can predict what will happen in any scene of Korean drama, like fortunetellers,” it said. “Perhaps Korean drama has a mysterious power that enables us to make predictions.” Here are its seven iron rules of Korean soaps.

1. Ordinary girl falls in love with business big shot

This is the standard storyline in Korean dramas. Hero owns conglomerate, heroine is a common office worker or an ordinary woman. How about this: Heroine is trying on clothes in a luxury boutique. Hero watches her, sitting on a chair with his hand on his chin. He smiles at her and slightly shakes his index finger, to indicate “no” for an item she’s trying on

2. Angry guy

When a male character is angry, his face is always seen in a mirror or window. Without exception, he then proceeds to break the mirror or window.

3. Very young executive

In both Korea and Japan, most executives are over 50. But in Korean soaps, many business executives are young and hunky. Even staffers' girlfriends fall in love with them.

4. All doctors are surgeons

In Korean medical dramas, there are no doctors except surgeons. Internists and ear, nose and throat specialists may not like it, but it is so. If the lead is a doctor, he or she always becomes terminally ill but keeps quiet about it. And you thought early diagnosis and treatment were basic principles of medical service.

5. Fortuitous cabs

The heroes in Korean soaps have an uncanny ability to catch a cab in a timely manner. In any emergency, a cab just happens to pass. Or maybe it’s the cab drivers who have the power of foresight?

6. Weather forecasts are always wrong

Heroine is soaked in unexpected shower due to wrong weather forecasts. Hero appears in front of her carrying -- an umbrella!

7. Mobile phones

No matter how poor they are, the protagonists have an expensive mobile phone. Most cost some W700,000 (US$1=W923).

The list could go on, but the point is made. One pleasure Korean soaps provide is predictability, invariably.

* * * * *

Well, here are seven iron rules of Filipino soaps:

1. Happy ending

There must be one. There is no other option.

2. The two protagonists must come from different worlds.

One must be rich, the other, poor. One must be a human, the other, a superhero. One must be a frigging bird, the other, a normal human being (who, of course later discovers that she is also a.... TADA!!!!!!! Bird, etc. etc. Now, they can be wolves/foxes as well).

3. Climatic, earth-shattering, cathartic event

Bus explosion, someone dying, someone resurrecting, someone surviving a gazillion gunshots, a battle royale between good birds and bad birds, a singing showdown with some other character tied to a chain of explosives, someone telling someone that she is a bastard and the oppressed party is the legitimate heir/ess, after all. Anything.

4. A "theme" song

A tad forgivable when the soap is named after a song. But then when Sheryn Regis sings the theme song to normally-unattainable octaves, what could go wrong?

5. Mean antagonists

When Pinoys want mean, they really get mean. Super mean. Uber mean. Evil. Evil evil in levels that put Cruella deVille or 'em bitches in Dynasty to shame. With matching laughter and designer fashions.

6. Themed names

Good thing this has gone out of fashion. Early this century, I remembered a soap whose leads were Yuri, Katrina, Helaena, Nikos, Henri, Ingrid, Ivan, Dmitri, and Anilov. For a while I thought Leo Tolstoy wrote the teleplay. Then came Diana, Beatrice, and Sophia from the rural barrios where they were supposed to be farmers who later went to Hong Kong to become domestic helpers. Credible, but I was just expecting more combo type names (first syllable of mom's name + first syllable of dad's name) or something with Ann or Mary or Lyn - Lovelyn, Ginalyn, Remalyn. But alas, none of that. Oh, before I forget, I remembered Carmi Martin playing a soap opera character named Dolce Vita. And she was one nasty biatch.

7. Everybody's related to everybody, if not now, sooner or later

Filipino soap opera writers, writing about "realities" in the Philippines, with its 87 million people (and counting), feel that it is their responsibility to let everybody know everybody and for everybody to be related to all the characters in the soap before it ends. Eat your heart out, Alejandro González Iñárritu. Why settle for characters with interconnecting lives when you have characters related by some amazing stroke of fate, by some cosmic alignment. Take your pick: soli or sanguinis. If someone is not related to any of the characters, chances are, the guy's gonna die before the season ends. But then again, the death might be cathartic (see rule #3.)