The implications of not being native speakers of English PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 24 July 2017 12:01

By Remedios F. Marmoleño

Very many Filipinos  understand English and speak the language too. But the majority are not first-language speakers of English and so our proficiency in this language  is at different levels over a wide range. Some speak English like native speakers, without the accent of course, although many try to put on the accent of CNN or BBC presenters.

Unfortunately most of our important documents, including our constitution,  are in English. This fact very often leads to mind-numbing discussions which take so much time and can lead to very tedious  debates, in English as well.

In the national conversation about martial law one point has kept coming back into the limelight. One is on the matter of how our legislative branch of government should vote on the approval of martial law as declared by Mr Duterte on May 23. This same ML  is supposed to expire on July 23  unless it is extended beyond the 60 days for  which it was approved. Since it is seriously being considered that martial law  be extended – some want it to be extended until December 31 of 2017 and some others till the end of Mr. Duterte’s term in 2021. Whether it is the earlier date or the later one, the two houses need to approve the extension. But here is the rub.

The constitution says that the Senate and the House of Reps, meeting jointly, shall vote on the matter. But the two houses cannot seem to agree  on the point of “meeting jointly”. If the constitution says “jointly” is there still a need to debate the matter? Non-lawyer that I am the meaning of “meeting jointly” is very clear. Can either house disregard this without first amending the constitution? Is this a matter of understanding  the plain language by which  the idea is expressed? Or is this simply a matter of setting aside the constitution for what is more expeditious for our politicians?

Another example is something that was said by the president and quoted in a major national newspaper – something to the effect that when the BBL is passed

by Congress  then the Moro people can finally have their own “country”. I put that last word in apostrophes  because I thought that was a very careless use of the word. “Country” has different levels of meaning. Davao can be thought of as “durian country”;   Ilocos as “tobacco country”. These are just examples of one level of meaning for country. And there is of course the meaning that refers to the Philippines  or Japan or Thailand as “a country”.

Might not the use of country as made by Mr Duterte in this news item lead to some major misunderstanding in the future? And then we will be back to square one .