Product of Philippine Bilingual (English & Filipino) Education System

When all is said and done, Janina San Miguel, Miss Philippines 2008, is an unadulterated product of the Philippine bilingual education system.  Janina’s issues with expressing her thoughts in a second language–English–are not rare nor an isolated case.  In fact, I have experienced it myself, though not as glaringly English-challenged.

I hear Filipino politicians, pastors and priests, television broadcast professionals, ordinary folks from all walks of life experience similar English-challenged situations and I sympathize with them.  It’s not their fault.  The folks who are responsible for evolving our language policies are to blame.  The folks responsible for educating our would-be mothers and helping them with the quality and quantity of nutrition they need to be able to impart to their unborn children to ensure proper physical and brain development are to blame.  The government folks responsible for our economic policies, those who are responsible for mitigating or eradicating poverty and malnutrition, especially with the young from when they are born, are to blame.  The religion that prohibits artificial means of birth control and which fosters the “Bahala na ang Diyos” attitude is to blame.

DepEd Order No. 74 signed by Secretary Jesli A. Lapus on July 14, 2009 institutionalizing mother tongue-based Multilingual Education (MLE) is intended to ameliorate the situation.  We wait and see.  We’re optimistic that the use of the mother tongue as the early medium of instruction in our children’s education will deliver the expected outcome, although the road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions.

Here’s a look from another angle:

English Psychosis

Published in Philippine News: March 26, 2008 | Author: Rodel Rodis

Rodel_RodisThough I had never been to a boxing fight before, curiosity drove me to go to Las Vegas on March 15 to watch the hyped-up rematch of Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao and Juan Manuel “Dinamita” Marquez for the Super Featherweight Championship of the World. “Super”, it turned out, was no hype in the billing, it was the real deal as the two evenly-matched gladiators fought toe-to-toe for 12 rounds, fighting with all the power and heart they could muster.

In the end, the Pacman won with a controversial split-decision but by barely one razor-thin point. In the post-fight press conference, Pacquiao commented about the fight in English without an interpreter: “The first knockdown, I was very happy. I think I controlled the fight already. In the next rounds, I had a bad cut on my eye and I didn’t see his punches. It was hard to punch back to him.”

With a Spanish interpreter, Marquez said: “Yes, I thought I won this fight and I still think I won this fight. Maybe the judges were thinking I was the challenger, but I connected with the most powerful punches and the most accurate punches.” In previous press interviews where the Pacman spoke, always without an interpreter, he would find himself grammatically challenged and his fight assessments always appeared simple-minded as though the English words that would articulate his actual deep insights were beyond his reach. In contrast, whenever the Mexican fighters spoke, with interpreters, they seemed to express more depth in their analysis.

I always wondered why the Pacman didn’t just speak in Tagalog and have an interpreter translate his words. That way, he can also appear to be articulate and intelligent. That same question came up at the 2008 Bb. Pilipinas beauty pageant that was held recently at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City on March 9. Janina San Miguel, a 17-year-old freshman at the University of the East, made it to the finals after winning awards for Best Swimsuit and Best in Long Gown. And then came the interview.

One of the judges, Vivian Tan, asked her: “What role did your family play to you as candidate to Binibining Pilipinas?” Janina’s answer, on (above), has already drawn more than two million hits (combining all versions). Here it is:

Janina: “Well, my family’s role for me is so important b’coz there was the wa- they’re, they was the one who’s… very… hahahaha… Oh I’m so sorry, ahhmm… My pamily… My family… Oh my god… I’m… Ok, I’m so sorry… I… I told you that I’m so confident… Eto, ahhmm, Wait… hahahaha, ahmmm, Sorry guys because this was really my first pageant ever b’coz I’m only 17 years old and hahaha I, I did not expect that I came from, I came from one of the tuff ten. Hmmm, so… but I said that my family is the most important persons in my life. Thank you.”

In the youtube video, the sounds of audience laughter and guffaws were as audible as the looks of consternation and amusement by the judges. Despite this gaffe, Janina won the contest and will represent the Philippines in the Miss World competition that will be held in the Ukraine.

Dozens, if not hundreds of Filipino blogs, commented overnight on Janina’s selection with most making fun of Janina’s accent and poor grammar. Many questioned how she could possibly win the world title when she can’t speak English properly.  But if anyone of these blog commentators ever watched any of those beauty pageants, they would note that the questions were always posed to the Spanish-speaking contestants in English, translated by interpreters into Spanish, and the Spanish answers then translated into English. The translated answers showed their poise and articulation, which account for why so many South American beauty queens have won these contests.

Why couldn’t the question to Janina have been posed to her in Tagalog and her answer delivered in Tagalog and then translated into English? The contest that used to be “Miss Philippines” is now called “Binibining Pilipinas” to emphasize its nationalist character. Hello?

The online web portal,, observed that “the use of English is not an issue for some contestants who can speak it fluently. There are a few young girls however, who did not have the luxury of attending an expensive private school where English is taught, or who do not belong to that social stratum of Philippine society where proficiency in English is the norm.”

Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Ramon Tulfo asked his readers to “Give the young girl a break! If she speaks ungrammatical English, blame it on the country’s educational system… You expect Janina to speak fluent English when our former president, Joseph “Erap” Estrada, speaks carabao English? C’mon, guys, you expect too much from a 17-year-old girl!”

The best insight about this “national psychosis with regards to the English language” comes from the editorial which provided this observation: “Tune in to most radio stations in Metro Manila and you’ll hear Filipino DJ’s straining to sound like Americans; sit-in on corporate meetings in boardrooms along Ayala Avenue and you will notice that greater deference is given to those who can say what they have to say in English. Say the same thing in Tagalog and it somehow carries a lot less weight or importance.”

“While proficiency in a foreign language is commendable, especially in this era of globalization, the value of a foreign language should not be gained by denigrating our national language. Tagalog or Pilipino should be given the respect it deserves and be allowed to co-exist alongside all other languages… only then will we begin to appreciate and respect who we really are as a people.”  Self-respect.

2 thoughts on “Product of Philippine Bilingual (English & Filipino) Education System


    Sunday, March 23, 2008

    A second language is no laughing matter

    Prof. Fred S. Cabuang

    The worldwide popularity of 2008 Binibining Pilipinas-World Janina San Miguel, started with the question by Vivienne Tan, one of the judges. And in the Internet, video clips of the Q & A have reached more than a million viewers which make them more popular than the recent victory of Manny Pacquiao over Marquez. The scene went like this.

    Ms. Tan: The question is, what role did your family play to you as candidate to Binibining Pilipinas?

    Janina San Miguel: Well, my family’s role for me is so important (pause) b’coz (pause) there was the waa—(pause) they’re…(pause) they was the one who’s…(pause) very… hahahaha…(pause) Oh I’m so sorry, ahhmm…(pause) My family…(pause) My family (pause) Oh my god… I’m… Ok, I’m so sorry… I… I told you that I’m so confident… Eto, ahhmm, wait…(laugh) Hahahaha, ahmmm (pause) Sorry, guys because this was really my first pageant ever b’coz I’m only 17 years old and…(pause) ahahaha I, I did not expect that I came from, I came from one of the tough 10. Hmmm, so… but I said that… (pause) my family is the most important persons in my life. Thank you.

    Three things I observed. One, that was a family-oriented question asked by judge Tan, a celebrity and daughter of one of the world’s wealthiest persons. Two, there was a sizable audience of unsupportive Filipino crowd. And three, Janina, a young, beautiful teenager, unskilled in public speaking, was audaciously responding to a question in English that did not seem to be her own mother tongue. It would have, probably, made a big difference if she were encouraged to reply in a language familiar to her, which is a practice in international beauty contests. The mother tongue is the language that is spoken at home and in the community of the speaker.

    As she tried to grope for words, the hostile crowd began to laugh at her predicament, even as she explained that she was only 17 and this was her first pageant experience. Even some judges, including Ms. Tan, could not help but laughed as well.

    To fully understand Janina’s situation, we have to understand the process of mental reasoning. If a speaker is asked a question in a second language (example, English), the speaker has to mentally translate the question into his first language or mother tongue (example, Tagalog) before he can comprehend the question. Afterwards, the speaker will mentally formulate the reply using his mother tongue (reasoning in Tagalog) and then translate the response into a second language (English) to answer the question in the same form it was asked. Sometimes, the true meanings of the words, together with emotions, suffer in the translation.

    The mother tongue plays a very important part in communicating one’s ideas and feelings. After Janina’s revelation that her father is a driver and her mother is a laundry lady, it is possible that she does not have the opportunity to develop strong English speaking skill. English speaking is strengthened only by speaking English! The more one speaks, the more his oral skills improve.

    Nowadays, most Filipinos speak adulterated English. Somehow, “Taglish” has been socially and academically accepted in our country. Abroad, our own version of mixed Tagalog and English is called “Eng-log.” Let those who have no sin cast the first stone, the Bible says. Those who deride her weak public speaking must look at themselves first. Does Janina really deserve to be our representative in the forthcoming Miss World pageant because of her broken English? Of course, why not?

    According to beauty pageant experts, the Q & A portion of a beauty contest is meant to be informal, open-ended and considered as “referential questions.” These are questions that extract opinions and information from the candidates. Questions are designed to elicit content rather than the form of the answer. Accordingly, there is no correct or wrong answer.

    For many, including myself, speaking in public is not easy. It may look simple from the outside but it is actually emotionally challenging. To do effective public speaking, time is needed to prepare for the topic at hand. In the case of San Miguel, her time to process the question was almost instantaneous. There was no time to even think of the “best answer.” One thing for sure, the content of her answer was the best for me!

    With an unsupportive crowd and the judges facing her, it’s amazing that she was able to carry on herself despite the insulting chuckles. Janina showed neither sign of frustration nor the slightest feeling of embarrassment on her lovely face. At that point, she was confident as well as pertinacious before the judges and the audience. She had the heart of a winner. Though she answered in broken English, Janina managed to focus on the content of her answer, that…“my family is the most important persons in my life.”

    Janina was in a competition based mainly, but not entirely, on physical beauty. She won the “Best in Long Gown” and “Best in Swimsuit” awards. She must be that good to merit those awards. Before the evening was over, Janina received the coveted Binibining Pilipinas-World title.

    Her triumph serves as inspiration to other young Filipinas who used to think that international beauty pageants are only for those who have the money and those who have the right connection. She widened door for those who used to dream dreams and never even gave their dreams a chance.

    In August 2008, Janina will represent the Philippines in the Miss World pageant in Ukraine. It is expected that the coronation will be the world’s largest live television event, viewed in more than 200 countries. The Miss World pageant is the oldest major international contest (since 1951) and the only major beauty title that the Philippines has not won. Janina San Miguel might just be the Filipina the world is waiting for. Will she get the last laugh?


    Prof. Fred S. Cabuang is the founder and chairman emeritus of the Institute for Linguistic Minority, an NGO engaged in saving all languages in the Philippines and the PRO-Board Member of Defenders Of Indigenous Languages of the Archipelago. For comments e-mail

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