Remembering Ye Ol Block of Wood: My View on the James Soriano Debacle

Pinoy netizens were up in arms again as another young, tactless, and narrow-minded writer published his opinion that was so far off the politically correct spectrum, mainstream mob opinion demands his cyber lynching. I’m talking about James Soriano’s most lowly opinion of our Filipino language of course. (See original article at:

In my opinion, we are all entitled to our opinion. Although, I thought his article was such a narrow view of the issue because of the privileged life he was born into. Poor little James! I highly doubt his editor even looked at his article before publishing it as blogger, Migs Bassig thoughtfully edited the article for him: Way to bring the lad back to ground level!

I wonder how much time and effort it took for Soriano to come up with this article. Someone at the office even suggested that maybe they brainstormed about writing something controversial to bring in the web traffic. This brings to mind Medeo Cruz, who until a month ago, nobody really knew. Now, even the tambay in your local kanto has an opinion about his art. The article had to be politically incorrect but should not go so far as bishops threatening to excommunicate the writer!

Whatever the agenda, it’s Soriano’s view and all we can do is to make our own opinions known in a peaceful and nonthreatening manner. We are all civilized people after all. That includes the manangs, manongs, and all other people outside Soriano’s learned circle.

This issue reminded of my grade school years. It was a time when corporal punishment was still considered part of disciplining methods teachers can apply. I studied at a traditional Catholic school with all the nuns and stereotypical rigidness that comes with it. I remember that dreadful piece of 2 inch by 1 inch piece of wood with a length of about 4 inches, painted in stark white. It had “Speak in English” written on both sides. You pass this around to your classmates whenever you hear them speak Tagalog. At the end of the day, if you were caught with it, you get punished. Punishment can range from just a warning to cleaning the bathroom. I remember there were monetary fines too but I forgot how much.

I was a voracious reader as a kid and like Soriano, I was given English books to read. However, unlike him, I was not required to speak English at home although I was discouraged from watching what my mother calls “bakya” TV dramas. I can understand, write, and read English perfectly, but I was uncomfortable speaking it. It’s not my mother tongue, it’s my second language.

In school, especially in Grade 6 where I was included in the pilot class, I would often despair at the end of the period because I still had that blasted block of wood. Fortunately, I don’t remember ever being ordered to clean the bathroom but I remembered living in fear that the day would eventually come. Did the system work then? Did forcing the students to speak English eventually led to fluent speakers as adults? I don’t think so. (no further comment on this!)

As an adult, I can say that I’m fluent and can write in English. But that’s because I read. A lot. However, I’m still uncomfortable with speaking it when it’s not necessary. I like that I speak naturally in Tagalog. Speaking Tagalog is like slipping on a pair of your favorite tsinelas after a long day’s work in your black leather pumps. It feels right and not so unlearned at all.

It’s just unfortunate that Soriano lived in his bubble with a distorted view of the world outside it. Maybe in a few more years, he’ll gain more perspective and learn to appreciate the language of his people. English is the language of the learned, indeed! Hey, maybe what he says is his truth but it’s not my truth.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s