Power of words



Jullie Yap Daza Jullie Yap Daza

Halfway around the world, the American secretary of state was calling attention to the use of “bad grammar” and wrong punctuation within his department and, who knows, the Trump government. Secretary Mike Pompeo reminded his people to take his memo seriously.

This was eerily about the time that President Duterte’s spokesman had just dismissed a proposal to change the “defeatist” last line of the national anthem, as there are “more serious problems that we need to face.” For one whose only tool of communicating with the people on behalf of his principal is words, words, words, Secretary Harry Roque is missing the point entirely. Of course it matters what lyrics – words – millions of us sing to honor the flag and mark an important day or occasion in our national life. Words are power, and when they are sung as part of the anthem, they express more than language, they say who we are and what we aspire to. “Ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo” ... does not inspire.

As Freddie Aguilar puts it, “they’re asking you to die after you’ve been oppressed (“aming ligaya pag may mang-aapi.”) Shouldn’t we turn instead to the great American general, George Patton, who told his troops, “Your duty is to let the other guy die for his country!”

Yes, we have a ton of problems to get out of our way, one of them being a willful disregard for those finer, deeper things that we cannot see, touch, twist, corrupt, or solve with, say, a bigger budget and a grander bureaucracy. Freddie Aguilar writes his own music and lyrics, he knows what a melody without words means, compared with the value and magic of words in a song.

Was the President’s spox speaking for himself or his boss? Nowhere in his statement to the press does he mention Mr. Duterte as his source. Has Happy Harry forgotten how lawmakers debate for days over the use of a word – conjunction, preposition, adjective, adverb, noun – or a comma, semicolon, colon, period in their pursuit of clarity in the wording of a bill?

It’s a sad day to learn that Sen. Tito Sotto is no longer interested in changing that “defeatist” (his word) last line. He’s defeatist, indeed – a result of having sung that line once too often?