Weirder Affectations

Editorials are more than an expression of a publication’s opinion. The editorial is a demonstration of journalistic acumen, writing skill, and the sharpness of analysis. Editorials, therefore, require solid factual bases, an excellent command of language, and the kind of precise, incisive analysis that sets a newspaper’s opinion apart from those of common people.

“Weird affectations,” to use the phrase used by the August 1, 2015 editorial of The Manila Times, happen when factual bases are not established, when the use of language fails, and when the chosen point for analysis is how President Aquino uses Filipino in his past SONAs.

The problem with the editorial is that it isn’t an editorial. When we frame that piece against the three things I mentioned above—factual bases, language and structure, and analytical rigor—we should be able to see it for what it is.

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A good editorial engages an issue that is important to its readership. The “editorial” is a non-issue that is not important to its readership. “At the heart” of their complaint is how they are challenged to spend for their own translations. If this is the issue, then the operational expenses of acquiring or creating those translations shouldn’t matter to us at all. Getting and/or creating those translations is part of the job. Any good journalist worth his/her own salt would know that.

But reading through the editorial, this doesn’t seem to be the “heart” of the argument. The editorial writer points out that “all our other presidents since 1935 gave their speeches in English, until the advent of Mr. Aquino in 2010.” That statement is wholly incorrect, based on information that’s already out there. Arroyo, Estrada, Ramos, and Aquino all used Filipino in critical parts of their SONAs. Heck, even Marcos—who by many accounts is an excellent English speaker—opened his speech in Filipino in the 1974 SONA, framed his speech in Filipino in the 1975 SONA, used Filipino to quote himself in the 1976 SONA, and assessed the state of the nation using the Filipino language in his 1978 SONA.

We’re dealing with an editorial that leaves a lot of structure to be desired. Another “heart” of the (many) argument(s) beats somewhere in the rubble of the factual bases already destroyed at this point: that by not using English in his SONA, Aquino “walls off” critical segments of the population, like the “Filipino intelligentsia,” foreign nationals and expatriates, and the community of scholars and researchers. I’m pretty sure that our foreign friends are willing to wait for an English translation of Aquino’s SONA. Just as I also hope that anyone claiming to be an “educated” or “intellectual” member of Filipino society would understand some measure of Filipino.

When we really think about it—and it doesn’t take enlightened or inspired or overwrought thinking—there were so many angles in the SONA to choose from, if the “hard-hitting critics” would have chosen to attack the substance of Aquino’s SONA. Like how the numbers and statistics are not experienced in the everyday. Or how the political gains professed by Aquino to be the effect of “Daang Matuwid” were the result of years and decades of reform. Or how the President missed out on so many important issues that matter to Filipinos. Or how the SONA should be a platform to lay out the road ahead, than to be a political performance report.

Of course, that didn’t cross the mind of the editorial writer, who rendered an entire publication unable to understand what an editorial is supposed to do. But we can only react based on the premises they themselves set; which means that the editorial also fails in lending depth to whatever discussion there is (real or imagined) on the SONA being delivered in Filipino.

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Again, the problem with the editorial is that it isn’t an editorial. It failed to convince readers, the thinking wasn’t critical or clear, and it does not inspire action. It’s not based on facts, it lacks structure, and the very premise of the analysis is flawed (and, for all intents and purposes, not important enough in the grand scheme of things). Not to mention that the poor choice of language used in the editorial speaks volumes.

And—to use that phrase again—it’s a “weird affectation” for the Philippines’ oldest English language newspaper to do that.

In “The News: A User’s Manual,” Alain de Botton tells us (roughly invoked) that in an age dominated by the news, sanity requires us to see that what is novel and what is important may overlap, but they remain crucially distinct.

I think that the Times editorial totally missed out on that gentle reminder.

(More importantly, I think they missed out on the gentle reminder of our times: that writing an editorial requires a lot more discipline and rigor than, say, a blog post.)

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