LISANDRO Claudio arrived in Cebu two days after the Internet broke with netizens making fun of what was perceived as sexy actress Jessy Mendiola’s grammar slip in response to a reporter who asked her about her boyfriend Luis Manzano’s compliment on how she looked during the Star Magic Ball.
“Obviously, if you don’t speak good English, there’s a perception that you do not belong to the educated class,” Lisandro or “Leloy,” commented, although still confused with what it was all about.
Most likely, Jessy Mendiola is not a celebrity subject in his academic playbook—he just came home after a two-year teaching and research commitment in Japan. In a few months, he will kiss Ateneo de Manila goodbye and move to the Political Science Department of De La Salle University. Still occupying the editor-in-chief post he held for two years, he is now poised to revive “The Manila Review” magazine, redirecting the editorial blueprint to a newer outfit.
Or Jessy may not be a favorite in his socio-political recall.
Because in the Duterte administration, it’s Mocha Uson—the lead vocals of the eponymous all-female entertainment dynamics. It’s Mocha Uson who truly broke the Internet, but is he amendable to this kind of pop culture?
He agrees with Luis that she’s the most beautiful date any man could wish for, sure. But Leloy is in love with someone already. Stop right there. His lips are sealed. All legendary heartbreakers know that nothing is more alluring than a Mona Lisa aura of mystery.
Whatever that is, go ahead. Yell at him. “The point there is not to make people feel bad but to challenge everyone to do better. That’s the role of the critic,” he describes his first non-scholastic book “Basagan Ng Trip,” which is a compilation of his “complaints” now released nationwide. “And I do believe that we all should ruin each other’s ‘trips.’”
Being a prominent cultural observer, tell us why we are very conscious of our English language usage.
If you’re a bilingual society, then more things are funny because a lot of jokes happen through cold switching—certain things sound like one thing in another language. We make fun of bad grammar in English. We don’t make fun of bad grammar in any of the vernaculars… You can really make bad Tagalog mistakes or bad Cebuano mistakes, and nobody will laugh at you. I think that’s just because even if there’s such a thing as Philippine English, it’s still largely foreign. Many Filipinos don’t believe that they own the language, so it’s funny if you make a mistake in a language you’re not completely comfortable with. It’s also a class element. Obviously, if you don’t speak good English, there’s a perception that you don’t belong to the educated class.
Does it measure intelligence?
It’s a measurement of intelligence here. Remember the “Erap jokes”? They revolved around his incapacity to speak good English. But ironically, he ended up becoming quite fond of the jokes because they made him more relatable. He was like, if you find my English funny, then the people on the streets… their English is as funny as well. I do not think so that it measures intelligence. I think we measure people in that criteria because most of our educated class speak English, so that becomes a barometer. But in society where the educated class speaks in Spanish, they do not measure intelligence with how well they know English, but having said that, I am really invested in making sure that Filipinos learn English. I think we should not give up on it. I think it’s one of our languages. There have been attributes of the Philippine English that has been examined by linguists. It’s a real phenomenon. It’s a real dialect. I think we should be proud of it.
What is intelligence to you?
For me, it’s critical thinking. The capacity to be able to be incredulous when you need to be.
How did you start as a writer?
I am an academic primarily, so I tend to write 10 articles a day with seven thousand to 10 thousand words. Around 2009 or 2010, I decided that I needed to learn how to write like a normal person, not like an academic, which meant that I had to write articles, which are a thousand words. Three thousand words would already be long. So I said, I’ll write for media. My hope was to decongest my own academic writing. Academic writing could be stuffy and boring. You know, if I write for the media—if I write for magazines or other publications—that would be good for me also. People would read me. As an academic, I can’t be read that much. I started writing for GMA News under Howie Severino. I think that time it was called GMAnews.tv (now GMA News Online). I started writing for Rogue, for Esquire, for Preview, more recently, I’ve been writing for Rappler. So this is just a compilation of the pieces I’ve done like for six years, say 2010 to 2015. The overarching theme is, they’re polemics; they’re complaints about Philippine culture and politics.
Your book is controversial because it points out opposing views. What inspired you to write this book?
The original title of the book was supposed to be “Polemics in Pieces,” but Anvil is a commercial publisher and asked me if I could come up with a more saleable title. I had written in the introduction that the line in Tagalog that I hate the most is “walang basagan ng trip.” You know it’s use, right? Don’t kill the vibe. It’s against being “nega” (negative). Let’s be positive na lang; don’t be so “nega”. But I am a negative person, and I am proud. Negative thinking is very important in society because negative thinking is where critique comes from. It’s the negative people who say things are wrong, and things can be done better. So that’s why I’m a very negative person. The title, therefore, is “Basagan Ng Trip” as supposed to “walang basagan ng trip.” Basagin mo yung trip. And I do believe that we all should ruin each other’s trips. That’s the point of critics. If I think this is baduy, and the person can call me baduy also. The point there isn’t to make people feel bad
but to challenge everyone to do better. That’s the role of the critic.
What do you think are the most common challenges of book authors these days?
Once you publish the book, it’s no longer yours. It belongs now to the readers. When you’re writing it, it’s yours—your words, you’re trying to convey something. Once you’ve published it, it’s the readers that make out of it. In a way, the challenge is over.
Is it very difficult to please you?
No naman. If you like something, then you say it, too. I’ve written about people and institution that I like and admire.
In the age of information overflow, how do you become a wise information consumer?
I’m working with Commission on Higher Education for teachers’ training on new courses. Sad part is, among the new courses, there’s not a course on media literacy. That’s the most crucial liberal arts course we need now because in the era of Facebook, you can just share things. And people are sharing lies like what Mocha Uson shares on her blog. She’s spreading lies. This is not just in the Philippines; this is everywhere. The criteria for sharing on Facebook is not truth or veracity—it’s whether or not it conforms with your
beliefs. That’s what the research shows. What conforms with your beliefs, many times, is not necessarily the truth. We need media literacy now more than ever. As an educator, I say the intervention should be in the classroom.
Do you filter your Facebook friends?
I unfollow some people if they annoy me. Sometimes, actually, it’s good to not unfollow people you disagree with. Social media has the tendency to just reinforce your beliefs, so unfollow the people you don’t like. You only follow the people you like. Your views are never challenged. You get Balkanized. In the mid 2000, somebody already labeled this phenomenon as cyber Balkanization. We’re losing the tradition that we operate from a common set of facts, and then we disagree on a common understanding of what the facts are.
Are media bias?
There is a piece in the book that I think media should be bias. That’s my argument. I disagree with this entire platonic idea of the neutral journalists. Journalists are not neutral, so why don’t they just admit their biases? That solves the Dutertard problem of being called bias. If someone tells you you’re bias, then your response is, “Yes, I am bias and here are my biases.” And I think, in fact, it’s more honest. Everybody has their biases. I’m bias for liberal democracy. I was bias for Mar Roxas. I voted for him. At least, I’m honest about it. Now that you know my biases, you can asses me critically relative to my biases. I am not pretending.
Why can’t media be honest?
It’s a particular tradition in the Philippines where media cannot make commentary about any issues. “The New Yorker” just endorsed Hillary Clinton. The “New York Times” just endorsed Hillary Clinton. Why don’t newspapers in the Philippines endorse anyone?
Because there’s this kind of platonic ideal that newspapers are completely neutral, right? Newspapers are not completely neutral. I would feel much better, for example, if the Manila Times just admitted that they’re anti-Aquino. And then, people would proceed reading Manila Times with a full knowledge that they’re anti-Aquino. It would be nice. In fact, I think it’s beneficial. In the US and in the UK, for example, certain media are bias, and they’re open about they’re bias. As a result, it creates programmatic politics because if I’m a reader of The Guardian, that means I’m center left. It actually allows you to place yourself in a political spectrum that makes your politics programmatic, which is something we do not have here in the Philippines.
What is a good editor?
Attributes of a good editor —it’s the capacity to bring out the best in writers. That is very cliché, but that’s it. It’s a very loaded statement because an editor has to know something about everything. You need to be able to at least know which question to ask your writers. For me to edit a piece, I just need to ask the right questions. I need to know some knowledge about the topics. I need to be interested in everything, which is difficult. Then of course, a good editor needs to be able to place himself or herself in the shoes of the reader.