The good senator Tito Sotto must have thought that he was doing Department of Social Work and Development Secretary and Professor Judy Taguiwalo a favor by resorting to ambiguity during his “light” questioning of the latter during her appointment hearing at the Commission on Appointments.
In what will surely go down as one of the most significant exchanges participated in by a Filipino legislator, the former actor remarked (it wasn’t even a question, which was the point of the gathering) that, “In the [sic] street language, when you have children and you are single, ang tawag doon ay ‘na-ano lang,'” in relation to the Secretary’s familial arrangement of having two children but no husband.
Such delicacy in the use of words, how unexpected from a lifelong comedian (for comedy is often construed as the domain of the vulgar)! He was decorous enough not to explicitly state what must truly be a reprehensible we-don’t-know-what, something which cannot be uttered and which must be veiled behind a nebulous ano.
Perhaps he did not want to rattle the lifelong women’s rights advocate’s sensibilities. Perhaps he wanted to spare her direct, detailed descriptions. After all, ambiguity does tend to diffuse tense confrontation. Ambiguity does tend to skirt around harsh realities, while at the same time still cleverly indicating their existence.
Perhaps he did not want to brazenly place the predicaments of his daughters on the spot. One of them is, as many of us know, a solo parent, and another, as a Quezon City councilor, is part of a governing body that has criminalized “taunting a woman… [with] talk about sex, which tend to ridicule, humiliate or embarrass the woman.” What a gentleman!
But let’s do the variety show host one better. I feel that he has treated Professor Taguiwalo with kid gloves. After all, as the one-time UP Faculty Regent herself related, she had spent many years in the underground movement and in prison during the same years that Sotto was entertaining the populace through his regular noontime show (because, of course, how else can the masses survive the dark Martial Law regime if not through song and dance and amateur beauty pageants with contestants who are given the opportunity of a lifetime to be engaged by such an astute interlocutor). She is made of stronger stuff, and surely she can withstand equivocality!
So let us, for the sake of the funnyman, assist him as he is clearly struggling with conveying what he means while avoiding the crudeness of plain-speak. In the context of how women become solo parents in our current society, what could Sotto possibly have meant?
Na-buntis at iniwan ng boyfriend? (Gotten pregnant and abandoned by her boyfriend?)
Napabayaan ng asawa? (Neglected by her husband?)
Na-biktima ng sistema? (Victimized by the system? Specifically, the system that places a contradictory burden on women, requiring of them chastity and reproductive fidelity, while objectifying and sexualizing them, and measuring their worth according to how ably they fulfill these imposed, degrading standards? Specifically, the system which, all the while, extols machismo and permissiveness for men, particularly for those who have the economic means to feed the societal expectations of boys being boys?)
Ah yes. It must be one of these. Nasty indeed! No wonder the jester resorted to indirect languaging. Something certainly stopped him from being precise: perhaps propriety, a sense of shame, or could it be pusillanimity? I doubt the last, seeing his reputation for staunchly fording on with issues he believes in but do not make him popular, such as being anti-reproductive health, insisting that plagiarism is not a wrongdoing, or ushering in ‘digital martial law’ for inserting the libel clause in the Cybercrime Act, or standing by family when one of his own is at the receiving end of a criminal accusation.
To our dear Dabarkads, I believe that I may speak for many women everywhere when I say thank you for being mindful of our fragility, and for refraining to use uncouth words in our presence, especially in statements that refer directly to us. And thank you for daring to try to say the things that cannot be said, though you may still have lapsed into resorting to the unsayable na-ano.
Your ambiguity has triggered women from throughout the country to fill in that blank for themselves, to think of their own current circumstances and the conditions of their sisters in gender, and has let solo parents find an exemplar and inspiration in Professor Taguiwalo. Bravo! We will not soon forget this invaluable contribution of yours to Philippine political and social discourse.