The trivialization of ‘opo

To Take A Stand
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr.

Posted on April 15, 2014

ACCORDING to Wikipedia, the words “po/ho” and “opo/oho” are traditionally used as polite iterations of the affirmative “oo” (“yes”) as when addressing elders or superiors such as bosses or teachers. The Leo James English, C.Ss.R., English-Tagalog Dictionary says that “yes” means “oo, opo, oho,” the last two used to show respect; they mean “Yes, sir” or “Yes, madam.” Vicassan’s Pilipino-English Dictionary, Abridged Edition, translates “opo” to “Yes, sir”; “Yes, madam.”

Actually, opo is a contraction of oo and po. So, in instances where opo is not called for as in greeting a person senior in age or station, the word po is appended to the sentence to show deference to the person addressed. Magandang umaga po translates to “Good morning, sir.”

Among Philippine languages, only Pampango has counterparts for the polite words and they sound very much like the Tagalog words. They are opu and pu. The culture of the Tagalog and Pampango speaking people dictates that opo and po be used when speaking with or addressing elders and superiors, or total strangers.

To their credit the broadcast reporters/commentators like Ted Failon and Anthony Taberna never fail to say opo and po, as they should, when interviewing public officials and eminent public figures on the air. Jerry Baja though uses “ho.”

They all accord Senator Loren Legarda, Congressman Angelo Palmones, and Undersecretary of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Manuel Quezon III the respect their official positions deserve even if they may be on a first name basis in private as they were all colleagues in ABS-CBN at one time.

Now that Noli de Castro is again a plain broadcast reporter/commentator, he says po and opo when addressing public officials, even if they were his inferiors when he was the Vice-President of the Philippines from 2004 to 2010. Now and then though I catch Karen Davila calling low-ranking public officials alternately “Sir” and by their first name, as she did with Metro Rail Transit General Manager Alan Vitangcol.

I am certain De Castro and Failon -- a former member of Congress himself -- call Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Roxas “Mar” in private as he is the husband of their long-time fellow newscaster and dear friend Korina Sanchez. But they say po and opo to the high-ranking public official Roxas -- who failed in his attempt to become the second highest public official of the land that De Castro once was -- when they talk to him on the air.

It is, however, not correct for elders and superiors to say opo and po to people who are junior in age or station just as it is not correct for a boss or teacher to say to a subordinate or student, “Yes, sir” or “Yes, madam.” Yet, that is what practically all Cabinet secretaries, senators, congressmen, governors, mayors and much lesser public officials do -- say opo and po -- to broadcast journalists and commentators when interviewed on the air. Not that broadcasters do not deserve respect, but it is not protocol for public officials, particularly the high-ranking ones like Cabinet members and senators, to say opo and po to them as they (the broadcasters) can be considered as belonging to the working class.

Senior government officials saying opo to radio-TV anchors is like them saying “Yes, sir” to Mike Enriquez and “Yes, madam” to Mel Tiangco. While almost all public officials use opo and po when interviewed in Tagalog by broadcasters, they don’t say “Yes, sir” and “Yes, madam” when interviewed in English. That is because they know it is not proper for them to address broadcast reporters as “Sir” or “Madam.”

Yet, this is what the radio-TV audience hears every day -- Senate President Franklin Drilon, Secretary Dinky Soliman, Metro Manila Development Authority head Francis Tolentino, and many members of the Cabinet and Congress saying “Tama po ’yaan, Ted,” “Opo, Karen,” “Hindi po ganyan, Tunying” to Failon, Davila, and Taberna, respectively. Yet, the same people do not say, “That’s right, Sir Tony,” “Yes, Madam Pinky,” and “No Sir Ron” to ANC’s Velasquez, Webb, and Cruz, respectively. I once heard the venerable Supreme Court Chief Justice Sereno say opo to a TV commentator.

I had written about the subject some time ago in a different column. I sent Senator Drilon a photocopy of the clipping as the senator was on the air almost every day at the time, Failon sometimes tying him up on the air for as long as 30 to 40 minutes, the senator addressing Failon alternately as po and Ted. My covering note to the published article, which was titled “Mali, po, Frank,” said it is incongruous to say “po” to a person you address by his nickname. The senator wrote back and acknowledged his mistake. Well, he continues to make the same mistake.

It is understandable for personages like Drilon whose native tongue is not Tagalog or Pampango to use opo and po incorrectly because Ilonggo (Drilon’s primary language), Cebuano, Waray, Bicolano, Ilocano do not have equivalents of opo and po. They do not know the nuance of the words. There is no reason though for Dinky Soliman, who grew up in the Pampango-speaking part of Tarlac, and Francis Tolentino, who is a native of the Tagalog-speaking Tagaytay, and the other officials who come from Tagalog speaking provinces to make the mistake Drilon makes as they, when they were growing up, must have been taught by their parents when the use of opo and po (opu and pu in the case of Dinky) is appropriate.

Anyway, the frequent improper use of opo and po in broadcast media has stripped the words of their nuance of graciousness and civility. I am afraid that the words opo and po will be so trivialized that they would lose their special meaning unless the Institute of Philippine Languages or the Department of Education launches an educational campaign on the proper use of the words po, opo, oho, ho. Education Secretary Br. Armin Luistro, a native of Lipa, Batangas, can brief his colleagues in the Cabinet on the correct use of the words. Senator Grace Poe can tell, in her patented gracious way, her Ilonggo and Cebuano colleagues in the Senate the proper use of opo and po.