What’s in a Word? A Single Word Makes All the Difference

Mar 1 2018 - I have been lately mesmerized by the awesome power of words, even just a single word to alter the perception of reality, or trigger outrage.

Yen Makabenta

Consider this first: When our overseas workers were simply called overseas contract workers (OCWs), our problems concerning them were small-scale and manageable. This was the way it was when the overseas employment program began in 1975, under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos during the time of Martial Law.

Under Marcos, four agencies were created by the Department of Labor to carry out the overseas employment program: the Overseas Employment Development Board (OEDB), the National Seamen’s Board (NSB), the public employment offices network, and the foreign exchange remittance committee (FERC).

Things were simple and straightforward at the beginning. A worker went to work abroad carrying a contract and headed for a specific destination.

From OCWs to OFWs
When the OCWs officially mutated into the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), the overseas work force became a flood. Filipino women joined the parade to work as domestic workers and in other jobs. A multitude of skills were hired across a wide spectrum of occupations and interests. Suddenly Filipino workers could go abroad without contracts.

You can say in defense of the shift to OFW, that the OFW remittances began to soar, culminating in the $30 billion last year. But you must also confront the reality that the shift has brought forth the nightmare of raped and murdered OFWs, hundreds in detention awaiting execution, and countless undocumented workers in foreign lands.

When the word “contract” was dropped from the required documentation of our overseas workers, their world changed.

Now, the nation faces a nightmare – hundreds of thousands of our people living and working in foreign lands undocumented and unsung.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), as of the year 2016, the number of OFWs who worked abroad at anytime during the period April to September 2016 was estimated at 2.2 million. OCWs, or those with existing work contracts, comprised 97.5 percent of the total overseas Filipino workers during the period April to September 2016. The rest (2.5 percent) worked overseas without contracts.

Boracay as ‘cesspond’
Consider Boracay next: President Duterte fumbled and then hilariously called Boracay a “cesspond.” He simply could not recall the precise English word, “cesspool” (“cesspit” is also used by the English), to express his exasperation over Boracay’s environmental emergency.

Think of it as a presidential senior moment. Who is so lucid all the time that he does not find himself sometimes at a loss for words?

Cesspond or whatever, Boracay is today is a national calamity. An island paradise that once was a destination for millions, and was a stupendous foreign exchange earner, has been reduced temporarily to a backwater. The island has to be closed down during the summer season for at least 60 to 90 days, so the government can fix its massive runaway problems.

To DU30’s relief, “cesspond” is benign compared to “shithole,“ which President Trump used to describe Caribbean and African countries, like Haiti and El Salvador, that send streams of immigrants to America.

Trump compounded his offense by suggesting that the US should bring more immigrants from Norway, not ‘shithole countries.’

Trump and ‘shithole’ countries

US diplomats around the world were summoned for formal reproach, amid global shock that such crude remarks could ever be made in a semi-public meeting by the president of America.

In a strongly worded statement, the UN said it was impossible to describe his remarks as anything other than racist, while the Vatican decried Trump’s words as “particularly harsh and offensive.”

The 55-nation African Union said the remarks were “clearly racist.”

The uses of euphemism
Trump’s was a situation wherein a euphemism could have saved the day.

A euphemism is a generally innocuous word or expression used in place of one that may be found offensive or suggest something unpleasant.

Reasons for using euphemisms vary by context and intent, and can include avoiding discomfort in day-to-day social interactions.

The euphemism affirmative action denotes a preference for minorities or the historically disadvantaged, usually in employment or academic admissions.

Perhaps the most controversial new euphemism is “enhanced interrogation” to disguise torture. Only the word is new. The thought and the practice is American tradition. During the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902, the American military used the euphemism “waterboarding” to extract information from Filipino freedom fighters.

Wellness leave
Lawyer Jun Lacanilao, the spokesman of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno could give the Trump White House a lesson or two in the art of euphemism.

In the face of the latest tsunami engulfing the chief magistrate, Lacanilao magically came up with a euphemism to save his boss from drowning.

To counter the headline news that Sereno was being forced to resign by the majority of her fellow justices, and was only allowed the option of taking an indefinite leave of absence, Lacanilao invented an elaborate story and euphemism that Sereno would be taking a “wellness leave,” starting today March1, not an indefinite leave, and not a sick leave.

When does a person take a wellness leave? Isn’t it because he or she is unwell or feeling poorly? Why did Sereno not take a sick leave?

Private sector employers are now on edge that they may have to provide a new employee’s benefit called “wellness leave” if Sereno’s euphemism is allowed to stand. As things are now, they already provide their employees with vacation leave, sick leave, and 13th month pay.

Classic evasion and deception
The story of Sereno’s wellness leave is classic evasion and deception.

What really happened was this:
During the Supreme Court en banc session on Tuesday, Sereno was pressed to resign by a majority of the justices, because they saw the court as being destroyed by the many pieces of evidence that have been unearthed by the House justice committee during its hearings on the impeachment case against her.

Sereno refused to resign and some justices instead suggested that Sereno should take a leave of absence. At first, Sereno also refused to go on leave. But the justices prevailed on her to take a leave of absence after they threatened to call for Sereno’s resignation if she still refuses to take an indefinite leave of absence.

Sereno asked to talk privately to the two most senior justices of the court, Carpio and Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco.

After the three met, it was announced that Sereno would take an indefinite leave starting March 1.

Lacanilao flatly denied that Sereno was coerced into taking an indefinite leave. He concocted the tale that Sereno had scheduled a “wellness leave” for mid-March but had decided to advance this by a couple of weeks, beginning today.

Resignation is the last word

During her wellness leave, CJ Sereno can productively spend the time to contemplate one final word about her case and her ordeal: resignation.

She should avoid her lawyers and her spokesman during her meditation. Their interest in their professional fees, and the free media exposure during the impeachment trial will impel them to counsel that Sereno stay put and fight on. They will ignore the cost to her health and her emotional state by the barrage of hostile publicity and public disdain that will rain on her.

It is at this point when Dr. J. Patrick Dobel’s thoughtful paper on” the ethics of resigning” can be most illuminating or liberating.


This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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