President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday offered a theory on why most Filipinos can speak and understand Tagalog when the reverse is not necessarily true for native speakers of the language -- cinema.
Tagalog-speaking Manila is the "center of gravity" and it exports films the the provinces, said Cebuano-speaking Duterte, the first president from Mindanao and long-time mayor of Davao City.
"Sine, dito lahat galing Maynila," Duterte said in one of his routine adlibs during his address to the nation on COVID-19 on May 13. "Kaya natutlo yung mga Pilipino."
The 76-year-old leader said non-native Tagalog speakers should not be criticized if they fumble at times. They mostly grew up in multilingual households. "You cannot blame us. We did not grow up in a Tagalog environment."
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The Philippines, an archipelago of 7,107 islands, has several languages including Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano, Hiligaynon, Bikol, Kapampangan, Pangasinan and those spoken by indigenous peoples groups in Mindanao.
Throughout his five years in office, Duterte has spoken in Cebuano in official functions. One of his predecessors, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, also spoke in her native Kapampangan and Cebuano (a tribute to the votes she got there in 2004 elections).
Duterte's speaking in his language during official functions also underscores his push to distribute power long held in Manila to the provinces. During the campaign, he promised a shift to a federal form of government.
On the international stage, world leaders speak their own language even if they can speak in English to promote their culture.
When French President Francois Hollande visited Manila in 2015 (with Oscar winner Marion Cottilard in tow), reporters covering his joint meeting with then President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, were told that he would field questions in English but would answer them in French.