MANILA - “Lasma sa gedli, bandang wakali dehins pa makahalata” is probably one of the last things you would expect a mayor to say.
In the first place, not everybody would understand it, especially those not exposed to Manila street slang.
But for the Philippine capital’s top official, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, the phrase is just part of ordinary conversation as he grew up in the slums of Tondo.
In plain Filipino, the phrase is: “Malas sa gilid, bandang kaliwa, hindi pa makahalata (There’s bad luck/someone annoying on the side, by the left who just can't take a hint).”
In an interview with ABS-CBN News, street-savvy Moreno said the phrase is often used by pusoy (Filipino poker) players who are irritated with those who pester or butt-in on their games with useless comments.
It is street speak he is most familiar with, a language he uses in interacting with his constituents.
After the May elections, all eyes have been on Moreno and other relatively young mayors who toppled political giants and dynasties.
Moreno stopped the reelection bid of former mayor and ousted President Joseph Estrada, whose children and other kin also lost in their respective electoral ambitions.
And since taking the helm of the Manila City Hall, Moreno, a three-term city councilor and vice mayor, has been unstoppable.
Moreno has been appearing on social media, television and radio as he cleaned up Manila's parks and streets and cracked down on everything illegal.
And everywhere he went, he brandished his peculiar way of speaking- indeed a secret weapon to get his target audience such as street vendors and residents of Manila's poor communities to understand and comply with his strict policies.
Through Moreno, Filipinos learned the street way of counting: “posam (sampu)” or 10, “etneb (bente)” or 20, and the occasionally used “takwarents (kwarenta)” or 40.
They also heard about “Eddie” and “Patty” - codes for those-who-must-not-be-named who are on the receiving end of bribes or involved in illicit activities.
"Eddie" is slang for “eh di sya (him)” while "Patty" means “pati sila (even them).”
And of course the funny-sounding “tolongges,” which is used to describe a good-for-nothing person or the act of making someone a fool.
How to use in a sentence?
“Ayaw na ayaw ko sa lahat yung tino-tolongges ako (What I hate most is when I am duped),” Moreno said.
THE REAL SCOTT
Moreno first broke into the limelight in the 1990s as an actor and host of a popular variety show. It was during the same decade that he entered politics as one of the city councilors of Manila. He later became vice mayor and went on a failed attempt to run for senator in the 2016 elections.
In just a few weeks in office as mayor, after beating his erstwhile running mates Estrada and former mayor Alfredo Lim, Moreno has been out to prove that he has the political will to carry out his goal of bringing change to Manila and its dirty, congested streets.
His colorful language plays a part in it.
“Sa iba ang gaspang-gaspang ko but this is just the natural me (For some people, I sound crude or unrefined but this is just the natural me),” Moreno told ABS-CBN News.
He said he has learned to adjust to different kinds of audiences, using a mix of English and Filipino and only a bit of colloquial language in front of the cameras but reverting to the language of the streets - the one he grew up with - when he is with staff or friends in private.
“I limit myself in front of television cameras,” he said.
But with media covering him on a daily basis, Moreno has been showing his natural self, generous with his colorful quips that the public has found amusing.
Moreno said his conscious decision to revert to the language he is most comfortable with is part of his attempt to show a “sense of belongingness.”
“I really want to connect,” he said, suddenly serious after cracking jokes with ABS-CBN News staff.
“Gusto ko makita ng tao na oo nga umangat nga ako, napabago ko sarili ko. Oo nga naiangat ko sarili ko pero ako pa rin si Scott,” Moreno said, referring to the nickname by which he is known in Tondo, his home community.
(I want people to see that I was able to improve my life, change myself. Yes, I was able to improve myself but I am still Scott.)
“Iyon ang gusto kong iparamdam sa mga kababata ko na ganun pa rin ako. Iba lang ang status ko pero kung gaano nila ako nakilala, ganun pa rin,” he said.
(That’s what I want my childhood friends to feel - that I am still me. My status in life might have changed but I am still the person they first met.)
PRODUCT OF THE TIMES
During the interview, Moreno quoted his social sciences teacher who said “ang pinakamabisa daw na impluwensya sa isang tao ay kaniyang kapaligiran (the most effective kind of influence on a person is his/her environment).”
His background - growing up in poverty in the ‘80s and surviving as a scavenger in Tondo- is what has shaped his way of communicating.
Moreno pointed out that most of the words he uses are from the '80s, when he was growing up.
“Yes, I think people from my generation understand me. Millennials, I think, are curious,” said the mayor, now 44.
National artist Virgilio Almario, chairman of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (Commission on the Filipino Language), said the reversing or jumbling of syllables is a common way of playing with words in almost every language.
Almario, who is now in his 70s, said he once teased Moreno that the words he uses are from their generation.
“That’s what we used to do during the 1960s,” he said. “It’s amusing for us older Filipinos because we get to relive our teenage years (now that these words are popular again).”
The term “tolongges” is actually a name of a character in a film made popular in the 1980s.
Almario explained that jargons like that are usually “exclusive to one group in society.”
“It shouldn’t be understandable to others,” he said. “That’s what young generations do to set them apart from other generations.”
But in the case of Moreno, he’s been using street slang to connect with people outside his group.
Jayson Petras, Assistant Professor at the University of the Philippines Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, said such language is Moreno’s way of relating with his constituents.
“It’s also part of his brand as someone from Manila and from Tondo,” said Petras.
Petras said language is transactional and that there are two ways it is used.
“There is what we call linguistic convergence. If you want to relate to people, you use their language, their accent because that’s how you become identified with them,” he said. “There is also linguistic divergence where a person consciously changes his way of speaking to assert his identity.”
Petras said Moreno’s purpose is for convergence, to show that he truly comes from Manila.
“He wants to be close to the masses. Most people who live in Manila do not come from the upper class of society,” he said.
Almario and Petras agree that Moreno’s use of colloquial words is proof that the Filipino language is alive.
“'Yung mga ganitong klaseng paglalaro ng salita ay nagpapakita kung gaano kakulay at buhay ang isang wika,” Petras said.
(That kind of playful language shows how colorful and alive a language is.)
“That’s a sign of being creative,” Almario said.
However, he said he likes it more when Moreno speaks in fluent Filipino.
“Ako ay tuwang-tuwa sa kaniya. Gumagamit siya ng Filipino. Di tulad ng ibang pulitiko,” Almario said.
(I am very happy with him. He uses Filipino a lot. Unlike other politicians.)
Almario said he hopes more officials would follow Moreno’s lead and use Filipino more often, especially since it is the national language.
For his part, Moreno said he is very proud of the Filipino language.
In fact, one of his dreams is to give a speech in Filipino before the United Nations.
Moreno said he tries to speak in English when it is necessary.
“Pinalalawak mo lang ang sarili mo to reach as many as possible. But 'wag lang mawaglit o mawalay ang pananatili ng pagpapalaganap ng sariling wika,” he said.
(You are just trying to improve yourself, to reach as many as possible. But you should never forget to preserve and promote our own language.
“Hindi mo puwedeng ikubli ang iyong pagiging Pilipino,” he said.
(You cannot hide your being Filipino.)