“Opo, Lola,” “Tama po, Ninong, “Mano po, Lolo,” “Maligayang Pasko po, Ninang,” will be said many times in Tagalog-speaking provinces as families get together to celebrate Christmas. 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.”
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.
However, 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 soon 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.
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 Sen. Loren Legarda, Cong. Angelo Palmones of AGHAM Party List, and Cong. Sol Aragones of Laguna the respect their official positions deserve even if they may be on 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. I am certain de Castro and Failon, a former member of Congress himself, call DILG Secretary Roxas “Mar” in private as he is the husband of their long-time fellow anchor and dear friend Korina Sanchez. But they say po and opo to the high-ranking public official Roxas.
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, DSWD Sec. Dinky Soliman, Metro Manila Development Authority Francis Tolentino, and many other members of the Cabinet and Congress saying “Tama po, yaan, Ted,” Opo, Karen,” “Hindi po ganyan, Tunying” to Failon, Davila, and Taberna, respectively. One does not call by his or her first name a person he or she says po to. The same people do not say, That’s right, Tony, Sir” or Yes, Pinky, Madam,” or “No Ron, Sir” to ANC’s Velasquez, Webb, and Cruz, respectively. I once heard the venerable Supreme Court Chief Justice Sereno say opo to a TV commentator. As she showed reverence to the commentator, she should not resent being called Malou, or whatever her nickname is, by the broadcaster.
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.