The issue? Baybayin in newly renovated signages. The verdict? You decide.

A few days ago, the Lagusnilad underpass renovation project reached completion and on August 24, was formally opened to the public. The redesign was initiated by the Manila City Department of Engineering and Public Works, spearheaded by University of Santo Tomas alumni, Architect Juanito Malaga, John Fallorina, Sean Ortiz and Leon Tuazon.

This is just one phase of the larger-Lawton development masterplan enacted to address flooding, vagrant occupancy and security. Solutions include a 24/7 operational security with designated personnel in place and CCTV cameras directly linked to the Manila Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.

Not only were solutions in place for the public safety issues, but for beautification as well, with Botong Francisco-inspired murals left and right created in collaboration with NCCA Gerilya artists. Dedicated bookshelves are set in place accompanying the return of the famous informal bookstore, Books From Underground.

On the Baybayin Signages

Part of the redesign initiative in the all-new underpass were the backlit wayfinding signages installed which featured not only the usual alphanumeric directions, but their Baybayin counterparts as well. “Counterpart”–a loosely used term for a highly controversial implementation.

Much to the delight of some and the chagrin of others, the location’s nearest landmarks were directly translated into the pre-colonial Filipino script and sparked an online debate of which we will lay out a few interesting points of discussion.

Point 1: “Signs that can’t be understood are just designs”

Ultimately, the goal of wayfinding systems is to successfully lead “wayfinders” or subjects to whichever destination they had in mind. The subject in this scenario are either Filipinos or tourists who we’re safe to assume aren’t fluent-if knowledgeable at all- in a pre-colonial language that isn’t taught formally anywhere in the world.

It’s safe to say that only a handful can understand Baybayin in signages and is therefore nothing more than aesthetically pleasing.

Point 2: Various other implementations could have done better to improve accessibility

As discussed in the previous point, it is only understood by a handful of people and therefore is increasingly accessible to no one relative to its original no-Baybayin design. What other improvements could have been done instead of putting Baybayin? A number of netizens mention Tagalog as a better language to translate to as it is a widely-used Philippine language and is arguably better-understood in Metropolitan Manila.

A handful of other netizens also wonderfully suggested braille within reach of visually-impaired people as well as icons for easier sight-reading, also making the signs more accessible to mentally challenged individuals.

Point 3: The first move should’ve been to formalize Baybayin as a writing system first.

Screenshot via Twitter (user: @FahrenheitMiko)

Initial points of debate which sprung right after its public announcement were the inaccuracies in proper Baybayin spelling-particularly in acronyms (“LRT” and “SM”) which are not included in the syllable-based Baybayin alphabet. This is only but the tip of the iceberg in the discussion on formalizing Baybayin as an actively used writing system endemic to the Philippines.

On that note, we can consider this as a jumping off point in the movement to bring back Baybayin or #BuhayinAngBaybayin. Another valuable by-product of this lengthy and borderline toxic debate is that more and more people are looking into Baybayin if only to proudly concur that they understand these new signs and are now irrevocable Filipino citizens.

The Wrap Up

Overall, the success of these Baybayin-translated signs, as I see it, is highly dependent on the project’s main purpose of implementation. If it was to beautify the signs it probably worked, the signs are gorgeous. If it was to invoke more of a nationalistic sense to the space, it might have worked in that it sparked a conversation that we direly needed but maybe Tagalizing the signs would have served this aim better. Now, if the purpose was for better accessibility, I lament your loss, because this did zero to that extent.

The question that then goes, “Is this a successful project that should be implemented in other signages and cities as well?” is probably best answered after the time of COVID because-really- why are we so caught up in this? We’ve got bigger fish to fry people!

Now–who wants to start the conversation on the displacement of informal sellers in the very same Lagusnilad underpass?

Let us know your thoughts and opinions by sharing them through the comments below! Or just simply hit us up on our Facebook or Twitter accounts @udouph.

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Putting Baybayin translations on public signages-is it a yay or a nay?