The 40-something host of a popular Philippine noontime TV show questions a 17-year old studio participant. She ends her answer with a po. The host quickly checks that out by telling her to drop po when talking to him. In another program, a 50-yish host said the same thing, but to a woman about his age. Po, a conversation marker term for respect, is used to address the elderly, people with social position, strangers, holy objects or images.
Although po is a known practice in the Luzon island of the Philippines, this tradition is fading fast in large cities. The erosion of the usage is due to negative ambiguous reactions from people of mature age and influence such as media idols or political leaders. This development stems out of many Filipinos' ignorance or misunderstanding of po and its relevance.
As noted in Taste the Dirt - any one region experience is a "part of" and is always "whole" in Filipino. In 2004 and 2007, I wrote that po is a complete Bikol word. I'm extending that to a complete Pinoy word. Let us now inspect the Bikol interpretation of po.
In Bikol, when your mother, father or someone calls, you automatically answer, Po! One does not respond oya, yaon, or digde (various terms for here and present), to ano (what), tano (why), or halat (wait). But po. If ever any one of those words is employed, it is always accompanied by po. It is common knowledge that the pre-Spanish po is widely used in the Bikol region than in any other parts of the Philippines.
Albay and Sorsogon provinces tend to the word tabi for courteousness that means please, excuse, pardon, or to pass. Sometimes po follows tabi as in "tabi po". Definitely, tabi is different from po.
Mintz and Britanico Bikol Dictionary designated po as a "polite marker used when speaking to elders, strangers or people superior in rank or position". However, po is more than politeness. It indicates respect and a fineness of mind evinced in language or behavior. The Bikolian shares or gives concern or reverence, appreciation or deference, even to strangers -- since he or she has self-respect. At the same time, po mirrors the Bikol notions on selfhood, responsibility, and a sense of community as well as the pleasure derived from these experiences.
In agreement with studies on universal consciousness made by Jean Hixon and Ken Wilber, po as true respect, indirectly honor the inwardly shared deep cross-cultural insights into the nature of spirit or Spirit. That spirit/Spirit is the ultimate development field, a part of the source, essence, and identity of each and every being, seen as shared valuing.
In the Chinese, philosopher Wing-tsit Chan states that the human has two souls, the p’o and the hun. In terms of priority of existence, the p’o comes into being with the beginning of human life, and the hun comes later, according to Tu Wei-Ming.
Lateral-thinking proponent Edward de Bono has assigned po to signal a mind’s provocation for creativity or new designs. Po also means hypothesis, suppose, possible, and poetry.
Moreover, po is universally known as the chemical symbol for polonium. Encyclopedias consider po the first radioactive element to be isolated in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie that marked the beginning of the atomic age. Po isotopes now are utilize as alpha-particle source and as a heat source for generating electricity of space satellites. Scientists note that po’s emitted radiation energy is so great that even minute samples ionize the surrounding air, causing it to glow. We can see that both global and local usage of po, from the metaphysical to physical sciences, spirit is apparent.
Pre-Spanish Bikol has no definitive word for spirit. (Espiritu is Spanish.) Present day Bikol-English dictionaries still delineate spirit with soul, as kalag is soul as well as spirit or ghost. This coincides with Leonardo Mercado’s supposition that spirit is mostly implied in Philippine philosophy. The nearest to modern Bikol concept of spirit remains related to the supernatural beings with supernatural powers— gods/goddesses, the enchanted souls/spirits/creatures like holy persons or saints, engkantos (enchanted souls), taong-lipod or tagolipnan (unseen soul/human), or kapri (giant-like human). Spirit may also refer to unseen elementals or phantasmagorical creatures such as the yasao, or dwende (dwarf) and anananggal (flying witch) who likewise possess magical powers as told in myths. Many modern thinkers and scientists interpret spirit as related to the "divine energy permeating the universe".
Indeed po connotes many Bikol to universal values in myriad interpretations. Today’s use of po acknowledges the revered "essence" within each creature or creation which can lead the Filipino to realize its wholeness' potentialities. One Bikolian thinks po is the only Bikol word composed of two letters with one syllable that is complete on its own. Po is certainly an ordinary and a value-laden Bikol word that cannot be devolved.