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Emerging the Bisaya…

I grew up in Kidapawan City (before it even became a city) in North Cotabato in Mindanao. And there, although we were not told that being Bisaya (or even just speaking Visayan languages and dialects) is not bad, per se, there were “steps” taken to discourage us from using our language/s (and/or dialects).

In school, for instance, we were taught Tagalog (which eventually became “Filipino” under Cory Aquino) and English languages, with no option to learn any of the other more-than-100 languages in the country. Back in the days, in all the schools I attended, when we were heard speaking Bisaya, we were “punished” – e.g. clean the classroom for the day, or (literally) pay up a few pesos per spoken Bisaya word.

In the “larger” world, we didn’t have to be told to our faces how Bisaya (the language) was deemed; or for that matter, how Bisaya people were perceived. We just had to look at representations of us – e.g. katabang (househelper) in films, sidekicks who couldn’t verbalize their thoughts, people with “gahi ug dila (literally: hard tongues)” and who couldn’t properly enunciate Tagalog (much more English) words (and therefore “deserved” being laughed at), and so on. Our “regional defects” – as I was told by (in my last count) 22 Metro Manila-based activists – were the sources of ridicule, of laughter, of derision…

And so for the longest time, our concept of “stepping up”, or of being “better” was to deny our Bisaya-ness. Even Visayans have a contemptuous saying among each other: “Visayan na ka, Bisaya pa ka. Kaulaw uy (You’re already a Visayan, and you’re acting like a Bisaya. Shameful)!”

We’ve internalized the hatred so much we created a hierarchy – i.e. those who are more “disente (decent)” and who (can) mimic those from Metro Manila versus those who are “Bisaya” because they fail to do so…

A Davao City-based friend who abhors Rodrigo Duterte summed this for me, when he said before Duterte became president: “Wala siya’y himuon sa Malacanan; magpakaulaw lang, Bisaya jud (He won’t do anything in Malacanan, he’ll just shame us. As expected from a Bisaya)!”

These things came back to me a few days ago, when I encountered some Metro Manila-based “enlightened” people who actually had the gall to defend their mockery of Duterte via his way of talking.

Let me be upfront here: Many people (including myself) do not always see eye to eye re (all of) Duerte’s policies. In a democracy, we actually don’t have to; we actually shouldn’t.

But it’s worth noting that there are actually a number of people who think that the best way to “hurt” Duterte is to disparage his “matigas na dila (hard tongue).” Duterte, one of them said to me, can’t even speak “proper Filipino AND English”, thus “all the misunderstandings” about his policies. Then to stress the point, Duterte’s way of saying “obosen” (as used, meaning to ‘finish off’’, which gained traction to refer to the extermination of drug pushers/users) was returned to me, complete NOT just with a laugh (Ah, the derision!) but also with this blind justification that “Seriously, we’re not ridiculing his way of talking!”.

This is a blinder, I’d say, that is continuing to divide us – i.e. “them” versus “us”.

Prior to his election as prexy, I remember seeing one of Duterte’s Bisaya speeches in Cebu, where he actually had a statement re not listening to mainstream (Filipino and English) media because he just gives them what they want. But that “now we talk as Bisaya to Bisaya”, and then he started droning on about his plans… in Bisaya. That he nurtured regionalism is a given; he was, after all, sold then as the “would-be first President from Mindanao” because “no President came from Mindanao yet.” But that this so-called Duterteism was coming shouldn’t be surprising…

What every person who attacks Duterte by (just) ridiculing his way of speaking is failing to see is that if the focus is only on his “otherness” because he is “Bisaya”, then no persuading to be more critical of Duterte’s policies will ever happen (no matter where one stands politically, i.e. in support or in opposition of Duterte).

Again, this blinder has got to go.

I know of Metro Manila-based activists who “go to the provinces (i.e. outside Metro Manila) to lead the people there.” The locals “need leadership,” I was told. I confronted a friend once about the notion of imposition, and her solution was to just edit me out (in their social circles, and their lives).

I know of “national” organizations that have “chapters” for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, and then another one “just for Metro Manila because… well, we’re the capital”.

I know of donor agencies that only fund Metro Manila-based giant NGOs, which then “serve” the “less fortunate” based outside Metro Manila. That these funds aren’t given to the local NGOs is, in itself, something that needs to be criticized; but that some “success stories” of these Metro Manila-based NGOs that I have seen presented in international gatherings include all-expense-paid “meetings” in Boracay and parties galore in exclusive clubs in Metro Manila are beyond unnerving, considering that the people supposed to be served continue to suffer…

LGBT-specific, I have had the misfortune of repeatedly encountering a Metro Manila-based LGBT activist (who is funded by an American organization) who repeatedly said that “there is no ‘Imperial Manila’.” It is wrong to think that “everything that’s everything starts in Metro Manila; and everyone who’s everyone ought to be here”, this activist said, because “it fails to take into consideration that there are already numerous efforts outside Metro Manila.” That the person is exclusively based in Metro Manila may be taken to negate this activist’s own argument. But that this person fails to see that THERE IS “imperial Manila” is beyond disturbing, particularly considering this person’s privileged position/role in advancing LGBT human rights in the country, speaking (as it were) from Metro Manila for the entire Filipino LGBT community …

The reclamation of “Bisayang dako (big Bisaya/big Visayan/proud Bisaya)” is (finally) happening. Credit or not Duterte, I really don’t care; but it’s just good it’s finally happening.

Because beyond all the noise generated by media (old and new forms) that are almost always Metro Manila-headquartered, there’s a REAL “Bisaya” world out there. It does not necessarily mean Visayan (or coming from the Visayas); but it’s a world full of those deemed to be “baduy (those deemed to be without class)”, “katabang”, those who are discontented, those who can’t properly pronounce Filipino (much more English) words, those not “disente” enough, those who continue to be slighted because they’re different, those who can no longer put up with shit…

The exasperation is real.

Acknowledge it.

We’ve a long, long way to go yet. But for now, let this be one small step. A step that’s needed because, really, the Bisaya just won’t (and ought not to) be silenced anymore…

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