‘Di ko ma-ulaw nga Bisaya ko’
I’m not ashamed that I am a Bisaya.
“Bisaya”: the collective name of the people inhabiting, since prehistory what is today 10 regions of the Philippines which is composed of 44 provinces from north to south (beginning with southern Luzon; Bicolano is part of the Bisaya family), and from east to west (Palawan’s native language Cuyonon). The Bisaya homeland is the country’s largest ethnolinguistic distribution. The linguist David Zorc established the Austronesian subfamily known as Bisaya and identified the languages under it as one continuum. Dating back to 30,000 BC, Bisaya settlements were among the Philippine groups that absorbed a mixture of Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic syncretism because of its primordial rank in Maritime East Southeast Asia during the Srivijayan and Majapahit empires from the 12th to the 14th centuries.
Today I write this piece in dedication to my fellow Bisaya, imploring their status as a people of esteemed dignity.
The first federal state ever established in our history was the Federal State of the Visayas on Dec. 12, 1898. This was based in Iloilo. Among the revolution’s leaders against Spain and America were Graciano Lopez Jaena, Martin Delgado and Juan Araneta of Iloilo; Leon Kilat and Arcadio Maxilom of Cebu; Francisco Castillo and Candido Iban of Aklan; Daniel Toribio Sison of Surigao; Apolinar Velez of Misamis; Aniceto Lacson and Diego de la Viña of Negros; Esteban Contreras, Alejandro Balgos and Santiago Bellosillo of Capiz; Leandro Locsin Fullon of Antique. What Manila has accustomed us to read is not even half of the full collective memory of our country.
Revolting against Spain, the Bisaya established cantonal districts in Bohol, Romblon, Negros and Panay. These cantons were patterned after the Swiss confederacy which has its own tax collection and army. They declared fealty to Luzon only after having been prevailed upon by Apolinario Mabini who assured them that the Malolos Constitution was provisional, promising power to the Visayas and Mindanao so they would coratify it.
We have had four Bisaya presidents, three vice presidents, six chief justices. The martyr Pedro Calungsod, the second Filipino to be canonized saint of the Catholic Church, was a Bisaya. Our last Miss Universe, Pia Wurtzbach, is a Bisaya from Mindanao.
In prehistory, the Bisaya had flourishing literary traditions, narratives and theater. Annotating Antonio de Morga, the national hero Jose Rizal noted one of the first known native poets, the Bisaya named Karyapa.
Cinéphiles distinctly remember the critically acclaimed film “Oro, Plata, Mata” directed by Peque Gallaga, the award-winning Bisaya director of Bacolod. On Christmas, we sing “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit,” forgetting that Levi Celerio only translated that from the Binisaya Cebuano original “Kasadya ning Takna-a.”
The Bisaya has given our treasury of arts and culture two national artists, the sculptor Napoleon Abueva of Bohol and the “poet of space” Leandro Locsin of Negros. It was to a part of the Bisaya homeland, Davao, that the National Artist modernist painter Victorio Edades repaired during his golden years.
Binisaya Cebuano, the language of the country’s largest native-speaking population, was taught formally in universities just recently, starting in 2012 (imagine the pedagogic delay). The language was the first of Philippine languages documented by Italian explorer Antonio Pigafetta in the Magellan expedition of 1521.
I protest that my ethnolinguistic culture is being used as a security blanket (a protective measure for emotional security), a safety net (a “play it safe” from adverse effects that may occur), or a shock absorber (taking the brunt of the blame for another). Yes, we are not illiterate when it comes to idioms of the King’s language. Precisely, neither are we inept at Tagalog, the language of our Austronesian kin of the north.
To the Bisaya who disparage themselves as “not perfect” as the Tagalogs, the scholar Jojo Abinales of Cornell University, proudly calling himself Bisdak (for Bisayang Dako which loosely translated in English means a “Genuine Bisaya” or a “Bisaya to the core”), dissents:
“Ayaw intawon paka-ulawi ang mga Bisaya! Ayaw mi intawon i-apil sa imong kabuang! Pangayo na og pasaylo sa mga peryodista.” (Please don’t shame the Bisaya. Please don’t include us in your idiocy. Ask for forgiveness from the journalists.)