As I have written before, there is a real difference between the way the President speaks in private and the way he responds to the presence of a microphone in public. In private, he is courteous, thoughtful, funny; in public, he is a bullshit artist.
There is an attempt to portray his, ah, candor on the public stage as characteristically Bisaya, as though everyone who spoke the language or who grew up in that culture were foul-mouthed, irrational, quick to give and even quicker to take offense. This is not true — and it hurts me, a proud son of Mindanao and indeed a distant member of the large Roa clan, to even have to belabor the obvious.
But it is possible to evaluate the President’s rhetorical posture, and his rhetoric, from the perspective of, or using terms familiar to, the Bisaya.
Luoy. Many parts of his second State of the Nation Address were astonishing for being unprecedented and unpresidential, but one passage led many to gasp audibly: when he said this was probably the last time he would deliver the Sona. Was this, as some of his critics hoped, an intimation of imminent mortality? I don’t think so. Rather, this was in keeping with an old trope that the President uses again and again, that the presidency is lonely, that he regrets running for office, that he would gladly leave it all behind. This is the pity effect — certainly not peculiar to Bisaya culture, but a rhetorical device the President uses to disarm resistance or to deflect criticism from an all-too-forgiving audience.
(I still have to study the matter closely, but this pity effect may be related to something I’ve noticed recently; some of his supporters, whether high official or ordinary voter, have taken to describing the President as being bullied by the media — an extraordinary claim, with absolutely no basis in reality. Unless, of course, mere opinions like mine are enough to counter the massive powers the President has at his command.)
Bugal-bugal. It is now possible to understand Mr. Duterte’s answer to the question about defending Philippine sovereignty in the South China Sea, asked during the last presidential debate last year, as “bugal-bugal,” an act of braggadocio. Riding to the disputed part of the Spratlys in a jet ski would have been a logistical feat at the best of times, with someone half the candidate’s age, but it certainly made for a vivid, arresting image: It is the perfect example of “big talk,” which again is not peculiar to the Bisaya but as bugal-bugal is a category of description Bisaya-speaking people would readily understand. It is the kind of grand statement, like declaring his “separation” from the United States, that satisfies rhetoric but not reality.
Bugoy. The President’s public persona has always been that of the tough guy (and there are those who support him who say all this talk about killing is just that, talk, designed to put the fear of God in criminals — and perhaps we can now add “destabilizers”). But the man who takes pride in having graduated from college and passed the bar by the barest skin of his teeth, and in having his class valedictorians now work for him, seems to be coming to the conclusion that his way is the only way, because it landed him in Malacañang. Again, this “bugoy” personality is not peculiar to the Bisaya; if there is a difference, it is that lovable rogues seem to be larger than life in the history of Mindanao.
Pataka. Even if we can set aside the President’s rough language, his sexism, or his hostility toward critics (a very big if), there is one aspect to his presidency that bodes ill for our democratic project: It is his confabulations — thinking that the Philippines is in danger of being ejected from the United Nations, rejecting aid from the United Kingdom that wasn’t even offered, asserting that the Marawi conflict started from a drug bust, and so on. This is ominous, not only because he lashes out at perceived enemies based on mistaken information, but also because our democratic project is a republic and (borrowing from Montesquieu) based on virtue. As I have written before, the morality involved here is public morality (not private); it includes relying on our leaders to tell the truth. “Pataka” is Bisaya for baseless talk.
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand
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