Fight back against ‘bakak’ | Inquirer Opinion

Fight back against ‘bakak’

/ 09:06 AM April 09, 2019

I am a journalist. I have a habit of asking questions, of being skeptical when met with official pieties. The question I most want to ask you today is: What does it mean to graduate from school at a time like this — in an age of disinformation, in an era where Filipino values are being twisted out of shape, at a time when the culture and language of the Bisaya, our culture and language, are used to justify serious sins and grievous crimes?

Is it painful for you, too, as it is for me, to hear Bisaya culture and especially the Bisaya language used to justify foul words, filthy speech, uncivil discourse, illiberal tendencies, murderous thoughts, even blasphemy?


We should not take this abuse of our culture, these assaults on our language, sitting down.

We must fight back against “bakak.” We did not earn our education by being “bakakon.” From our earliest years, we were taught, at home and in school, at prayer time and in the playground and on the playing field, that honesty is the best policy. How would it be possible to master a discipline, to accumulate new knowledge, to transact business, if we cannot trust the people we deal with, and especially those who hold power over us, because they are dishonest, because they lie?


We must demand more than just “pataka.” We did not reach this stage in life through incompetence, through made-up, shoot-from-the-hip rationalizations. We are educated people; we have helped build highways in the Middle East, staff nursing stations in the United States, perform surgery in Singapore, run entire corporations in Asia. We can do better than merely offer “lama-lama.”

We must sound the call on “bugalbugal.” We are a virtuous and heroic people, not a race of braggarts, not a culture of loudmouth know-it-alls who in our braggadocio encourage cruelty, acts of outrage, even violence.

Unfortunately, at this stage in our history, Bisaya is associated with bakak, pataka, bugalbugal.

“Our languages,” the great Mindanaoan Jesuit Fr. Miguel Bernad once said, “have a beauty and dignity of their own.” He gave a simple example. He had asked a cousin of his, who was the governor of a low-income province at the time, where he managed to find the money for the province’s many public works projects. The answer was short and sweet and wise, like a proverb.

“Dunay daghang sapi, kung dili usikan.”

“There is plenty of money if you don’t waste it”: It sounds good in English, but not quite as good in Binisaya. “Notice the words, the beauty, the musicality,” Father Bernad said. “Dunay daghang sapi, kung dili usikan.”

The truth is, Binisaya, or Cebuano or Sugbuanon, is as capable of depth and nuance and humor and emotion as any other language; it is not the language of the brusque and the barbaric, the casually cruel and the pathological. It has a beauty and dignity of its own.


The scholarship of Resil Mojares, now a National Artist, includes in its generous scope his studies on Cebuano or Bisayan literature. For instance, his essay on the Cebuano poet Vicente Ranudo teaches us how to read a poem, or “balak,” in Cebuano. A “balak” is both intention (the literal meaning of the word) and the expression of that intention. He quotes Ranudo’s own theorizing: “ang hunahuna nagauna sa buhat ug maoy nagahatag gahum aron ang buhat mahimo. Kong walay hunahuna, walay buhat.”

Mojares’ translation reinforces our sense that Ranudo is a nimble, resourceful thinker in his, in our, native tongue: “Thought precedes work and gives the power that makes the deed possible. Without thought there is no work.”

Even Rizal, in his exile in Dapitan, learned to speak, and appreciate, our native language.

In July 1894, two years after he was banished, he wrote his great friend Ferdinand Blumentritt a letter in four languages: German, English, French and Spanish. The English section, quite rusty because of Rizal’s lack of practice, included this paragraph:

“This Gewalttätigkeit [outrage] exerced [maybe he meant coerced or exerted] upon me gave me a new language, the Bisaya; taught me how to steer a vessel and to manage a canoe; made me better acquainted with my country and presented me with some thousands of dollars! God can send you your fortune amidst the persecutions of your fiends! How do you find my English?”

Other letters spoke of his discoveries about the grammar of Bisaya. He found it a language eminently worthy of study and of greater use. I wonder what Rizal would have made of Ranudo’s subtle thought, expressed in that nuanced phrasing. “Kong walay hunahuna, walay buhat.”

* * *

Excerpts from the commencement speech I read in Southern Philippines College, in Cagayan de Oro City, yesterday.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]

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TAGS: bakak, bakakon, fake news, honesty, John Nery, Newsstand, Visayan languages
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