‘Nanlabán, patay’ | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face

‘Nanlabán, patay’

/ 12:34 AM September 15, 2016

As soon as you switch on the television to watch the news in Filipino, the word you hear again and again and again is “patay” (dead). The word comes as different parts of speech (noun, verb, etc.) and in different tenses and conjugations-pinatay, pinapatay, pumatay, pumapatay, napatay. Drug-related, of course.

The other word of the season is “nanlabán” (fought back). Filipino grammarians should be able to explain why “lumaban” (also translated as “fought back”) is not as precise as nanlabán (accent on the last syllable, pronounced mabilis). If a diacritical mark (tuldik) were to be used, it would have a pahilis on the last syllable-thusnanlabán. (Remember malumay, malumi/paiwà, mabilis/pahilís and maragsa/pakupyâ in Balarila class.)


Nanlabán does not seem to have an exact equivalent in other Filipino languages and dialects. What they have is the simple equivalent of lumaban (pronounced malumay). In Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, it is nagbatò.

Nanlabán, if at all it was meant to sound more onomatopoeic than lumaban, means to fight back, and fight back with defiance. The mabilis/pahilís sound gives it a defiant streak.


But Balarila aside, the word patay that should evoke solemn thoughts and feelings—for the dead that deserve respect no matter what they were before their souls left their bodies—now has a criminal connotation. That is, in the news.

The word patay that is being used nowadays especially in news reports, means “corpses”—lifeless bodies and cadavers strewn about on sidewalks, grassy fields, dark alleys, even inside homes and hovels. Some died while allegedly shooting back at their pursuers (nanlabán), others were summarily killed, their corpses wrapped in garbage bags, fastened with packing tape and completed with a warning scrawled on a piece of cardboard: “Pusher, huwag tularan.”

Didn’t PNP Chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa say something about allowing the pursued to fight back? “Kung ayaw lumaban, palabanin.”  If the pursued does not fight back, make him fight back. Defiance justifies a bullet.

I used to get irritated when, with aplomb, newscasters would shout out loud the day’s headlines and (with imaginary drums rolling) exclaim: “PAT-AY!” As in “Batang nasagasaan ng tren, PAT-AY!” As if it were a cause for rejoicing.

I’m not saying they should sound elegiac, but even with the volume lowered you can tell by the look on the newscasters’ faces and the tautness on their necks that they are shouting. Now there is really no need for them to shout “PAT-AY!” Because “patay” is the new normal.

President Duterte’s war on drugs has drawn strong reactions here and abroad because of the rising number of corpses since he took office two-and-a-half months ago. The number has hit the 3,000 mark. No need to describe here the gruesome details, only to say that the deaths have been classified according to how the 3,000 or so met their gruesome end. Drug bust, extrajudicial, shoot-out, vigilante-style—name it. What, no suicide?

Three days ago, Inquirer Opinion ran an open letter to President Duterte from three commissioners of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/to-the-president-of-the-philippines/), Fernando Cardoso, former president of Brazil; Louise Arbour, former UN high commissioner for human rights, Canada; and Sir Richard Branson, entrepreneur, founder of the Virgin Group. The letter is now circulating on the internet.


The Global Commission on Drug Policy was established in 2010 by political leaders, cultural figures and globally influential personalities to contribute to the world debate on drug policy. It aims at bringing to the international level an informed, science-based discussion about humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs to people and societies.

The commission has 23 members, including eight former heads of state. It advocates an open international dialogue on issues related to drugs, and on the negative impact of the current international control regime on health, human rights and development. It calls on broadening the debate on drugs and drug policy beyond just drug trafficking and organized crime.

In their letter, the commissioners pointed out to the President that his strategy that had already been used in Thailand failed to reduce drug trafficking there. They pointed out the marked successes in harm and crime reduction in countries that employed alternative strategies.

“Mr. President, we believe that your current strategy also constitutes an unwinnable war, at a terrible cost to your population. It is not a question of choosing between human rights and the safety of your people, as you have claimed, but the means employed to address crime must not result in further crimes against individuals whose conduct often causes very little harm…

“An effective drug policy is far more complex than you portray it, and should include investments in drug prevention and treatment, harm reduction, public health, socioeconomic development, criminal justice reform, as well as security.

“These measures will help address the root causes of drug use and drug trafficking, and not only respect the needs and rights of all individuals, but will also be far more effective long-term than the brutal approach which you currently favor.”

With Mr. Duterte’s let-it-be stance on drug convict Mary Jane Veloso, who is on death row in Indonesia, he could not—for the life of him—suddenly be a bleeding-heart President begging Indonesian President Widodo to spare her life. Mary Jane had been found guilty of smuggling 2.6 kilograms of heroin. The Velosos who, on cue, had rudely lambasted then President Benigno Aquino III—who, to be fair, did all he could to stay Mary Jane’s hanging—are now pleading for help from the new President who counts corpses at breakfast.

No, he did not plead for her, President Duterte announced, minus the usual expletives.


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TAGS: Bato dela Rosa, drug war, drugs, extrajudicial killings, Global Commission on Drug Policy, Killings, mary jane veloso, Rodrigo Duterte
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