Saturday, August 27, 2016

Parsing Cebuano

“TOKHANG o toksil?”

Freshly minted from the jargon of politics and media, these two words show how extrajudicial killing (EJK) has come a long way.

The “Philippine Law Journal” carries an article discussing the dispute over the definition of EJK. Should the term refer only to state-sponsored acts? What about the killing and enforced disappearances carried out by others besides the police and the military?

But it is these two words in Cebuano that measure how EJK has traversed from a technicality to reality, from Marcos to Duterte, from the vigilantism in Davao to the culture of impunity threatening to take over the country.

“Tokhang” is a contraction and fusion of two words. In Cebuano, “toktok” means to knock; “hangyo” is to plead.

National media translate these words into “katok” and “pakiusap”. However, there is no catchy equivalent for “Tokhang” in Filipino, primarily because it is the official name of the Duterte administration’s anti-illegal drugs campaign, also known as the “War on Drugs”.

According to a MindaNews article, Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald de la Rosa first “hatched” Oplan Tokhang when he was the police director of Davao from 2011 to 2013.

Countless Oplans have been hatched and passed without catching the public’s attention. Even Oplan Sagittarius is obscured in the infamy surrounding Martial Law.

Why would “tokhang” pass so fluidly and seamlessly from officialspeak to plain speech? Is it because the bodies of users, pushers, couriers, and other drug suspects have spilled from news photographs and footages into our streets and backyards?

Is it because the sweep of Duterte’s War on Drugs deprives the poor of their life and the right to clear their names, the very same class that ironically turns up in many presidential speeches and promises for change?

Or because “tokhang,” like social cancer, comes with an even more vile twin: “toksil”? According to the same June 3 MindaNews article, De la Rosa already foresaw the pincer strategy behind Tokhang before he implemented the nationwide campaign on June 30.

“We (knock and) appeal to you to stop. If you do not stop, we will stop you.”

It was not unexpected then to overhear during a Vhire ride two women, who were chatting in Filipino, fluidly switch to the Cebuano words when discussing the fate of a missing neighbor.

They speculated that if their neighbor did not listen to the knock-and-appeal “tokhang,” his fate had surely been decided by “toksil” (meaning knock-and-shoot; “pusil” in Cebuano means to fire a gun).

Porous and malleable, language is vulnerable, specially when barbarians are waiting outside the gates. Catching sight of my dragonfly pendant, Professor Lilia Tio, my colleague at the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu, taught me its Cebuano name: “alindanaw”. An award-winning writer, Lily teaches Cebuano writing and Sugbuanon literature.

More than grammatical usage, Lily instills an appreciation of the beauty and expressiveness of Cebuano. She pointed out the “alindanaw” is often mistaken for “alindahaw,” meaning a drizzle.

From Justiniana Catubig Tagayong, my yaya, I learned the uncommon Cebuano names for common garden creatures: “anunugba” (moth), “kaba-kaba” (butterfly), and “higop-higop” (small yellow butterfly).

My wish is for other Filipinos to discover there is more to Cebuano than tokhang and toksil.

( 09173226131)

* First published in the August 28, 2016 issue of Sun.Star Cebu’s Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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