When President Duterte in his July 2, 2019 Sona said he cannot send the Coast Guard to drive the Chinese away from the West Philippine Sea because China also claims the property and it is “in possession,” a lot of flak went his way.
Admission that China was “in possession” gave an edge to China as claimant to the territory. The Philippines has made a similar claim to the area but it is not “in possession” and China is, the President in effect said.
Duterte just mispronounced the word, Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana said, instead of “position,” the President said “possession.”
The plea was that Duterte uttered the English word “position” but it came out instead as “possession.”
Now, it’s about his use of Tagalog words. Last Tuesday, Sept. 17, speaking before a group of newly appointed government officials in Malacañang, the President, according to news reports, said, “Loot, p***ng ina mo, nanalo pa ng barangay, mayor. Inambos kita, animal ka, buhay pa rin.”
Duterte was referring to retired police general and former Daanbantayan mayor Vicente Loot who, with his family, was ambushed last May 2018 at the Daanbantayan wharf.
Loot, among five PNP officials tagged by Duterte as “narco-generals,” was not hit but four others were injured.
Loot has been a fugitive since then ‘Kita,’ ‘ka na’ Salvador Panelo, the President’s spokesman, spun an explanation the following day. What Duterte meant to say was, “Inambos ka na, buhay pa rin.” Instead of “ka na,” Duterte said “kita,” Panelo said.
From mispronunciation of an English word
(“possession” instead of “position”) to wrong use of Tagalog (“kita” instead of “ka na”). In both cases what is blamed is the deficient skill of the Bisaya.
Explanation of the Sona gaffe was less convincing than the clarification to the purported owning of the ambush on Loot.
In the context of what he fully said, Duterte meant “possession.” It required a tortuous, convoluted reasoning to claim that he meant “position.”
Besides, to the Cebuano tongue, “possession” was easier to pronounce than “position.”
The Bisaya card
It must sadden Visayans that that the stereotyping of Bisaya folk as poor English or Tagalog speakers because of the heavy accent is being used to explain the alleged “failure to communicate.”
Is it failure of speech or misstep in governance?
When it must be condemned—for the same reason we scorn the bad jokes made on TV or film about the way Bisaya house workers are being ridiculed on speech habit—it is apparently being exploited to cover up an error in policy-making or a sin in the conduct of public officials.
There are ways to avoid being misunderstood:
 Speak more plainly. Put important policy in writing, which requires some thought, particularly on sensitive issues.
 Label a joke as a joke when it concerns a serious issue. Mixing humor with discussion of policy can confuse and mislead.
Those, and brushing up with one’s English or Tagalog. In case of doubt, speak Cebuano-Bisaya.
Loss in translation can be a better defense than mispronouncing a foreign tongue. (firstname.lastname@example.org)