Seares: 'Gahi'g ulo; bogo': Cebuanos know description of character from swear word

News Sense

"MAO na nga kamong mga taga-Cebuano, ayaw lang mo'g kasuko nako ha? Mas maayo nang mag-prangka ta... Gahi mo'g ulo eh." -- President Duterte, at IATF-MEID meeting in Manila, June 22

"Kanang mga istorya-istorya nga unsa man nang mga binuang diha, natubag na nako, very clear, loud and clear. If they do not understand, kay tungod kay bogo silang tanan... di sila kasabot... og dili sila kasabot, ug tawo nga kasabot nga nagpa-wawa kasabot, wa na ko'y mabuhat ana diha." -- OPAV chief Michael Dino, at press-con in Cebu City with five Cabinet secretaries who are members of IATF, June 23

Both words -- "gahi'g ulo" (hard-headed) and "bogo" (stupid) -- are surely not flattering to Cebuanos. They highlight defect or flaw in character.

Both are stereotyping as they lump people or a group of individuals among the people under a rigid and harsh category. President Rodrigo Duterte described the entire Cebuano tribe stubborn, not in a good way because the trait or characteristic is blamed for the rise in Covid-19 cases "at an alarming level." OPAV Dino called dumb all critics of his moves in the campaign to contain the coronavirus in Cebu.

Which is harsher

Duterte's attack on the Cebuano character was harsher as it was actual description of character and wider in range, like a shotgun blast at all Cebuanos. None of the typical Cebuano commentator's escape clause in an attack, like "Kining mga abusadong polis, gawas sa mga tarong..." or "Mga higal nga pari, way labot ang mga buotan..."

In contrast, Dino's assault was in the form of a swear or cuss word. Look it up: "bogo" is in all lists of bad words in Cebuano-Bisaya. It is among the words one uses not actually to describe the person attacked, more to express anger, such as "yawa, peste, demonyo, gi-ahak, b***t or k***t". In the heat of venting or just a favorite expression, even among leaders who are expected to be more prudent in their language. And Dino's firing was limited at those who questioned his part in managing the health crisis. Even in the blanket word "all," Dino allowed for those who are not stupid and yet played dumb.

Echica, Osmena defense

Should Cebuanos be offended?

They shouldn't be if the charge is true. As Seminario de San Carlos dean Fr. Ramon Echica notes, Cebuanos have their share of stubborn persons but it is not like a distinct group or tribal characteristic.

There are no hard data to support the view of the president. At most it is anecdotal: impressions of outsiders from what they hear, maybe Cebuanos themselves. The spate of jokes that the presidential comment set off includes one about Cebuanos being "hard-tongued" too.

A politician, former mayor Tomas OsmeƱa, used the occasion to defend Cebuano but also take a swipe at the person, Mayor Edgardo Labella, who evicted him last election: the lack of discipline "may have been caused by lack of focus of the current administration."

The good part of it

"Gahi'g ulo" insults us but it also illumines a character that also could be helpful, such as speaking out to truth, protesting abuse or injustice, complaining against an impractical or irrational rule.

Being hard-headed under the current circumstances, however, is not appreciated by leaders who see the stubbornness as obstacle to their strategy.

But being called hard-headed is not as painful as being called stupid -- unless OPAV Dino was just swearing or cussing and not actually describing the state of mind of his critics.

To put context in his statement, one newspaper quoted his statement in full; another paper and a news website quoted directly the relevant controversial portion -- including the line "bogo silang tanan" -- and indirectly the statement that preceded it.

Not on same level

Expectedly, not everyone responded quietly or violently. Each had his way to react, depending upon how one felt he or she was affected by the "scathing remark."

But one may not place Dino's remark on the same level as Duterte's.

The President expected how some Cebuanos would take his comment. Thus, he profusely prefaced that they don't get angry with him. Plus the unsaid fact that in lumping all Cebuanos as stubborn, he also included himself, unless he had severed ethnic ties since the last election.

Dino, on the other hand, might not have seen what was coming as he limited his strafing to his critics and he was merely cussing.

Future assessment

But even now, one wouldn't be sure how the public reacted. We don't have real-time opinion surveys. Sniping on social media could not yet gauge actual public response; not adequate and prone to manipulation. We didn't know the long-lasting adverse effect of such remarks as "Magbuot mo?" (said by a governor) and "Mag-puasa mo" (said by a senator) until they were rebuffed in the elections.

A lot would depend on how Cebu would finally end up in the struggle over the pandemic. Less dispassionate assessments in the future could give a clear picture of how local leaders have performed, badly or well.

"Gahi'g ulo" and "bogo" could turn out to be just memorable words and phrases that spiced the conversation during the health crisis.


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