Tell it to SunStar: Cebuano vs. Tagalog

REMEMBER when many folks cheered when Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency in 2016, declaring it was time Visayans took over from “Imperial Manila”? Indeed, some have claimed that Cebuano is spoken more widely than Tagalog (or Pilipino) throughout the country. Of the over 15 major dialects (or languages) in the country, it’s a toss-up if Cebuano or Tagalog is in the majority, especially since large swathes of folks in Mindanao, besides in the Visayas, are Cebuano speakers.

Lately, when Covid-19 numbers escalated alarmingly in Cebu, making it the pandemic’s “epicenter” (a term first expressed on social media by a Cebuana artist who was picked up and kept in the police station overnight), the authorities apparently decided to strike fear in people’s hearts by sending in the military. First, the President tarred Cebuanos with a big brush of being “gahi’g ulo” (hard-headed) for ignoring stay-in rules in the city. Not just that, a group of men were caught holding a cockfight.

Special Action Force (SAF) troops were assigned to Cebu City to maintain discipline among the populace. However, few thought of asking if most of the troops spoke the local language. Everyone seemed to think the entire nation speaks Tagalog (because students study Pilipino in school and most folks avidly follow Tagalog soap operas on TV).

Most presumed that, since the 1987 Constitution mandated Tagalog be the national language, every Juan and Maria of all ages would be fluent in it.

Not long after the SAF started to patrol around Cebu, complaints were heard about the troopers’ heavy-handed treatment of the locals. One involved the arrest of a senior citizen, a female stroke survivor, being made to walk five kilometers under the hot sun for allegedly carrying a fake quarantine pass. It’s unclear if this happened because the woman could not comprehend what the soldiers were saying.

To his credit, Police Regional Office 7 Director Brig. Gen. Albert Ignatius Ferro chastised the troopers involved, but some suggest he should penalize the soldiers who only speak Tagalog to take a crash course in Cebuano.

Perhaps this should have been done before the men were shipped over. But proper planning has never been our government’s strong suit, so as a wiseacre has said, better late than later!


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