Duterte Joke? The Meanings Are Different in the English Context Compared to the Bisayan Context

Topic |  

Duterte Joke? The Meanings Are Different in the English Context Compared to the Bisayan Context

Topic |  


When I started teaching Sugboanon Bisaya in 1998, I have always worried that using only English in school and neglecting our mother language will soon create a controversial and contentious situation.

Now we have example of the supposed “rape joke” of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.  Those who use the English language pattern say that it is a “rape joke”.  Those who use the Sugboanon language pattern, including Mayor Duterte, say that it was not a joke.

The Bohol Chronicle and its radio station DYRD made a survey.  The result indicates that 60% say that it was a “rape joke” and 40% say that it was not.


It means that after more than 100 years of “English only” in school (since 1902), 60% of the Boholanos have brains wired into the English language.

Function of Language

Every language has its own structure and grammar.  This grammar will influence your thinking process and therewith it will influence your culture because culture is best expressed in a person’s mother language.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the grammatical rules of English and Bisayan (including Tagalog) are different and most of the time they are opposite.  These differences have the tendency to produce confusion in the mental process.


There are many differences between English and Binisaya.  The important ones related to our discussion are “Difference in language classification”, “Difference in psychology”, and “Difference in tense”.


English is an inflectional language.  It relies so much on the verb.  The inflection or conjugation of the verb can give you the tense, number, case, etc.


Binisayâ is an agglutinative language.   It relies so much on the affixes such as “gikaón = was eaten”, “mokáon = will eat”, “kinán-an = manner of eating; leftover”, etc. At present I have already identified 4,270 affixes in Binisayâ (Up from the previous 4,260).

The psychology of the English language indicates that the meaning is to be found only in the sentence and nowhere else.  In Binisayâ, the meaning is to be found in the intention or idea of the speaker or hearer.  The words used in the Bisayan sentence are just the means to obtain or understand the intention.  A proper selection from the 4,270 affixes can give a definite intention.  In the base word “dáwat = receive; accept”, I have made 593 variation with definite meanings including “nagpakamadinawatdawaton”, which incidentally is very difficult to translate into English.

English uses tenses while Binisayâ uses aspect of time.  The English tenses are past, present, and future.  Binisayâ has an aorist tense or indeterminate tense.  You were never taught the aorist tense because it does not exist in English.


“Tambok si Pedro” has an aorist tense or indeterminate tense because there is no verb in the statement.  Without a verb, the English cannot identify the tense.  When translated, the English gives the present tense as “Pedro is fat.”  It is not correct because the original Binisayâ has no tense.

Answering the Intention


In English, the answer to a question must be in the context of the one giving the question.  In Binisayâ the answer will be in the context of the one answering the question.  The responder will search for the intention of the question and answer the idea or intention.

Example: “Doy, hain imong Tatáy, = Lad, where is your Daddy?”.  Answer: “Gadáro.  = Plowing”.  In the English context you will say that the answer is wrong because it did not answer the “where”.  In Binisayâ it is correct because the intention of looking for “Daddy” is answered.  The ideas that you are our neighbor, you can plow only in the farm, and you know where our farm is, are already taken into consideration and the answer is one word “Gadaro”.


Consider the statements “Nakáon ang pan” and “Gikaón ang pan”.  These are both “The bread was eaten” in English.  However, in Binisaya there is a difference.  “Nakáon” is unintional while “Gikaón” is intentional.  The Binisaya can distinguish between the two statements while the English cannot.

The Supposed Joke

Mayor Duterte grew up in the Sugboanon Bisaya regions. His brain is wired according to the Sugboanon Bisayâ language like many of us.  However, due to the situation we are sometimes forced to use Tagalog or English words in a Sugboanon language grammar.

In 1989 there was a riot at the Davao Penal Colony.  The prisoners captured a female Australian missionary, raped her and killed her.

I have seen in television the tape of the incident.  The Mayor said in awkward Tagalog, “Sayang, maganda pa na man. Dapat mauna ang Mayor, Patayin silang lahat.”  Then there was laughter from some of the spectators.

The journalists and those in social media that only know the English language context harp on the mistaken concept that it was a “sick rape joke”.  They will quote only the “maganda pa na man.  Dapat mauna ang Mayor”.  They are correct in there interpretation using the English context.  But how about the statement “Patayin silang lahat = Kill them all.”  It is necessary to consider it in the whole context of the situation.

However, everything was spoken in the mother language or Bisayan context and it must be analyzed as such and not in English context.

Cultural Context

In our culture we reserve the best for the honored guest, priest, mayor, governor, etc. when we expect their visit.

There is a story about a priest who visited a house during a fiesta.  When the priest arrived the landlord or host said “Isugba ang atáy sa Parì. = Broil the liver of the priest.”  The priest who only knew the English grammar of looking for the meaning in the words of the sentence was terrified.  In the Bisayan context of looking for the intention, the meaning was “Broil the pig liver that is reserved for the priest”.  The priest was the honored guest.

In the Bisayan cultural context, Mayor Duterte was speaking in mixed metaphors.  He was reminding his audience that the prisoners were really uncivilized.  They did not know the proper etiquette of offering the best to the Mayor; and of course if the Australian missionary was presented to the Mayor, then for sure she would have been saved.

It can be discerned from the last statement “Patayin silang lahat. = Kill them all”.  This statement would elicit laughter from those with the Bisayan context brain.  How could you kill the prisoners when they are already dead?


When viewed in the Bisayan context, Mayor Duterte is correct that he was not making a joke about rape.  However, the journalists in Manila and foreign ambassadors never know that there is another context aside from the English context they know.

It is as if Mayor Duterte is saying that I am playing volleyball and volleyball rules should be used and 40% can still relate to him.  However, English-trained journalists say that you (Duterte) are playing basketball and must use basketball rules.  There are already 60% of the populations that follow this concept.


Mayor Duterte is running for President.  The 40% percent who can still relate to his mother language-based thinking are solidly supporting him.  The other 60% that can no longer relate to his way of thinking will be shared by the other 4 presidential candidates.  In the Filipino “crab mentality” the others are trying to pull Duterte down.

I just hope that the present situation of the supposed “rape joke” will make us realize that we ought to also study properly our mother language.

By cultural immersion, Duterte’s thinking process is Binisayâ.  He never studied Binisayâ and could not explain why he thinks the way he does.  Even if he can explain, the others could not understand because they never know that English grammatical rules can not be applied to Binisayâ.

A good example is the “aorist tense” in Binisayâ.  From Kindergarten to Post Graduate School you will not be taught the “aorist tense” because it is not found in English.  However, it is very common in Binisayâ. (By Jes B. Tirol)

One Comment

  1. Jose Ruel B. Alampayan Jose Ruel B. Alampayan April 25, 2016

    Salamat kaajo sa imong hataas nga panabot mahitungod sa atong pinulongan nga binisaya sir!
    Nia po’y ahoa. Ang usa ka tigtupisa buhok naproblema unsaon pag-imbitar sa usa ka puti nga langyaw nga nagpatupi sa buhok tungod kay pista man sa Tagbilaran adtong panahona kanus-a nagpatupi sa buhok ang maong langyaw. Ang siya miingon, “Sir, after cutting your head I will eat you.” Pirti intaw’ng hadloka sa puti nga langyaw tungod kay wa man sija kasubot sa tumong sa tigtupi sa buhok. Ang buot diay unta nga ipasabot sa barbero mao kini, “Noy inig human ug putol sa imong buhok pakan-on taka.” Sakto ka sir dako ang kalainan sa pagsabot kon tibuok imong iningleson, angay sabton pod ang kinatibuk-an sa estorya.

    Jose Ruel

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