Cebuano Left Language: precision and the reinvention of texts

***I found this while rummaging through my email. I wrote this as an undergraduate paper (around 2000) for a class in anthropological linguistics.

ResearchBlogging.orgTranslation is the process of making a text intelligible to a defined reading audience. Mario Pei (1965) argues that technical problems are involved in translation, including among others, how to capture certain nuances in the original language absent in the language used in translation (e.g., slangs and colloquialisms, deceptive cognates, idiomatic expressions, and untranslatable words). This led Pei to suggest that problems in connection with translation are infinite. With the onset of more recent theorizing, the problems related to translation indeed have become more complex. Translation is not simply the rendering of a text from one language to another but is also a process whereby contestation takes place. The act of translating necessitates a recognition that what is being translated is “foreign” and this process undergoes articulation, manipulation, and reinvention of the text in the local culture.

Resil Mojares (1990:75) posits that power relations are also involved in the translation process. Since language is a contested space, the translated texts reflect how these are manipulated and reinvented to suit specific domains. This was shown in many studies on colonial as well as contemporary literature where the text of the dominated are “redone” to fit the tastes of the dominant and/or the dominant’s texts are interpreted into the vernacular to strengthen its ideological hegemony—thereby, tightening the grip on the masses’ consciousness. The recognition that language is an arena of struggle presupposes that it is both dynamic and fluid. bell hooks (1995:299) illustrated how the American Blacks reinterpreted and transformed the “oppressor’s language.” The black vernacular speech “enables resistance to white supremacy” and “forges a space for alternative cultural production and alternative epistemologies—different ways of thinking and knowing that were crucial to creating a counterhegemonic worldview.” Furthermore, Sengupta (1995:159) notes that the role of culture and history need to be emphasized in the study of translated texts since this highlights “the intersecting networks and the manipulations behind a given positioning: of the translator, her or his culture, and the text/culture being translated.”

For Mojares (1990:80), there are distinct meanings of translation in the Cebuano context. He pointed out the following types: a) translation as the act of proposing or imposing, b) translation as the act of quarrying: of appropriating texts, taking them apart, mining them for what is “usable,” c) translation as the act of transferring: of simply recycling, ‘remaindering’ texts from one language to another, and d) translation as the act of hubad. Mojares (1990) notes that the act of hubad “involved not only the act of baring…but, more important, the notion of its consequence, of the beholder or listener becoming knowledge-filled, his learning increased.”

In this context, this paper explores the translation experience of a particular group in Cebuano society. I proceed by examining the translation experience of the mainstream Cebuano Left. For this paper’s purposes, I will attempt to look into their translation experience–more specifically on the localization of some aspects of the national Left ideology.  I believe the translation here presents a tension between national identity construction and local cultural identity.

The Context

The Nationalist Democratic (ND) movement is a Maoist inspired revolutionary movement. Back in the 1960s, the fledgling Cebuano ND movement started out as a conglomeration of youth organizations campaigning for democratic reforms under the Marcos regime. In 1968, four years after its founding congress in Manila, Kabataang Makabayan-Cebu (KM-Cebu) was born. KM-Cebu spread across the major schools in the city, notably University of San Carlos, University of San Jose Recoletos, Cebu Institute of Technology, and the University of the Visayas—and accordingly, membership rose to the thousands.

These youth activists “exerted efforts to plunge themselves into masswork among the workers, like those in foundry shops, and among the peasants,” aside from the usual organizing work among the students and teachers in various educational institutions. According to Kagawasan (1995:4), the underground publication of KM-Cebu: “…during and after the First Quarter Storm of 1970 streamed forth cadres for the different fields of revolutionary work but mainly for building the guerilla fronts in Visayas and Mindanao. From the ranks of the youth emerged warriors, leaders, and servants of the revolutionary movement of the peasants and workers and the armed struggle.”

In the early 1990s, the “movement” suffered serious challenges from within. This was after the Executive Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines declared a thorough-going “rectification of its past errors” and a “reaffirmation of its basic founding principles.” Armando Liwanag, CPP Chairperson, reasoned out that a rectification campaign is necessary since this would root out the ideological problem of “revisionism,” viewed as the source of the movement’s political and organizational setbacks (e.g., Kampanyang Ahos, a Party-initiated bloody anti-DPA campaign which murdered persons who are suspected as government agents). Revisionism, Liwanag points out, is an ideological disease brought into the Party by petty-bourgeois influences. Nilo de la Cruz (2000:1) however retorted: “Instead of resolving new problems brought about by the all-rounded development of the struggle in the 80’s, it was adjudged erroneous. As if wanting to turn back the hands of time, the CPP leadership prescribed a return to the strategy blueprint laid down in 1968. It was as if the movement, the party and society had gone into suspended animation and never made any progress.”

Thus, the Philippine Left was polarized between two camps—those who saw the necessity of the ND movement’s campaign to weed out “ideological misfits” (the “RAs” or the “Reaffirmists”) and those who rejected this as merely “sweeping statements” (the “RJs” or the “Rejectionists”). These differences culminated in the splitting of its own ranks—leading to the formation of eight other leftist formations. In the Visayas, Luis Jalandoni (1993) reported that “Victor del Mar, former head of the Visayas Commission, was able to get the former Negros regional committee to declare “autonomy” in October 1993.” Victor del Mar later on founded the Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA), which has now an existing peace agreement with the national government.

Although the split is largely a national phenomenon, this has had an impact on how the Cebuano Left imagines its position now vis-à-vis the “RJs” and the pre-1992 (especially the 1980s) days. This newly reconstructed identity is manifested both in the everyday language of the RAs and in official Party declarations. Integral to this new identity is the experience of cathartic moments—in this case, the Rectification Movement of 1992, which reorients and redirects the Left’s praxis through a new lens. Furthermore, a comparison of the pre-1992 and post-1992 slogans would reveal significant differences in terms of how the Cebuano Left defines itself across time.

Constructing Pagsimang and Pagtul-id

How is the pre-1992 days represented? Post-rectification activists tend to see the pre-1992 days, especially the late 1980s, as a period where ideological disorientation abounds. In common activist lingo, the period is called as pagsimang. The root word of pagsimang is simang, freely translated as a deviation from a defined path. Simang, on the other hand, is the antonym of tul-id. Pagtul-id (to straighten, but freely translated also as to rectify) thus is the antithesis of pagsimang. Thus, rectification movement is translated into Cebuano as kalihukang (“movement for”) pagtul-id (“rectification”).

It is worthwhile to note that the 1992 rectification campaign, officially termed in Party documents as the Second Great Rectification Movement, is rendered into Cebuano in two ways: Ikaduhang Malangkubong Kalihukang Pagtul-id and later on as Ikaduhang Bantugang Kalihukang Pagtul-id. In Cebuano, the highlighted words (malangkubon and bantugan) are entirely different words, but in this case both words indicate the word “great.” Malangkubon (literally translated, as “all-encompassing” or “all-rounded”) fits the ND movement’s vision of thoroughly rooting out the “disorientation” in all spheres of revolutionary activity while bantugan approximates the notion of “greatness”. Strictly speaking however, bantugan in popular Cebuano suggests notions of popularity and notoriety.

Pagtul-id is central to the identity construction of the Cebuano leftist. It is characterized as a positive and therefore desirable (i.e., bantugan) goal as well as a systematic and painstaking (i.e., malangkubon) effort of eliminating “destructive” ideological influences brought about by the following factors: a) “residual” concepts and practice adopted from the period of disorientation, b) ideological influence of bourgeois society in general, and c) the individual’s “class origin” (rendered into Cebuano as hut-ong gigikanan).

Since the setbacks of the pre-1992 period are essentially rooted in ideology, pagtul-id is situated within the individual. The adage, Ang pinakatraydor nga kaaway dili ang kaaway sa hut-ong kundili ang kaaway sulod sa imong kaugalingon” (i.e., The most treacherous adversary is not our class enemy but the “enemy” residing within the individual), illustrates the point. Thus, the individual is also a site of contestation (i.e., panagbangi sa duha ka linya—“two-line struggle”). As such, she/he has to undertake a “remolding process” in order to cast away “bourgeois influences” and assume a “proletarian standpoint, viewpoint, and methods of work.” Those who rejected the rectification movement (the “RJs”) are labeled as unrepentant petty-bourgeoisie, as “mga kauban sa una nga wala magremolde/magtul-id” (i.e., former comrades who refused to undergo the remolding/rectification process), or as mga nadunot nga mga kauban (“ideologically-decadent” comrades).

The concept of “two-line struggle” (panagbangi sa duha ka linya) is important in clarifying the concept of pagsimang and pagtul-id. This is basically an extension of the Maoist idea of the “law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites…” (Mao Tse Tung, 1965: 311). The Cebuano Left sees contradiction as universal and ultimately expressed in the individual’s moda sa panghuna-huna (individual’s world outlook). Consequently, the individual in the context of pagtul-id needs to maintain constant vigilance and strive that the tukma nga linya/tul-id (correct line/”straight”) will prevail over the sayop nga linya/simang (wrong line/deviation). It is not entirely surprising that the Cebuano Left uses tul-id and simang as organizing metaphors in their discourse. These are moral signifiers quite similar to what religious movements use and are embodied in the day to day practice of their followers.

Revolutionary Precision?

The mainstream Cebu ND puts a premium on precision in translating the content of the revolutionary message. Like what the Iloko revolutionaries did , the Cebuano NDs also incorporated (in Leftist parlance, “revolutionized”) and introduced terms formerly confined within English and Tagalog texts. For example, “criticism-and-self-criticism” (CSC) is rendered into Cebuano as pagsaway-ug-pagsaway sa kaugalingon (PPK) or “dialectical materialism” into dayalektikong materyalismo.

Moreover, the concern for “revolutionary precision” leads to the subsumption of certain words within the framework of pagsimang and pagtul-id. Leftist words have distinct meanings and are used in order to realize the Left’s objective of “precision in content.” This is consistent with the Left’s goal of maintaining ideological correctness to veer its direction away from any ideological deviation epitomized in the series of setbacks in the pagsimang period.

However, “revolutionary precision” runs counter to its avowed goals of initiating social awakening (i.e., “arousing the masses”) because it leads to the formation of jargons, not quite understood by outsiders. William D. Lutz (1987:54) remarked: “Jargon can serve an important and useful function. Within a group, jargon allows members of the group to communicate with each other clearly, efficiently, and quickly. Indeed, it is a mark of membership in the group to be able to use and understand the group’s jargon…” In effect, while it effectively transmits “precise” message among Left activists—the problem then is when such message is communicated to the public. For example, personalities from the Left use jargons often. The use of the word imperyalismo (i.e., imperialism) is a jargon that is commonly thrown around and yet incomprehensively discussed. Worse, some speakers shorten imperyalismo into impe, adding on to the problem of communication.

Rally Slogans: National Identity and Local Comprehensibility

One of the characteristics of the rallies is the shouting of slogans while marching through the streets of Cebu. Most of the time, an ajit tim (agitation teams) hails from the ranks of the student youths and the “urban poor.” They are tasked to lead the shouting of the agitation slogans so as to conjure an atmosphere of protest and to break the monotony of marching.

Slogans are usually “borrowed” from the rallyists’ Manila counterparts. While participating in these protest rallies, I always wondered whether ordinary pedestrians understood the message, especially that Tagalog, in Cebuano popular culture, generally symbolizes Manila arrogance . For example, majority of the slogans are in Tagalog while those that are in Cebuano are but translations of Tagalog slogans. Thus, in a rally, it is fairly safe to say that 80%-90% of the slogans are “borrowed” from Manila counterparts. Perhaps this mirrors the general disparity between Manila and the rest of the regions (and thus reflected also in Left language). Alternatively, this may also suggest the desire for continuity among all Leftists in the Philippines.

The Philippine Left needs to generate a national identity necessary for waging a revolution in a culturally diverse and archipelagic country. Without such identity, the revolution would be limited to sporadic regional uprisings aimed at particular ruling families—and not at the “class enemy” of the Maoist imagination. This fits into what Berger and Luckman (1966:40) notes: “…language is capable of transcending the reality of everyday life altogether. It can refer to experiences pertaining to finite provinces of meaning, and it can span discrete spheres of reality…They are “located” in one reality, but “refer” to another.” The Cebuano Left activists therefore, though situated within Cebuano society, aspire for a national identity that may be alien to the “Cebuano” but crucial to achieving revolutionary success on a national scale.

The mainstream Left’s efforts on the need for a national identity can be gleaned in their policy on language. In the booklet Program for the People’s Democratic Revolution (PPDR), section three (3) of the specific program for the cultural field instructs ND activists to “propagate the national language as the principal medium of instruction and communication.” Furthermore, it added that the “national language…shall be given revolutionary content and relate the revolutionary struggles of workers, peasants, soldiers, and other participants of the revolution.” Here, the national language that is to be developed is the same language that the Philippine government is instituting: a Tagalog-based national language—Filipino.

While it is true that the Cebuano Left actively participates in the national identity construction (through various nonverbal means, such as the spread of Left symbols and signs—e.g., rallies, flags, placards, organizational names, etc.), the content and, to some degree, the form is imagined at the national level. In the case of major rallies for example, most of these are nationally coordinated, with the national offices articulating the analysis. The local Left, on the other hand, situates national plans and particularizes these to suit the local context.

Reinventing Rally Chants

Since pagsimang is considered as primarily a negative experience, the post-rectification activists strive to dissociate themselves from it. This is expressed in how slogans are reinvented to show and reinforce pagtul-id and the elimination of slogans associated with simang.

To illustrate, the Bayan Ko chant below (pre-1992 version) is recreated to “fit” within the confines of pagtul-id. The post-1992 version retains almost the entire slogan except for the last line. Post-1992 activists reconfigured the last line into Sa protesta ng bayan, i.e., through the people’s protest, instead of “through the people’s war” to convey a message that the mass movement in the cities is legal and democratic in character. Mouthing “insurrectionary” slogans is inappropriate in the time of “reaffirming” the tenets of “protracted people’s war.” It is common to hear activists saying that these should not be expressed unless it can be discussed extensively. Caution is exercised vis-à-vis topics of revolutionary warfare lest the public might misconstrue rallies as illegal or activities of the “NPAs.” In the context of rallies where awareness raising is sinilhig—hasty and sweeping, words pertaining to armed struggle should thus be avoided. Furthermore, any verbal association with urban-based partisan warfare is deleted and the legality of the protest movement in the cities is asserted.

Whenever certain individuals do mouth slogans considered as incendiary, these behaviors are seen as mga lama sa pagsimang—stains of the period of disorientation—or as a sign of petty bourgeois infantilism.

Slogan 1. Pre-1992 Bayan Ko slogan

Bayan, bayan, bayan ko To my people,
Di pa tapos ang laban mo The fight isn’t over yet
Rebolusyon ni Bonifacio Bonifacio’s revolution
Isulong mo, isulong mo Need to surge forward

Aklas ng Bayan The people’s protest
Isa lang ang kasagutan Calls for an ultimate solution:
Kapag pumula ang silangan When the East is red
Malapit na ang kalayaan Freedom is near,
Kalayaang makakamtan Freedom that will be realized
Sa digmaan ng bayan Through the people’s war

Another case of deletion is the total elimination of the Tubag sa Kalisdanan slogan in all rallies. The “ratatatatratatatatboomboom” at the end of the slogan mimics the staccato of gunfire, indicating armed warfare. This slogan is seen as a product of a petty-bourgeois mindset: impetuous and adventurous yet cowardly in the face of actual face-to-face combat.

The onset of pagtul-id necessitates precision in the mouthing of slogans: simang is associated with armed urban insurrection while tul-id denotes ideas of the protractedness of launching a people’s war.

Slogan 2. Pre-1992 slogan, Tubag sa Kalisdanan

Tubag, tubag, tubag Solution (3x)
Sa kalisdanan To the people’s hardship
Ratatatatratatatboomboomboom Ratatatatratatatatboomboomboom

Slogan 3 however is a different case. While the previous slogans illustrate how ideological and military matters are transmitted into the vocabulary of the slogans, slogan 3 signifies pagtul-id’s “correct” attitude. The cussword in the last line of the slogan is deleted and changed into mga walanghiya! (i.e., persons without shame) instead of putangina (i.e., a whore mother). Though walanghiya basically still is a cussword, it does, to the activist’s mind, capture the “shamelessness” of the neocolonial state’s “puppetry.” In contrast, “putangina” is viewed as dekadente (i.e., decadent)—a characteristic purportedly of the lumpen proletariat—and is not “politically correct” since it tends to denigrate women.

Slogan 3. Pre-1992 Marcos-Aquino slogan

Marcos, Aquino walang pinag-iba Marcos and Aquino are not that different at all
Parehong tuta ng mga Kano Both are puppets of the Americans
Utang ng Utang They keep on procuring loans (from the IMF-WB)
Mga putang-ina! Their mothers are whores!

Rally slogans are central features of any mass mobilization. The slogans change according to how the identity at the present moment is envisaged. For the Cebuano Left, pagsimang and pagtul-id are situated in time. These are conceptual paradigms that differentiate temporal sequences. When one relates a negative experience before 1992, the narrator would say panahon sa pagsimang. Accordingly, the temporality of these concepts is also reflected in how the slogans are reinvented—with pagsimang and pagtul-id as the points of reference.


This paper is in itself an act of translation. This attempts to make a complex and multi-faceted group understandable through an analysis of the Left’s everyday language and rally slogans. It shows how language reflects the varying contexts of the time. The symbols in the language have meaning in themselves and the meaning sets norms of appropriate behavior that reconfigures the mind as well as the body.

Another issue is the tension between national identity and the quest for local intelligibility. The desire for a national identity led to the diminution of local intelligibility—not only because the language used is “foreign” but also because the “indigenized foreign” also has defined “provinces of meaning” (Berger and Luckman, 1966:40). These “provinces of meaning,” in the case of the Left, seem to be exclusively meaningful to people who share the same identity. The locals, whom the Cebuano Left is hoping to organize, are likely to have restricted access to the meaning of the Left’s vast vocabulary. The concern for precision of the translation of the revolutionary message (exemplified in the need for pagtul-id) failed to take into account that one cannot entirely capture the nuances of a foreign text; in a revolution where success lies on popular support, the locals should be considered as active discursive participants and not as passive receptacles of the Left’s symbols.

Yet the relative growth of the Left since the rectification of 1992 poses a theoretical challenge to the hypothesis. If people have restricted access to the Left’s “provinces of meaning,” then what’s the cause of this growing acceptance? Could we further hypothesize then that there are other reasons for political action besides accessibility/inaccessibility to the meaning of Left language? Are there nonverbal cues, or perhaps noncognitive cues, that may transmit meaning as well? What constitutes discourse in the dialogue between the Left and the masa? Or consequently, what is it with the structures in Philippine society that moves people to Leftist political action?

References Cited:

1. Berger, Peter L. and Luckman, Thomas. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Anchor Books, Doubleday. 1966.

2. hooks, bell. “this is the oppressor’s language/yet I need it to talk to you”: Language, a place of struggle,” in Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts. Eds. A. Dingwaney and C. Maier. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press. 1995: 295-301.

3. Lutz, William D. Language, Appearance, and Reality: Doublespeak in 1984 in Annual Editions: Anthropology 00/01. Ed. Elvio Angeloni. Dushkin/McGraw-Hill, Guilford, CT. 2000:54-59.

4. Mao Tse Tung. “On Contradiction,” in Selected Works of Mao Tse Tung. Vol. 1. Peking: People’s Publishing House. 1966:311-347

5. Mojares, Resil. From Cebuano/To Cebuano: The Politics of Literary Translation in Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. 18(1990):75-81.

6. Pei, Mario. The Story of Language. Revised ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1965.

7. Sengupta, Mahasweta. “Translation as Manipulation: The Power of Images and the Images of Power,” in Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts. Eds. A Dingwaney and C. Maier. Pittsburg, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press. 1995:159-179.

Mojares, Resil (1990). From Cebuano/To Cebuano: The Politics of Literary Translation Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society


1. Communist Party of the Philippines. Program for a People’s Democratic Revolution. 1971.
2. Nilo de la Cruz. Where Does the Real Problem Lie. 4 April 2000
3. Grasp the revolutionary tradition of the Kabataang Makabayan in Kagawasan. Kabataang Makabayan-Cebu. 1995
4. Jalandoni, Luis. Rectification Movement Strikes Deep Roots, Grows with Clear Direction in Kalayaan. 1993:4-6.


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