TRANSLATING DIGONG: How not to be blackmailed when ‘translating’ Digong

(Presented in the forum/conversation, “Translating Digong: A Forum on the Public Persona of President Rodrigo E. Duterte”, CHSS-AVR, UP Mindanao, 19 September 2016, Sponsored by Department of Humanities/UP Mindanao, AdMU Press. Permission to reprint granted to MindaNews) 

Visualized/Heard/Textualized Digong

To put it directly (and to present it below, by way of a sampler), most ‘translations’ of Digong at present are so under-constrained by good, old-fashioned ethnography and careful handling of texts. What is demanded of us now is that we go beyond impressionistic, YouTube scholarship, and do careful transcribing, counting, annotating, and theorizing of Digong, before rushing to ‘translate’ him.

The ‘visualized’ and ‘heard’ Digong (Fig. 1)—with the sound bites, the distinctive accent, and the attention-grabbing manner of delivery—need careful transcription. It is perhaps the academe that should remind the present bulk of commentaries (and ‘translations’) on Digong—especially on the ‘killings’—that, ultimately, we need good handling of our data, a good historical and ethnographic grasp, and, to quote a favorite line from one philosopher, to not be blackmailed by the shouts, ‘hey, we need action now, blood is already flowing!’ As if it is already a closed matter that if blood is dripping all around, then it is Digong that is to be blamed.

Figure 1. Screen-shot of YouTube (https://goo.gl/aZKUWe)

Figure 1. Screen-shot of YouTube (https://goo.gl/aZKUWe)

 

Transcribing Digong

 

Let us take one video clip from YouTube, transcribe it, and read it. Below is a segment of this one transcript-sample. The discussion happened on August 21, 2016, and involved a journalist from the UK and President Duterte. This is what we read:

{7.136}[1] Jonathan Miller (JM): At the risk of being shot down, {10.054} the numbers of people who have been killed in the streets of the Philippines since you came to power six weeks ago have risen to around a thousand… {36.548} … the social fabric of the Philippines is at risk here.
{41.359-2:56.000} [Rodrigo Duterte (RD) gave a brief description of the state of drug problem and the problems of law enforcement and the justice system in the country]
{2:57.325} JM: … you as a lawyer knew better than any of us how important this principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’…
{3:54.537} RD: [After discussing the magnitude of the drug problem] How do you call it? Just a problem? It’s just a police problem? Or is it really a crisis for this country? {4:10.511} So what am I supposed to do as a president? Empower the military and the police for after all they are there to protect the integrity and preserve the people of the Philippines.
{4:26.700} JM: At the risk of gun-law, sir.
{4:28.687} RD: It can happen… {4:32.359} It happens in America. They’re shooting the blacks there… {4:38.129} What’s the difference between America and the Philippines? Nothing! {4:42.724} So what is “surprising” here [for you] is surprising to us… {4:56.915} So would it surprise you and me? Almost the same. One case only, three cases here. So what? It involves the same principle. So for every one black there dead, you have about five here. And so? Does it make the world more livable because there is less killing there? When you shoot a black there, dead, what is that, is that not appalling? …
Source: https://goo.gl/aZKUWe {Pres. Duterte answers a Question from a UK Reporter on the number of People being Killed Aug 21 2016} [Video clip length: 6m:46.518s]

Counting Digong (Making Simplified Translation)

Even in this very short sampler, one sees a simple pattern of dialogue between ‘Risk’ and ‘Surprise’ (Fig. 2). Note the word-counts[1] even in this 219-word excerpt: 4: Philippines, Problem/s; 3: Risk, Surprising/Surprise; 2: People, Drug, Principle, America, One, Black, Dead.

In this short exchange, the first segment (in yellow)—by its indicative repetition of ‘risk’ (especially in relation to the ‘number of killings’ and ‘risk of being killed’—can be compressed-translated as: “What is going on, all this weighty state of risk (in your country at present)!” And the second segment (in green)—by its repetition of ‘surprise’: labelling the query of the journalist as a form of ‘surprise’ and then being ‘surprised by that (form of) surprise’—can be simplified as: “Where is that surprise coming from? Why are you only surprised by this here and not there (in the West)?”

myfel2

 

Annotating Digong (Making Amplified Translation)

People viewing that YouTube segment are also spontaneously translating and annotating Digong:

Figure 3. Screeen-shot of comments (taken 19 September 2016) L
Figure 3. Screeen-shot of comments (taken 19 September 2016) L

At present (Fig. 3), the top comment actually picked one of the frequent lexicon (‘surprise’) in its densest line (three times in one or two sentences), and opened his comment: “I don’t know what is surprising.”

But by and large, the top 600-word comments (Fig. 4), from various participants, focused on the act of questioning by the journalist. That his question was a hidden critique and should be condemned (and most media critics of Digong received drug-money); or that his question was fair.

myfelrevised

Here is our annotated and expanded reading:

{7.136} Jonathan Miller (JM): At the risk of being shot down, {10.054} the numbers [THE NUMBERS] of people who have been killed in the streets of the Philippines since you came to power six weeks ago have risen to around a thousand… {36.548} … the social fabric of the Philippines is at risk here.
{41.359-2:56.000} [Rodrigo Duterte (RD) gave a brief description of the state of drug problem and the problems of law enforcement and the justice system in the country]
{2:57.325} JM: … you as a lawyer knew better than any of us how important this principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’…
{3:54.537} RD: [After discussing the magnitude of the drug problem] How do you call it? [WHAT IS THE NAME OF THE PROBLEM] Just a problem? It’s just a police problem? Or is it really a crisis for this country? {4:10.511} So what am I supposed to do as a president? [WHAT AM I TO DO?] Empower the military and the police for after all they are there to protect the integrity and preserve the people of the Philippines. [MOBILIZE STATE MACHINERY]
{4:26.700} JM: At the risk of gun-law, sir. [GUN-LAW]
{4:28.687} RD: It can happen… [GUN-LAW IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE IN ANY STATE] {4:32.359} It happens in America. They’re shooting the blacks there… {4:38.129} What’s the difference between America and the Philippines? Nothing! {4:42.724} So what is “surprising” here [for you] is surprising to us… {4:56.915} So would it surprise you and me? [SO WHAT IS THE SOURCE OF YOUR SURPRISE? THE NUMBERS OF THOSE KILLED?] Almost the same. One case only, three cases here. So what? It involves the same principle. So for every one black there dead, you have about five here. And so? Does it make the world more livable because there is less killing there? [WHAT MAKES A WORLD MORE LIVABLE?] When you shoot a black there, dead, what is that, is that not appalling? …

Miller is strongly concerned with numbers: this is how he framed his question, with the attendant evaluation that the very “social fabric” of Philippine society is at risk. But Digong challenges this framing with his own evaluation of the magnitude of the drug “crisis”, thus the necessity of mobilizing and maximizing state machinery. Miller counters that there is the risk of “gun-law” taking over, but Digong retorts that gun-law is possible in any state – even in America (which asserts its role as global peacekeeper and human rights protector).

Digong’s argument is actually quite compelling: in America, African-Americans are being shot dead while unarmed and without due cause by police. In terms, therefore, of mere occurrence of the ‘killings’ as such, outside any contexts, there is therefore no difference between the Philippines and the US, even as talk is going around that Obama/US was to intervene in some way in events in our country. Digong then directs two important questions to Miller, though he might as well address these to all those who have been closely monitoring his presidency. First, what then is the source of the surprise? The numbers? As if one person killed is more acceptable than five? Second, and related to this, what then makes this world more liveable? Are we to simply center here the numerical difference in killings in one place compared to another?

Ultimately, good annotation needs good ethnography: What are the themes that preoccupy Digong, like when he talked with lobby groups he is more or less sympathetic with?

It seems to us that political themes, and life-attitudes, that appear to interest Digong, as given in/for the ‘national media’, should be placed side-by-side with themes he talked about in, for example, dialogues and meetings with civil-society/peoples’ organization lobby groups. Like in the last 2015 boardroom meeting with Digong by lumad advocates, on the occasion of Haran bakwit, that we participated. We were able to record the whole more-than-an-hour midnight-to-early-morning dialogue with the then mayor of the city. Digong’s (broad-scaled) media public persona seems to differ a lot from his conference/forum-scaled yet equally-public persona. These are priming points for an ethnography on Digong.

So, yes, analysis of a ‘persona’ vis-à-vis the media is certainly a domain where scale matters. But then, again, there is really a need to shift the focus of our concern from the individualized Digong to the ‘Digong’ that is opening new possibilities (to the ‘Digong-to-come’, if one likes post-fashionable languaging) in struggling for nationalist/anti-imperialist visions in this violently hopeful 21st century.

Theorizing Digong

Of course we should translate and translations are risky, and intellectuals might even give ‘epistemological’ posture to that term ‘risk’. But deconstructionist old news from the 80s and 90s no longer look very exciting, especially after—to mention one name—Alain Badiou, in his Logics of Worlds, placed ‘ontological questions’ (like the status of language and languaging) in the domain of mathematics.

To theorize ‘Digong’ (his acts and his words)—and especially if one connects ‘Digong’ directly with ‘killing’ and ‘violence’—demands that we go all the way and ask again the good old-fashioned Leninist questions? ‘What is a state?’ ‘What is state violence and what is revolutionary violence?’ ‘What is the relationship of guns to laws?

And then, specific to Digong’s case, and more importantly: How can Digong translate his popular votes into substantive socio-economic reforms? How can Digong transcend his present reliance on the traditional state machinery (military, police, guns, laws, prison cells—not to mention the tricky ‘paramilitaries’) to relying more on the mechanism and process of a “revolutionary people’s movement”, the popular mobilization of organized masses, communities and individuals, however imperfect and flawed, in implementing authentic change? What ‘more livable world’ is possible to construct once an ‘inclusive government of unity’ is in place if the present peace process between GRP and NDF will succeed.

And perhaps beyond Digong: what free latitude of community and individual experimentation for more livable designs/modes of production—other than this tired Kapital—will explode—yes, with all the necessary forms of ‘divine violence’—if the authentic surge of people’s political enthusiasm is given all the energies needed?

So lastly, theorizing ‘violence’—the perceived/observed eruption of violence in Digong’s time—perhaps also demands, for the academe, a careful reflection of the Walter Benjaminian type:

Those who base a condemnation of all violent killing of one person by another on the           commandment are therefore mistaken. It exists not as a criterion of judgment but as guideline for the actions of persons or communities who have to wrestle with it in solitude and, in exceptional cases, to take on the responsibility of ignoring it. (Walter Benjamin, Critique of Violence)

Is Digong one of those Benjaminian solitary-divine-wrestlers who ‘in exceptional cases, take the responsibility of ignoring the commandment on killing’?

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Prof. Myfel Joseph Paluga is the Vice-President of Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center, a community- based IP Learning Center in Davao del Norte. He graduated cum laude in Mindanao State University where he studied Bachelor of Arts Major in History, and took his master’s degree in Anthropology in UP Diliman. Prof. Myfel has been a significant contributor in print and online journals. Later this year, he will be writing “Mapping Sago: Biocultural, anthropological, and socio- economic dimensions” to be published in Banwa Monograph Series 1. He is currently working as an associate professor and a faculty member of the Department of Social Sciences in UP Mindanao. Prof. Andrea Malaya Ragragio is a UP Mindanao professor of anthropology, author of the book, Archaeology and Emerging Kabikolan, and a member of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers. She finished her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, cum laude, and secured her Master’s degree in Archaeology at UP Diliman)

[1] The free program Audacity was used to track audio segments and their running time-references.

[2] The Python program of Ramon Guillermo (given in the annex of his book Translation and Revolution) was used for generating the word-counts of each word-type.