A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Looking Forward to 2020 and Beyond, Puhon!

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 31 December) — Puhon:  one of those words whose full meaning  can only be understood within the context of being part of a specific ethnolingustic community. For this word to be understood fully, one must be part of a community whose mother tongue is Cebuano-Bisaya, an Austronesian language  spoken in the southern Philippines, namely in Central Visayas, western parts of Eastern Visayas, some parts of Palawan, among migrant households of Metro Manila and most of Mindanao.

There could be a close translation of this word – puhon – in other Philippine local languages but it does not translate easily to English. As far as can be ascertained there is no exact English word for it.  Closest translation would be “to hope for something in the future that can be hoped for” (but nuanced with invoking God’s benevolence). Thus, one could come up with this example of a sentence:  Sa sunod tuig puhon, wala nay mo-abot nga kasamok o katalagman dinhi sa atong dapit! (Next year hopefully, there will no longer be outbreaks of war and disaster occurrence in our place.). The interlocutor can then answer by repeating the word – Puhon! And older folks usually would add: Sa kaluoy sa Dios! (With God’s mercy!).

In my younger years, when I blurted out my wish in the coming days or year without adding the word puhon, the older person with whom I would have this conversation would spontaneously say the word – Puhon!  And both would assume that the wish could only be granted through heaven’s intervention.  A synonym in Cebuano-Bisaya is hinaut pa (to be hoped for), but puhon has a deeper meaning.

It might no longer be possible to trace when this word arose and became part of the  Cebuano-Bisaya lexicon.  For sure it is not a loan word from the Spanish or American colonial languages like Kumusta or Hello!  One assumes the word already was used in the pre-conquest period by our indigenous ancestors.  And it would not be a far-fetched idea because our ancestors were in close communion with the spirit world.  In their everyday lives, gods and spirits surrounded them and had to be invoked either to seek favors or to ward off misfortunes. Some words would therefore be used in a way to recognize this close inter-connection between the spirit and the human words.  One thinks of Inshallah (if Allah wills),  commonly spoken by our Muslim brothers and sisters when they express a wish for something. Or the Tagalog term – harinawa usually translated as –  May God make it so or May God help. Integrated into this word are the three letters awa: mercy.

In the few hours leading to the unfolding of a new year – as 2019 gives way to 2020 – puhon figures prominently. As a new year – which is also a new decade – begins, many of us hope for the best that are yet to come. In the country today, we do wish that there will be less disasters that will create havoc on our lives.

In the past decade we experienced some of the worst natural calamities to strike the Republic – from Sendong to Pablo to Yolanda. In southern Mindanao, a series of strong earthquakes shook not just buildings but people’s faith in the structures that have been  built – cathedrals, condominiums, malls, public markets and government edifices. In Manila, water and galunggong have become scarce or expensive commodities. In various parts of the country, health issues like the dengue and polio struck fear in parents’ hearts unsure if the State’s health in-charge know what they are prescribing as the right medicine. Monstrous traffic conditions are now not only confined in Metro Manila, but have become as bad in most big cities from Baguio to Davao, Cebu to Cagayan de Oro. And the President himself – so sure that he could solve the drug problem in the six months after his inauguration – confessed to the nation that he is not winning the drug war. And bad news for him and those behind the EJKs and Leila de Lima’s detention: they could no longer enter the U.S.A.

So we wish that in 2020 and the next decade:

  • More among us Pinoys will be enticed to be ecological warriors and do our share in combating climate change and be engaged in actions from small everyday actions (e.g. stop using one-time use of plastics, recycle your waste, etc.) to joining advocacies (continue opposing mining operations and the construction of more coal-fired power plants and dams). If global warning has connections to the occurrence of natural calamities, we can then hope that there will be less disasters taking place.
  • Be more courageous in opposing the State’s disregard for human rights and taking a non-aggressive stance against China’s encroaching into our territory in the West Philippine Sea. Continue to oppose extrajudicial killings (EJKs) and propose more humane response to the needs of those with drug addiction. Be vigilant in participating in the public sphere and express our critical opinions in the way that the State has failed in curbing corruption within the bureaucracy and the ineptness of its institutions that continue to frustrate the citizen’s expectations (eg. the PCGG’s failure to win any of the cases against the Marcoses).
  • Support media’s fight to hold on to their constitutional right to defend truth and be engaged in the kind of investigative journalism that can only strengthen the body politic. Oppose fake news and help to expose their perpetuators.
  • In the coming elections, pursue what took place in the last one when some political dynasties and celebrities who have no right to run for office were rejected by the electorate. Still many of them are in place and would run again, thus the need for more action to banish more of them from elective positions.
  • There are a few more, but this essay is getting too long. I end with one and this is for those of us belonging to the Roman Catholic Church. For 2020, the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines (CBCP) has declared this as the Year of Inter-Religious Dialogue, Indigenous People and Ecumenism.  If we are true to the intent of this year’s theme, we should do more to dialogue with other religions (especially the Muslims here in Mindanao), cultures (especially the Lumad) and with other Christians. And in 2021, we will commemorate the 500thyear anniversary of the arrival of Christianity to this part of the planet. We should attempt to avoid expensive and triumphalistic celebrations devoid of relevance as to how our Christian faith could truly become a force for social-ecological transformation.  Instead, truly take on the spirit of the biblical Jubilee as we seek forgiveness and healing and atone for past transgressions through acts of justice and mercy.

These are my wishes for the coming year and the coming decade. Sometimes, when there seems to be no reason to hope that these will come to pass – considering the sad realities that confront us in this Republic – a moment arises that reverses the pessimistic mood. And one of these moments is when a trusted friend comes along and starts blurting out her wishes for the future and one spontaneously responds by saying – puhon!

Happy New Year everyone. And yes, hinaut unta nga matuman ang tanan ninyong gipangandoy aning moabot nga tuig ug dekada (may all your wish for the coming year and decade be fulfilled). Puhon!