Studying the “Digong Phenomenon”

Studying the “Digong Phenomenon”

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The rise of President Duterte is now the subject of studies by experts trying to understand how this simple man from Davao was able to dominate the Philippine political scene

As the country waits with excitement for what President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 25, 2016 will announce, the academia, silently and far from the hustle and bustle of media, has added the “Digong Phenomenon” as one of the newest and hottest political science subjects.

This sounds unanticipated but on August 2, 2016, at the Rizal Library at the Ateneo de Manila University, a forum will unfold and it’s titled “Doing Digong: Politics in the Wake of EDSA.”

The round-table discussion is part of the school’s Kritika Kultura Lecture Series. Adding glamor and glitter to the event are the high-caliber speakers from higher institutions of learning.

The distinguished lecturers are Carmel Abao, a Political Science instructor at the Ateneo de Manila University; Walden Bello, a former party-list congressman and professor of the State University of New York; Nicole Curato, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Center for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance in the University of Canberra (Australia); and Richard Heydarian, Political Science assistant professor at De La Salle University, in Manila.

The event is jointly sponsored by Ateneo de Manila University and the University of Washington (Seattle) Study Abroad Program.

Weeks earlier, as a prelude to the interest generated by the Duterte presidency, the Ateneo Press also launched a book titled “Motherless Tongue: The Insurgency of Language Amid Wars of Translation,” which deciphers the languages and terms leaders use in talking with public audiences in delivering messages.

Vicente L. Rafael, a Southeast Asian history professor at the University of Washington (Seattle) who wrote the book, notes: “With Duterte, we have the first president who insists on speaking in a non-Tagalog vernacular, even as he is always switching Tagalog and English.”

“In other words,” he explains, “Duterte is someone who speaks in tongues. When he opens his mouth, he’s translating, for himself and for his listeners, Bisaya and non-Bisaya speakers alike. To understand him, we — Bisaya and non-Bisaya speakers — have to translate, too.”

More emphatically, Rafael says: “When Duterte speaks, he exposes the intractable plurality of the nation, and it is a linguistic plurality that has always resisted attempts by the colonial and republican states to organize into a linguistic hierarchy, adding his ‘improvised idiom’ as characteristic of creole languages that resist being subsumed into a national language.”

If this evolving interest in the ‘Duterte Phenomen’ is something that opens up a new whole universe of research in campuses, it also underscores the significance of a former city mayor slowly making his mark as a global player in the field of Diplomacy and Governance.


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