Healing in our speech

By: Jason A. Baguia March 17,2017 - 10:46 PM



The quality of our discourse has taken a nosedive.

It has become commonplace to hear the half-joking expression “ipa-Tokhang ka nako ron (or else I will put you through Tokhang)” addressed to someone by whom the speaker would like to be taken seriously.

Depending on your convictions about how best to solve the Philippine problem of rampant drug addiction, the entry of this phrase into our conversations indicates the popularity or infamy of our police’s anti-narcotics operations.

But regardless of your persuasions, use of the phrase underlines the bloody, deadly ends of “Tokhang,” far from the benign denotations of the term’s Cebuano roots toktok (knock) and hangyo (plead).

I heard the threat used in a live chat involving a radio announcer and a caller, casually, as if Tokhang has not killed thousands or aggrieved and traumatized thousands more.

Yet such light use of the word “Tokhang” does far more than poke fun at an interlocutor. It is an indictment of our poor valuation of human life. Whoever goes against our will should be forced to conform or be cut down like briars that have overgrown a footpath.

We say “ipa-Tokhang ka nako ron” knowing that Tokhang can bend wills or break lives, having as it does little of the courtesy that knocking evinces, barely a whiff of the deference that supplication prompts. We speak these words in jest, but alas, our delivery does not hide the obvious, that we are not as long-suffering as we presume to be.

The Tokhang expression is our attempt to desensitize ourselves to the horror of the carnage that is the government’s main response to the drug menace. But what an epic fail. It only fuels the viciousness in the air.

* * *

Do we have to characterize the medical plague of widespread drug addiction as a cause for war? This too is a surrender of civilization in our speech.

Should there be a war against drugs? War normally means military conflict engaged in by nation-states or by at least two armed groups within a territory.

President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly says in his speeches, “If you hurt my country, I will kill you.” He has a public service advertisement on heavy rotation where he urges people to stay away from drugs because they destroy lives.

When will we hear a statement from Malacañang that unequivocally acknowledges that many of those who are hurting and in pain across the country are the ones most vulnerable to being killed in anti-drug police work?

How well will government mend broken lives when the discourse appears to give drug dependents an ultimatum to shape up or be slaughtered like foreign invaders?

Do fear appeals and belligerent messaging really help? My guess is that they only feed the desperation and sense of futility in addicts.

A friend of mine told me that in one government rehabilitation program, patients go through a process from which they are released after three months with a warning not to relapse.

If they do not, they will get killed.

Is this a way to care for those who are hurting?

The same friend told me of someone who changed his hairstyle simply because with his old one, he looked like a friend reputed to be deep into drugs. Without the barber’s work, he would have been at risk of being shot down by vigilantes or law enforcers in a case of mistaken identification. Those who have so perished are barely mourned by the bellicose administration. Collateral damage, in the mind of the state, is inevitable in time of war.

Will the approach to the drug menace change with modifications in how it is enunciated? Perhaps it his high time for policymakers, enforcers and those who trade in words to retire the phrase “war against drugs.” Thousands are sick and in need of healing. A language of war will only facilitate a reign of fratricide among the children of Inang Bayan.

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TAGS: healing, human, life, our, speech, Tokhang

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