The Bisaya bus

By: Raymund Fernandez July 08,2015 - 09:19 AM

As he remembers it in the fading echoes of memory: the word “Bisaya” and the meanings he ascribes to it has more to do with a bus line than to the designated name of these parts of the Philippines Islands called the Visayas.

According to Clarence Paul Oaminal (“Cebupedia”, Clarence Paul Oaminal, The Freeman):

“During the American occupation (1900 to 1946), the political giants of Cebu, Don Sergio S. Osmeña and Don Mariano Jesus D. Cuenco were not only protagonists in the political arena but as well as in business.

Don Sergio owned the Cebu Autobus Co. while Don Mariano owned the Bisaya Land Transportation Co., the competing passenger trucks in the municipality of Cebu and the Province of Cebu. Don Sergio and Don Mariano, were both lawyers, both served as governors and congressmen.”

These two bus lines regularly plied through here in the old days. Bisaya was often talked of in their neck of the woods as the inferior one.

Not unexpected, since Dumanjug was the birthplace of Don Dionisio Jakosalem, leading political figure of the American colonial government and close friend of Sergio Osmeña Sr., later to become president of the country.

His family were, of course, traditional Osmeniyestas. They favored riding Cebu Autobus, their favorite bus driven by Abdon with Maming for its conductor. Or was it the other way around?

They were very slow buses, with “very” deserving double or even quadruple mention would it not look so awful on the printed page.

They plodded along the bumpy unpaved roads, stopping for every flag-down from a potential passenger whether or not they actually rode.

They delivered parcel, random mail, and even oral messages via the conductor.

They broke down often. And then they would be stuck for hours by the roadside, waiting either for the problem to be fixed or for the next bus passing through.

By bias of faith, more than anything else, the other bus line was for them even worse.

The Bisaya buses were painted a darkish red, the Autobus painted a bright yellow.

In this distinction of colors is suggested a competition between old political families of the islands dating back to American colonial times lasting even today. This was a competition of a profound reach. In 1937 they competed for the government franchise to carry mail. If Murphy’s law goes that in every hierarchy every person eventually reaches his or her highest level of incompetence, by the 1960s both had reached theirs. But even so, he had always rode the Autobus while the Bisaya seemed to him always mysterious and in a weird, dangerous way, romantic. In the sense of a remembered countenance, a picture, if you will, it was ever the dilapidated brownish red wonder. It looks like junk. And still it runs?
That would have a lot to do with how he looks at the Bisaya now. He remembers Bisaya, the term, the cultural designation, the bus line, in a sense always of local pop culture. Pop culture came with the radio, the mass media, the fact of travel towards the end of the colonial era.
This was the culture his eyes first opened to, or awoke, by the other way, the culture which opened his eyes. Bisaya was and still is a denigrating, denigrated word, signifying all that was  and is “not so good though not yet entirely kaput” about his people, and so by consequence, him. In a culture still reeling from centuries of a colonialism that boastfully favored the purity of whitish blood, whitish skin, sharp aquiline noses, straight blondish hair, he and by extension they had no recourse but to laugh at themselves. They parodied each other. Bisaya stands for the ownerless dog in the streets, the native anything, which was always smaller and less fat-ish than its imported, pedigreed counterpart—the landrace pig, the vantres broiler chicken, etc.
But it is and was as he remembers it also a sad and forlorn word signifying also a lament for all that we seem to lack, our poverty, our seeming lack of optimism, our inability to grasp in our minds a clear view of a future, even. And so we laughed. As we do laugh still. And yet by all these, Bisaya is a wonderful romantic concept so profound in its ambiguity we can turn it into anything we like. A pen, a gun, a weapon of an idea, so powerful it will turn around everything, even shift the axis of our colonized culture. As we must. Colonialism has given us this. And now, we must find out what we can do with it. A dilapidated brownish red bus is stopped in front of us. Smoke and dust rises with it. The conductor blows his whistle.

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