SO help me, as the hour nears for the achievement of peace in Mindanao through the energetic exertions of the Aquino administration, I feel more anxious than hopeful. Within days of the signing of the last annex to the Bangsamoro Framework Peace Agreement, government forces were battling a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)—the Bangsamoro Islamic freedom fighters (BIFF), in which scores of rebels were killed.
And now because they have been left out in all the negotiations, the
original secessionist group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) with whom government signed a 1996 peace agreement, is threatening to create a wider war in the South by joining forces with the BIFF.
I don’t know how it is with other people, but in my book, when fighting occurs and people die or are wounded, that is not a sign of peace.
The more I read about the early press releases on the framework agreement and its many annexes, the more I doubt whether Mindanao and the nation have moved any nearer to the end of conflict, let alone to the end of the Muslim secessionist insurgency.
The first time our negotiators revealed that the agreement would create a Bangsamoro substate, I was immediately skeptical about the prospects of Congress passing a basic law that would conform to the Constitution and muster the needed votes in the legislature. “Substate” is a new animal entirely.
More recently, the statements of the government’s chief peace negotiators, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, have left many confused and worried. One day, they were talking about the prospective decommissioning of weapons of the MILF. The next we are told that under the framework agreement, the rebels will keep their arms. They will have their own police force, and the MILF will actually get back their defunct camps. In the press statements of MILF leaders, they insist that they will not surrender their arms.
If this early, this highly promoted peace agreement could not produce an understanding on what to say and how to interpret its provisions, what was the point of all the self-congratulatory publicity of the government? And why the buzz about President Aquino being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
From my long experience as a journalist and as a policy studies analyst, I know that at the heart of all the confusion and misunderstanding is the phenomenon of “doublespeak.” We are in this rut because the negotiating panels and government communicators have oversold the peace initiative, and they have swamped the public with doublespeak – language designed to evade, deceive and mislead.
To get a grip on what may be happening, I looked up an authoritative essay on doublespeak, by the writer and English professor, William Lutz, who wrote the book, Doublespeak: From revenue enhancement to terminal living.
Lutz’s description and definition of doublespeak is admirably direct and to the point. He writes:
“Doublespeak is language that pretends to communicate but really doesn’t. It is language that makes the bad seem good, the negative appear positive, the unpleasant appear attractive or at least tolerable.
Doublespeak is language that avoids or shifts responsibility, language that is at variance with its real or purported meaning. It is language that conceals or prevents thought; rather than extending thought, doublespeak limits it…”
Lutz goes on to talk of ways to enable people to detect doublespeak. He says: “You can identify doublespeak just by answering these questions: Who is saying what to whom, under what conditions and circumstances with what intent, and with what results?”
To assist in the identification process, Lutz enumerated four kinds of doublespeak. These are:
1. The first is the euphemism – an inoffensive or positive word or phrase used to avoid a harsh, unpleasant, or distasteful reality. A euphemism can also be a tactful word or phrase which avoids directly mentioning a painful reality, or it can be an expression used out of concern for the feelings of someone else.
When a euphemism is used to mislead or deceive, it becomes doublespeak.
2. A second kind of doublespeak is jargon, the specialized language of a trade, profession, or similar group, such as that used by doctors, lawyers, engineers, educators, or car mechanics.
Jargon can serve an important and useful function. Within a group, jargon functions as a kind of verbal shorthand that allows members of the group to communicate with each other clearly, efficiently, and quickly. It is a mark of membership in the group to be able to use the group’s jargon.
Peace negotiators could be one such group.
3. A third kind of doublespeak is gobbledygook or bureaucratese.
Basically, such doublespeak is simply a matter of piling on words, of overwhelming the audience with words, and the longer the sentences the better.
One prime example of gobbledygook is when press secretary Sonny Coloma resorts to Filipino in his media statements. The words are invariably polysyllabic and the sentences endless, one runs out of breath listening to him.
4. The fourth kind of doublespeak is inflated language that is designed to make the ordinary seem extraordinary, to make everyday things seem impressive; to give an air of importance to people, situations or things that would not normally be considered important; to make the simple seem complex.
All the official communication about the framework agreement and peace negotiations have been uniformly inflated.
One big user and manufacturer of doublespeak is the US Pentagon.
When the Pentagon describes an incident as “a pre-emptive counterattack”, it means that Americans attacked first. When it says that US forces “engaged the enemy on all sides” it means that American troops were ambushed.
We are cautioned not to mistake double speak as just the product of carelessness or sloppy thinking. To the contrary, most doublespeak is the product of clear thinking; it is carefully designed and constructed to appear to communicate when in fact it doesn’t. It is language designed to distort reality and corrupt thought.
When the announcement of a breakthrough for peace in the South is marked by fresh hostilities; when the unitary structure of our government system is slated to be altered by the creation of a Moro substate; when the decommissioning of rebel arms guarantees instead their keeping them; when we are bombarded by talk about power and wealth sharing and rebel control of certain territorial waters—we are in the land of doublespeak.
President Arroyo’s peace pact fell apart on the doublespeak of “ancestral domain.” Aquino’s pact will be felled by a surfeit of words.