Column: ‘Jumu-Junjun,’ ‘jumo-Joma’

Published on January 28, 2014.

Twice over the Christmas holidays I chanced upon an intriguing locution. In one tweet, the driver of a car honking obnoxiously was described with the use of a new verb: “Jumu-Junjun!” I also overheard someone describe a man throwing his weight around in the exact same way: “Jumu-Junjun.”

Both reference the so-called Banyangate controversy, when Makati City Mayor Junjun Binay was denied the use of the Banyan gate of the city’s exclusive Dasmariñas Village; in apparent retaliation, the security guards manning the gate were taken in by responding policemen for questioning. Unfortunately for Binay, security cameras caught the entire encounter on high-resolution footage.

I do not know whether the use of “Junjun” as a verb will catch on; I rather doubt it. In the first place, the mayor’s nickname is so common, such a familiar and indeed affectionate sound, that “jumu-Junjun” will work as a pejorative only if the context is clear and immediate. The two times I heard the word used, the controversy was still lingering in the air.

Secondly, “Junjun” can have many meanings: It can stand for the arrogance of power, the culture of entitlement, the death of accountability, the unequal society. (Insert your buzzword here.) Rather than lengthen its life as a term of discourse, the new verb’s multiple meanings, its very ambiguity, may simply make it less useful and cut its life short.

There is a third reason: Some people will argue that “Junjun” should not be used as an insult at all, either because the mayor was merely within his rights, as mayor, to travel anywhere in his city as needed or because the guards owed him the courtesy of passage.  I am not sure if I agree with the first, the notion of an almost lordly privilege, although I am open to instructive examples. Like many others, I would guess, I can be persuaded about the second, the courtesy angle; I just understand it in the common-sense way, and agree with those who say that, once his request to exit through the gate was denied, the mayor should have shrugged his shoulders and turned around. (In other words, courtesy as ordinary conduct, not protocol.)

For these reasons, “jumu-Junjun” may have a short life as a term of disparagement or even as a joke. This is a pity, because something happened that night at the gate, something captured on camera, that should in fact be given a name. Millions of Filipinos must have seen it by now: the image of Mayor Binay being followed by an aide’s faithful umbrella.

It was not raining; there was no sun. And yet there the umbrella was, a belated protection against… what exactly? It would be instructive to hear from the aide, to know what he was thinking, what made him realize that the mayor (now out of his vehicle) needed the umbrella. (There is no sign that he asked for it.) Perhaps Binay was ill, and needed to be sheltered from the midnight dew.

But as in our discussion of the endangered sense of common courtesy, the onus of responsibility was on Binay too. He should have turned to his aide, thanked him for his readiness to serve and then told him to pack the umbrella. By doing nothing, he helped create the image of a señorito, a little lord, that will be used for a long time to define him.

* * *

Perhaps the most famous umbrella in Philippine political history was held by a sitting chief justice of the Supreme Court, to protect Imelda Marcos, then the First Lady and half of the so-called conjugal dictatorship, from the sun. I have heard from many lawyers a similar story, that Chief Justice Enrique Fernando was merely being the gentleman that he was, when he instinctively offered his umbrella’s shade to Imelda during one official function. Unfortunately for him, that act of his created an image that helped further define the Supreme Court during the dictatorship as subservient to the presidency. This courtesy thing is surprisingly complicated.

* * *

It may be time to coin another new verb, “jumo-Joma,” to denote bold but baseless bravado. Jose Ma. Sison, “Joma” to many, recently conducted an interview on Facebook, where he explained among other issues why the communist movement he founded was better off negotiating with the next administration.

“Whoever is the next president, he or she will consider peace negotiations as an option in the face of the worsening social and political crisis and the growing strength of the people’s armed revolutionary movement for national liberation and democracy,” Sison said. To mark its 45th anniversary last month, the Communist Party of the Philippines said it was growing its base of armed regulars to 25,000—an extraordinary claim, because that would effectively mean multiplying its present force sixfold, a level not seen since the dictatorship.

There is no question that the New People’s Army remains a potent security threat in several regions, but if history is any guide, the communist insurgency needs to confront a dictatorial government to grow by that much. The “worsening social and political crisis” and “the growing strength” of the movement may seem obvious from Sison’s place of exile in the Netherlands, but in the Philippines—lordly umbrellas notwithstanding—the facts are considerably different.

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