Finding a Filipino word for storm surge: 'Daluyong' or 'humbak'?

by Ira Pedrasa,

Posted at Nov 18 2013 08:41 PM | Updated as of Nov 19 2013 05:35 AM

MANILA - Not many people in the Philippines knew what a storm surge was before 'Yolanda' hit central Philippines. It was a new concept that did not arouse fear, unlike the the word tsunami, which evokes images of the destruction in Japan in March 2011 and in countries affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.

After the super typhoon claimed the lives of more than 4,000 (and counting), people began to criticize authorities for not explaining well what a storm surge is.

Filipino-American geologist and environmental scientist Kelvin Rodolfo told ANC authorities correctly warned about the threat posed by storm surges before Yolanda struck on November 8, but many did heed the warning.

Thus, Rodolfo suggested there should be a Filipino term for “storm surges."

He said communication is key in effective information dissemination.

Rodolfo disagreed with some local officials of Leyte and Samar who say they it would have been better if they had been told that a tsunami was coming.

He said the public should not be warned of an incoming tsunami when what is going to happen is a “storm surge”.

“While people know what tsunami is like, we could have generated unnecessary panic…and you would have also killed people in panic," he said.

Rodolfo said a tsunami is triggered by an earthquake, and a storm surge is not.


The problem with using “storm surge” is that it does not evoke fear. What is needed is a word or phrase that will caution the public and remind them that danger is coming.

National Artist Virgilio Almario suggested the term “daluyong”. He told, “Ang ibig sabihin ng storm surge ay malalaking alon. Yun ang daluyong.”

He said the term has long been used to describe big waves.

Jaime Tiongson, a researcher and historian at Bahay Saliksikan ng Kasaysayan (BAKAS), suggested the term “humbak”. BAKAS is headed by Zeus Salazar, a polyglot, linguist, and former dean of the University of the Philippines Department of History.

In a separate interview, Tiongson said “humbak” was used centuries ago. It’s as old as time.

He explained “humbak” is used in several provinces today, especially those visited frequently by storm surges.

“Dahil ito ay ginagamit sa Katagalugan, Hiligaynon, at Bisaya - na mga lugar ng laging tinatamaan ng bagyo. Ito marahil ang kasagutan sa hiling ni Dr. Rodolfo. Ginagamit din ito sa Aklan,” Tiongson said.

Almario begged to disagree, however, saying “daluyong” is also widely used. He also said “humbak” is different.

“Ang humbak ay pagitan ng dalawang alon. Ito yung cavity na tinatawag. Walang laman,” he said.

Tiongson said, however, that “daluyong” may also refer to “tsunami”, which Dr. Rodolfo said shouldn't be used.

He said that in Almario’s dictionary, daluyong can also refer to a tsunami or tidal wave. He noted daluyong also refers to the waves created in rivers.

He said Almario might have been confused with the entries in several dictionaries. He said Almario may not have seen the concept of “humbak” in San Buenaventura, the oldest Philippine vocabulary that can be accessed in

“Sa gawa ni Rio Alma na Diccionario, pangita na di lubos na nagamit ang San Buenaventura. Tingnan sa pahina 159 ng Diccionario Bisaya-Espanyol ni Encarnaccion. Ang humbak ay malalaking alon na humahampas sa dalampasigan,” he said.

Entries in the Encarnaccion dictionary were collected beginning 1851 from languages in Cebu, Bohol, Negros, Mindanao, Romblon, Sibuyan, Banton, Panay, Leyte and Samar.

In the Proto Western Malayo-Polynesian dictionary: “humbak” also means the swell at sea; “humbak-humbak” means the rise and fall like the swells at sea; “ma-humbak” means a stormy sea.

Asked if the term “humbak” instills a feeling of danger, Tiongson said: “Hindi tatawid ang mga bangka buhat Aklan patungong Boracay kung mahumbak. Ganun din sa Laguna.”