A PUBLIC relations veteran and I shared a sense of impending disaster when we separately heard the reporter in Davao ask President Rodrigo Duterte how he would respond if U.S. President Barack Obama questioned him about the extrajudicial killings in the War on Drugs.
The answer sent a shudder around the world.
Much of the commentary over the incident and its repercussions has focused on President Duterte’s failure again to calibrate his language.
“Words matter” was the U.S. advice for Duterte on the future of Philippine-U.S. ties.
Duterte has earned the notoriety of a dirty mouth. He called Pope Francis a “son of a whore” for congesting the streets in his 2015 papal visit. After he was criticized for trivializing rape and degrading women, Duterte catcalled U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg a “gay son of a bitch”.
Yet, on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by the al-Qaeda group in the U.S., the rhetoric of political correctness (“words matter”) must be seen in context.
Review the footage of the Davao City presscon on Sept. 5. Duterte vented after the reporter asked the question, with its implication that he would be like an errant pupil chastised by a teacher with a lecture on human rights.
“I am no American puppet,” said Duterte. “I am president of a sovereign state and we have long ceased to be a colony. I do not have any master except the Filipino people.” These statements are frequently left out in reports about Duterte’s name-calling of Obama as a “son of a whore”.
Last year, I watched “Heneral Luna,” a movie about another hot-headed leader, Antonio Luna. As portrayed by John Arcilla in the movie, Luna was unrelievedly foul in temper, speech and action.
Yet, Jerrold Tarog’s oeuvre attests that the man who asked, “Bayan o sarili (country or self)?,” was not just toying with rhetoric.
According to Ria Limjap’s “Heneral Luna,” which is based on an interview with Dr. Vivencio R. Jose, author of “The Rise and Fall of Antonio Luna,” Jose’s research led him to conclude that Luna “was the best general in the Philippine-American War.”
However, he fell victim to the intrigues spun between his enemies and the country’s first president, General Emilio Aguinaldo, who had already plotted and carried out the murder of Andres Bonifacio, another rival in Aguinaldo’s “boundless appetite for power”.
Here is Jose’s take on why the Filipinos lost in the revolution against the Americans: “The Revolution failed because it was badly led, because its leader won his post by reprehensible rather than meritorious acts, because instead of supporting the men most useful to the people, he made them useless out of jealousy, identifying the aggrandizement of the people with his own, he judged the worth of men not by their ability, character and patriotism but rather by their degree of friendship and kinship with him; and, anxious to secure the readiness of his favourites to sacrifice themselves for him, he was tolerant even of their transgressions.
“Because he thus neglected the people, the people forsook him and forsaken by the people, he was bound to fail like a waxen idol in the heat of adversity. God grant that we do not forget such a terrible lesson, learnt at the cost of untold suffering.”
In a dirty world—post-First Philippine Republic, post-9/11—a dirty mouth is the lesser evil.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s September 11, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”