Before anything else, let’s be clear what this article is about. It’s not a defense of Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s shocking, vulgar talk on the hustings, most especially not his uncivilized remarks about the hostage-taking, rape and murder of an Australian missionary during the 1989 Davao prison riot.
He claimed that the original words he mouthed expressed his disgust toward the rioters, not any lurid intent toward the dead woman. Yet it was still unsavory to hear, and even more despicable amid the laughter and catcalls of Duterte supporters.
The survey-leading presidentiable should never have made those thoughts public, just as Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump should have kept to himself his TV quip about Ivana Trump’s beauty, saying if she weren’t his daughter, maybe he ought to date her. Both candidates should learn to be circumspect about public pronouncements if they wish to be verbally fit for the presidency.
Why his supporters stay loyal
That said, Duterte’s shocking, vulgar style will probably not derail from his candidacy, and may even boost it. Rivals who expect to grab votes from Duterte due to his gutter talk should remember that he rose to top of the polls despite or even due to his self-confessed rough style. He and Trump clearly appeal to segments of society who care little for educated breeding and political correctness.
Will the 32 percent of Pulse Asia-surveyed voters, who prefer the crime-busting Mindanaoan even after he bad-mouthed the beloved Pope Francis, change their minds over his 1989 Davao prison riot remarks?
Catholic archbishops lambasted Duterte over his traffic-provoked son-of-a-bitch bark at the Holy Father, with little effect on his growing support. Their disgust over his line about getting ahead of the rapist-killers may not do much damage, either.
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines President Archbishop Socrates Villegas lamented Duterte supporters’ laughter over the papal curse, and the CBCP head probably feels the same over the campaign crowd chuckling at the candidate’s mayor-first punch line.
Rather than delight in uncouth ways, however, what makes most pro-Duterte voters hold fast are the benefits they hope for under his rule, particularly the protection against crime and corruption he offers.
After all, would voters fearful of crooks on the street and in the government set aside their chosen defender just because of his foul mouth and open womanizing? Maybe not.
Only if the mayor’s fearless and uncompromising enforcer image cracks would he lose support, as may happen if, say, close associates are found to be dealing in drugs.
With no massive campaign fund and network backing him, Duterte’s reputation for cleaning up crime and graft is the main reason one in every three surveyed voters picks him. His rivals let him corral the anti-crime message, saying little about lawlessness until his recent surge forced erstwhile topnotcher Sen. Grace Poe to belatedly talk about fighting crime.
It may be too late to break Duterte’s monopoly on the anti-lawlessness message, and other candidates may not be credible if they take it up. And that hammerlock on the crime issue can give the Mindanaoan a mammoth chunk of the electorate.
As expounded in the April 12 and 14 columns last week <http://www.manilatimes.net/how-to-slash-crime-in-six-months/255547/ and http://www.manilatimes.net/strategies-to-slash-crime-in-six-months/255929/>, there have been more than 3 million crimes committed since 2013, based on official statistics.
Assuming every crime has two victims on average, and each victim has five family and friends, that’s more than 35 million Filipinos who suffered from lawlessness or are close to someone who did.
Add many millions more with drug-addicted kith and kin, or burdened by Aquino-era anomalies, like travelers fearing laglag-bala and commuters bearing with Metro Rail Transit scams. Plus tens of millions seeing crime and corruption on mass and social media daily.
For those hordes of voters, only Duterte has made the pledge and shown the zeal and teeth to fight the lawlessness scourge.
Would that tsunami of crime-and-graft-spooked Filipinos seeking protection vanish because Duterte said in anger or jest that he should have been ahead of prison rioters who raped and killed the Australian lady?
It was a terrible thing to say, and no President or presidentiable should talk that way. But even if most Filipinos actually saw, heard or read about the ugly remarks (a huge number didn’t), it won’t sway people desperate to hide behind the Davaoeño’s shield.
Why Duterte must mind his mouth
Still, Mayor Duterte should learn to watch his mouth, especially if he becomes Chief Executive. Circumspection in word and action is an indispensable competency for national leaders, and it is not only irresponsible, but also dangerous for any President to just speak and do as he feels or wishes.
At the second presidential debate last month, Duterte asked Poe what she would do as commander-in-chief if she was awakened in the wee hours with news that China had sunk two Philippine coast guard vessels.
Poe was slow to answer. But a fast-talking leader could have done immensely worse. In a fit of rage not unlike what Duterte felt upon seeing the 1989 riot victims’ bodies, an intemperate President might have ordered the Chinese Embassy strafed or bombed, even leading the assault with his Uzi blazing – with disastrous consequences.
So, Mayor Duterte, please learn to keep your tongue and trigger finger in check. If you become President, your word is national policy and executive command, even if you are just angry or flippant and don’t really mean what you say.
Don’t be like Henry II. The 12th century English king deeply regretted his fuming retort, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” It spurred his knights to assassinate his friend-turned-critic, Archbishop of Canterbury St. Thomas a Becket, the highest Church leader in England.
An unbridled tongue might not stop you from winning the presidency, Mr. Mayor. But it would certainly sink you and the nation if you become Mr. President. No kidding.