Massaging the message

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Tita C. Valderama

Tita C. Valderama

“Words matter. Words matter when you run for President, and they really matter when you are President.”

That was Hillary Clinton speaking at the closing of the first US presidential debate a week ago. While the statement was directed at Republican nominee Donald Trump — in reference to his silence on foreign policy issues such as mutual defense treaties with Japan and South Korea as well as the US problems with Iran – it sounds like words from critics of President Rodrigo Duterte who wonder if the Philippine leader has any idea about word of honor. Maybe he does, but keeps his words selectively.

For one, he has kept his promise to address the worsening problem over illegal drugs, with more than 3,000 persons killed, mostly users and street peddlers, and including some innocent civilians.

While Duterte has kept his promise, issues of human rights abuses are haunting him. The issues have attracted world attention and prompted respected world leaders to air their views about it, which, in turn, annoyed Duterte who responded with expletives.


As I see it, he simply does not want foreign intrusion into local problems like drug addiction. He wants to treat the drug problem as internal even when drug dependency is an international concern, and so is human rights an international issue.

Words coming out of the President’s mouth are often not pleasant to the ears, more so when children are around.

Two weeks ago, he said in a speech before policemen in Cagayan de Oro City: “Do not keep on complaining about my mouth because my mouth is not the problem. It cannot bring down a country, but it can erase a generation of right-thinking Filipinos.”

His statements were directed at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and other human rights advocates who are taking issue with the killing of innocent civilians in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.

The President has kept repeating that he did not order law enforcers to kill innocent people. Yes, indeed! But in carrying out his order to kill drug dependents, law enforcers come up with a convenient excuse that those they killed resisted arrest and tried to fight back, even when circumstances showed they did not.

In response to reports that foreign capital is leaving, Duterte said his strong statements do not discourage investors and foreign business. Even then, he said he can instead go to China and Russia, two global powers that have been sparring with the US on the international political stage.

“Ang isyu dito hindi ang bunganga ko. And they are saying, the ratings sa business, sa economy. So be it, lumayas kayo. Then we will start on our own. I can go to China, I can go to Russia. I had a talk with them, they are waiting for me. So what the hell?” Duterte said. He is scheduled to go to Beijing on October 19 to 21.

The President could not accept the fact that his mouth, or what’s coming out of it, has become a big issue.

On Friday, he complained before policewomen in Davao City that he his statements havealways been taken out of context in the media.

The media has been a convenient excuse for its alleged bias and critical reports that invite negative reactions from the local and international communities. He probably prefers the “Mocha Uson” type of reporting, or those fake web sites churning out erroneous or reports of praise.

President Duterte has not been able to deliver his messages clearly because these were mostly spoken in broken sentences and, many times, the meaning gets lost in the use of obscene language.

Several times, too, his spokespersons have to come to his rescue to deny, clarify, explain or modify his statements after these are reported and have drawn adverse reactions.

There is no quarrel that the drug menace has to end. It is not wrong to assert the country’s independence from the United States. But can’t it be done without outbursts of profanity?

One cannot earn respect amid a sea of contradictions and inconsistencies. One cannot be considered to have a word of honor if what he says is constantly clarified, denied or modified.

Words really matter. Words matter more when you are President of a country that cannot yet stand on its own.

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