Meet Mr. Duterte, the maker of manners


THERE is a lively scene in Shakespeare’s history play, Henry V, where the young king, just recently ascended to power, pays court to young Princess Katherine, daughter of the French king whom he had just defeated in the historic battle of Agincourt.

Henry is not getting through to the young lady, who coquettishly wards off his advances and refuses him a kiss, saying it is not the fashion for the maidens in France to kiss (before they are married).

Henry’s rebuttal is classic:

“O Kate, nice customs curtsy to great kings. Dear Kate, you and I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country’s fashion: We are the maker of manners, and the liberty that follows our places stops the mouth of all find-faults.”

We are watching the spectacle of our new President, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, trying to make customs, traditions and protocols curtsy to him. As both an iconoclast and populist (a heady combination), he will make, remake or unmake manners and many things besides during his watch.

Leaders making manners

In the transformation of manners, he has not only Henry V on his side, but a train of leaders who aspired to be innovators. They reckoned that their mandates empower them also to change manners, etiquette, customs, and the prevailing style of high office.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, during his brief and popular presidency, sought to build a new Camelot, with its own distinctive and elegant style as superintended by the exquisite Jacqueline.

Two years after JFK’s assassination in 1963, Ferdinand Marcos swept to power here at home in Dec. 1965. Together with his wife Imelda, he brought a new style and pomp to Malacañang and affairs of state that would run for two decades.

Cory Aquino’s contribituion when she came to power in 1986 was to paint everything yellow amid a crushing power blackout. Governing in the dark, she let out the air from the balloon of people power. When her son, Benigno 3rd, was elected President, in 2110, he made the use of yellow even more emphatic; he discarded the use of the flag pin and replaced it with his family’s yellow pin.

At his inauguration, Duterte pointedly wore a Filipino flag pin. From this statement, he has moved on to other changes, which will culminate on Monday, July 25, at the opening of the regular session of the new Congress.

The changes DU30 has in mind run the gamut of fashions and protocols and the guest list on Monday. His state of the nation address will surely be different, perhaps even shocking.

Change in honorifics

He has highlighted a change in the use of honorifics for Philippine officialdom.
He has decreed that within the executive department, he should not be addressed as “His Excellency” or “Your Excellency.” He prefers to be addressed as “President” or “Mr. President.”

He also ordered that all members of his administration should settle for just being addressed by their titles or just Mr. or Mrs. He does not want “Honorable” to be attached to their names and titles.

The comedown from honor will be resisted by the legislature, where every senator and every representative is addressed as “Honorable,” and by the judiciary, where justices and judges are traditionally addressed as “Your Honor.”

As independent branches of government, both Congress and the judiciary can insist on their own honorifics.

An honorific title is a word or expression with connotations conveying esteem or respect when used in addressing or referring to a person. Sometimes, the term “honorific” is used in a more specific sense to refer to an honorary academic title.

Duterte is not the first head of state who was made uncomfortable by the honorific “Excellency.” The suggestion of excellence evidently bothers DU30 because it importunes respect.

The President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, prefers to be addressed by the Hindu honorific “Shri,” rather than “His Excellency.”

India qualifies the change with the rule that “Excellency” will continue to be used for interaction of its leaders with foreign dignitaries as is customary international practice.

The Duterte government would do well to do the same. We can‘t have a President begrudging foreign ambassadors and heads of state their honorifics. Neither should we be represented by a President who is impatient with etiquette (the customs or rules governing behavior regarded as correct in social life) and protocol (the formal etiquette and procedure for state and diplomatic ceremonies).

The most common and useful honorifics in modern English are the simple ones.
Honorifics which can be used (both as style and as form of address) include, in the case of a male, “Mr.” (irrespective of marital status), and in the case of a female the honorific will depend on her marital status: if the female is unmarried, it is “Miss”; if she is married it is “Mrs.”; and if her marital status is unknown, or it is not desired to specify it, “Ms.”

Someone who does not want to express a gender with his or her honorific may occasionally use “Mx.” It will be interesting to see what honorific will be adopted by the first transgender in our legislature: Rep. Geraldine Roman.

Change in official fashion

Duterte’s remaking of manners will not stop at stinting on honorifics. He means to make changes also in fashion, official functions, and presidential addresses. He rejects the opulence of the presidential palace.

“In keeping with his populist presidential style, he encourages less ‘ceremonial’ communications,” says Duterte’s spokesman Ernie Abella.

Duterte has ordered that his Cabinet members be called “Secretary” instead of “Honorable.”

The pervasive rejection of “honorable” is consistent with the public belief that nobody in government is honorable.

Even presidential fashion has changed, with Duterte wearing jeans at military parades and rolling up the sleeves of the traditional “barong” shirt worn on formal occasions.

In his first address to Congress on Monday, Duterte has ordered guests to wear business attire, doing away with the long-running custom of parading on the red carpet in ostentatious long gowns and suits.

The object is to eliminate ostentation. “We will downplay the event. It will not be a fashion show,” said a spokeswoman, who oddly is not the presidential spokesman, but the spokesman of the finance secretary.

Borrowing or swapping spokesmen could be another style change under the Duterte presidency.


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  1. duterte should not be address as honorable or excellency because he is not pro life..
    life is a gift from God and it is sacred.

  2. While he is at it, Mr Duterte shud fire all the ‘Commissioners’ in the Immigration Dept for demanding huge bribes to get my name off the ‘black list’ despite not having infringed any of the 17 clauses of the black list. Furthermore, no Commissioner, Clerk or Buffoon signed any e-mails from “” in response to my e-mails.

  3. We might be looking at the Best President that this country elected. Pilipinos are scared just mentioning his name even without martial law. I pray that he stays strong. We do not want to have a sick president.

  4. The removal of “honourifics,” is acceptable. Most Filipino politicians are not honourable, in fact dishonourable.

    One habit that should also be discouraged is the practice of many like calling a superior “Sir Frank,” where “Frank,” is the boss or a superior in an office, instead of calling him Attorney Francisco de la Cruz, or say Director de la Cruz, Doctor de la Cruz, or simply Mr. de la Cruz. They tend to familiarise with their boss or feed then narcissistic lust of the superior to make him look or sound young.

    In Germany, they are simply addressed as Herr (Mr.) de la Cruz, Frau (Mrs. regardless if the woman is married, separated of single) de la Cruz.

    • A big change I’ve noticed here is that everyone regardless of status is now called Sir. It’s a bit irritating but I suppose as a non American Foreigner it’s better than being addressed as “Joe” as was the case a few years ago!

  5. We have so many poor fellowmen going hungry. And parading those expensive gowns worn by our public officials and their wives during SONAS and other gov’t functions is like adding insult to injury. The price of one gown can feed so many Filipino families.
    Great article Mr. Makabenta.

  6. Jessie Corrales on

    The important thing is that when Du30 says something, people follow. Sometimes he hasn’t said it yet, results are already seen. Now that is strong leadership.

  7. Leodegardo Pruna on

    For as long as honor and excellence pervade in public service under DU30, no questions ask. God bless the Philippines.

  8. C. Gordon Hale on

    Thanks for your interesting column. I had not seen the honorific Mx before, to be used by a person who does not wish to specify a gender. I can understand the derivation, but how is this pronounced? As for the transgender representative, since she goes by a feminine first name and therefore apparently identifies as female, I would suppose she would want to be consistent in the choice of an honorific. Her colleagues and others would do well to respect her choice.

    As a frequent visitor long engaged in health education and medical work in the Philippines I am interested in observing the evolution of the new presidential policies, style and customs. Come November of this year, we may be forced to adapt to a radically different presidential style in the U.S. as well. I view this prospect with alarm for more important concerns than style, but we must accept whatever the will of the people turns out to be.

    • I guess you pronounce it as Mix. Which is really what’s going on in the hormones and thinking of such person.