THIS is not to complain of President Duterte’s evident trivialization of Lent in the Philippines, with his decision to spend the entire Holy Week in a series of state visits to the Middle East, to the Islamic kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and state of Qatar.
This is rather to urge the President to treat his public speaking engagements with more seriousness and care, especially on those occasions when he is addressing international audiences. This has become imperative, because when the President addresses foreign groups, he does so in representation of all our people and our government. What he says has a weight and gravity that is far above ordinary discourse.
To illustrate this point, we cite, first, his declaration in several addresses in Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, wherein he expressed his readiness to deploy Filipino troops to these Arab states, in recognition of the importance of our bilateral relations with them.
During a business meeting in Manama last Friday, Duterte said he is committed to standing by Bahrain “at all times.”
He said he is prepared to send a battalion, a regiment and even a division of soldiers just to protect Bahrain.
Similarly, in an investment forum in Qatar on Saturday, Duterte said Filipino troops are ready to “protect and defend” Qatar.
DU30 also issued a similar statement in Saudi Arabia last Wednesday. He assured Saudi King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud that the Philippines is a “loyal friend” of his country.
Fortunately for our government, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. was quick to issue a clarification, before the words got misinterpreted.
Esperon clarified at a press conference that there will be no “military operational deployment” to the Middle East.
Esperon said: “It (sending of troops) would be on the basis of training which we have yet to set up. This will probably take another six months to one year. This will be very selective and it will be probably based on specialized courses or trainings.”
“There is no such thing as military operational deployment although in this area in Bahrain we are part of what we would call [a]Coalition Maritime Force. We send observers to that.”
In another speaking engagement, DU30 told businessmen in Qatar to shoot corrupt Customs and BIR personnel in the Philippines if they are asked for bribes. This was the advice of President Duterte to the Qatari business community as he stressed that he would not condone government corruption during his watch.
All these are extravagant statements that reflect negatively on the seriousness and good sense of our government. They will not add to the regard and respect of these countries for our country and our people.
The awkwardness of these statements could have been avoided had the President and his staff paid due care and attention to studying and preparing his message. This is not a question of rhetoric or style. This is a question of what is right and proper.
We believe the President can do more to advance our country’s foreign relations, as he obviously intends, if his speeches and statements are carefully crafted and checked, before they are publicly said.