Supreme Court ruling: ‘Putang ina mo’ doesn’t mean ‘your mother is a whore’

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RIGOBERTO D. TIGLAO

RIGOBERTO D. TIGLAO

I’m not kidding.

The Philippine Supreme Court ruled in 1969, and affirmed in another decision in 2006, that in effect, onion-skinned people like President Obama — or his stupid advisers and uninformed foreign press— shouldn’t really be offended and think that their dearly beloved mothers’ virtues are defamed when the word ”putang ina,” or even the more direct ”putang ina mo,” is used in statements directed at them.

In 1961, an employee at the Naval Exchange in Sangley Point, Rosauro Reyes, got so angry with the store’s managers, especially one Agustin Hallare, for firing him, together with 20 others. Reyes pursued Hallare to his home, and as he was closing the gate, the angry man shouted at the manager: “Agustin, putang ina mo. Agustin, mawawala ka. Lumabas ka, papatayin kita.”

Hallare filed a case accusing the employee of two crimes: grave threat (for saying he will kill him) and oral defamation (for his putang ina). Hallare, in his complaint, claimed that Reyes’ insult, “Agustin, putang ina mo,” “if translated into English means, ‘Agustin, your mother is a whore.’” (That exactly was how the foreign press translated President Duterte’s “putang ina mo” as part of his comment on a reporter’s question about US President Obama during a pre-departure press conference in Manila before his Laos trip. That, of course, sent shock waves around the world.)


The Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling convicting Reyes of both crimes. But Reyes appealed to the Supreme Court in 1962. In 1969 the High Tribunal affirmed his conviction for the crime of grave threat (for threatening to kill Hallare). However, it acquitted him of oral defamation, for his “putang ina mo.”

In its en banc decision written by Justice Querube Makalintal (who later served as Chief Justice from 1973 to 1975), the Supreme Court declared:

“’Putang ina mo’ is a common enough expression in the dialect that is often employed, not really to slander but rather to express anger or displeasure. It is seldom, if ever, taken in its literal sense by the hearer, that is, as a reflection on the virtues of a mother. “

The High Tribunal in session.

The High Tribunal in session.

That’s what I said, ahem, in my column Wednesday.

The Supreme Court made that “putang ina” decision part of jurisprudence by citing it in another case (Villanueva v People, G.R. No. 160351) 2006, with Associate Justice Minitia V. Chico Nazarario as ponente:

“In Reyes v. People [137 Phil. 112, 120 (1969)], we ruled that the expression putang ina mo is a common enough utterance in the dialect that is often employed, not really to slander but rather to express anger or displeasure. In fact, more often, it is just an expletive that punctuates one’s expression of profanity.”

But really, blame putang ina mo and the brouhaha it created in our relations with the US to our Spanish colonizers, and the Americans’ limited and unimaginative vocabulary for its expletives:

Putang ina came from the Spanish favorite expletive “hijo de puta,” which is still commonly used by Ilonggos (although pronounced as “yodeputa”), especially by those who want to send the message that they are not from the lower classes who utter putang ina. That is why Mar Roxas sounded so fake when he shouted putang ina in an anti-Arroyo rally. Everyone knew he would have used what would have sounded yodeputa.

Obama’s or his advisers’ shock at Duterte’s putang ina is due to the fact that except for “motherfucker,” which really doesn’t refer to the mother, and the rather ambiguous “son of a bitch,” there isn’t an American expletive that accuses a mother of the oldest profession outright. “Your mother is a whore” (stupid foreign journalists’ translation of Duterte’s putang ina) is an accusation, a statement, not an expletive like “putang ina”.

Tricia Zafra wrote an excellent blog piece in which she cited a list prepared by a Michael Estrada, who claimed that most Spanish curses are “mother-directed,” such as hijo de puta (son of a bitch), puta madre (bitch mother) and tu puta madre me la chupa (your bitch mother sucks my dick).

Citing a 2015 BBC article by James Harbeck (“Mind your Language! Swearing Around the World”), Zafra wrote: “The Latin culture has also been specified by Harbeck as among those that have the mother involved most in a list of offensive language. These cultures tend to be extended-family rather than nuclear-family societies.” Hello, Philippines.

Harbeck also pointed out: “The cultures that swear the most about mothers tend to swear about prostitutes a lot, too.” It seems to me that the Spanish, and most probably their colonized peoples, are obsessed with prostitutes in a love-hate relationship, even as they are mamas’ boys yet hate being so.

In contrast, Americans, as in their cuisine, are unimaginative in their expletives, which are as limited as the menu of their fast-food eateries: the all-time favorite “fuck,” “shit,” “bitch,” “bastard,” “asshole,” “cunt,” and “faggot.” Even their British cousins have more colorful expletives, “bollocks” and “bugger” being among my favorites.

Compare these with the height of imagery by certain Spanish expletives that would have made Obama nuke us if Duterte had uttered them: Jode tu madre ayer noche; Yo cago en la leche de tu puta madre; or even Tu hermano no tiene la ingle.

Fuck
While we may fault Americans for their lack of imagination in their expletives, we should admire them for making the common term for that biblical injunction to multiply — “fuck” — their all-time favorite expletive, a magical word, as my former guru Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) explained:

“Just by its sound it can describe pain, pleasure, hate and love,” Osho pointed out. He explains: “In language, it falls into many grammatical categories. It can be used as a verb, both transitive (John fucked Mary) and intransitive (Mary was fucked by John), and as a noun (Mary is a fine fuck). It can be used as an adjective (Mary is fucking beautiful).”

“As you can see, there are not many words with the versatility of ‘fuck.’ Besides the sexual meaning, there are also the following uses:

Fraud: I got fucked at the used car-lot; Ignorance: Fucked if I know; Trouble: I guess I am fucked now! Aggression: Fuck you! Displeasure: What the fuck is going on here? Difficulty: I can’t understand this fucking job; Incompetence: He is a fuck-off; Suspicion: What the fuck are you doing?

Enjoyment: I had a fucking good time; Request: Get the fuck out of here! Hostility: I am going to knock your fucking head off! Greeting: How the fuck are you? Apathy: Who gives a fuck? Innovation: Get a bigger fucking hammer. Surprise: Fuck! You scared the shit out of me! Anxiety: Today is really fucked.”

May I add its use to express outrage: What the fuck has become of our country?

(Note: My gratitude to reader Jose Oliveros, who pointed out the Supreme Court decision I discussed through his comments on my column Wednesday.)

tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com

COMMENT MODERATOR’S NOTE: We are normally very strict with expletives and other guidelines in moderating comments . Due to the subject of this article, we would be remiss if we censored profanity in this case as we usually do with our columns.

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75 Comments

  1. William Collins on

    It’s too bad Obama and his cohorts are so thin skinned about insults but are insensitive to the plight of Christians being slaughtered by muslims throughout the Middle East, North Africa and other parts of the world. Sometimes it’s not thin skinned but the indignity born of self important arrogance.

  2. Daniiel Cabanilla on

    The writer here still do not want to defend the truth. It depends on how you say it and whom you say it. It can be a part of a disagreeing words to a friend. But if it is angrily said to a well respected critic and when in international diplomacy, then there is no excuse. By the way, I did not read here that writer here mentioned that it is also a common expression inside the Supreme Court among the justices.

    We must really be so careful in reading opinions which seems to enlighten but in fact they are not. Their real intentions are so obvious.

  3. Nelson L. Chiong on

    The pre-departure presscon of President Duterte before departing for Laos was a blessing in disguise because the worst could have had happened in the cancelled bilateral meeting between him and Obama. Surely Obama being blunt could have reminded Duterte, who is equally blunt, about EJK – intensity 10 could have rocked Laos.

    • Journalism 101 . . . . Saying s.o.b. (p_tang ina) is different from saying, “you are an s.o.b.” (p_tang ina mo) and that got lost in the translation by the media. Swearing at no one in particular is different from swearing at a specific person. Google Translate can’t translate the nuances and syntax of the Pilipino language.

  4. We were brought up never to say bad words. When we experimented as children, we were tapped in the mouth. Then i married an Iliganon and was shocked to hear my husband and his family and relatives casually say bad words like buang man ka, bilat ni nanay mo. I looked at them with condescension. Then thru the years i learned to see beyond their cursing and realize they are great persons. Of course i teach my children not to say bad words. But i also teach them to be accepting of people who are different in manners; to see people with what they have in their hearts.. Hence, we don’t mind the President’s bad words. We see his heart is for us the common tao.

  5. Roralidrakkonis on

    If I remember correctly, Duterte did not even use the second-person pronoun ‘mo’, making it more an expression of irritation similar to “Damn it,” which is distinct from “Damn you”.
    Sadly, many Pinoys have not grasped this nuance. How many times have people come to blows or almost because ‘nagmura siya’.
    On the other hand, since the most innocuous comment can result in strong rancor, deservedly or not, the President needs to be more temperate in his speech. The argument ‘wala naman akong kasalanan’ is beside the point. As a President the last thing he needs are his folksy, off-the-cuff remarks being blown out of proportion. Come now, does he really need the extra hassle? Neither is it statesmanlike to attempt to patch things up by saying one was ‘just joking’, whether he actually was or not. Personally, when someone tells me ‘I was only kidding’, it really means he realized he’s crossed the line but wants to save face. But that’s just me.

    • what is the exact translation ? i’ve been away too long, and this bring back old memories. YAWA means devil, LITSENG means ?

  6. Curses only have meaning when you put one to it. I am from Davao and my family curses rather more often than usual as an expression of joy or disgust but nothing more. My mom even uses “puñeta” a lot while my Americanized grandpa used “BS” and “God damt it a lot”. I have refrained from cursing but I still do say “Fuck” when I’m screwed. Why are people literally translating these words?

  7. Excellent as always, Ambassador Tiglao. The article is very interesting. Never knew that the PI word is backed by jurisprudence! In Bicol, we have an expression similar – bulikanina – roughly a mother’s genitals. Not really meant to offend but just an expression of exasperation, wonder, etc. Too bad, though, that Pres Duterte is the one who dished them as president. We need someone more polished. Someone who can chew thieves alive but does that using knife and fork. LOL.

  8. Ignacio Balbutin on

    The americans should study more asian culture if they want to be allied with Asia. If the continue in their onion skin attitude then I’m sure they will lost many allies all over the world and it will be detrimental to them as a super power

  9. Dear RT,

    On September 28, we ought to remember that fateful day in our history in 1901 otherwise known as the Balangiga Massacre.

    Please favor us your avid readers by writing an article about it. If the Americans are truly our allies, how come they cannot move on and return to the people of Samar the Balangiga church bells? How come our WW2 veterans who fought alongside the Yanks in the USAFFE continue to beg to this day for their rightfully earned pensions still languishing in the US Congress?

  10. Trivia.

    Do you know that people close to PRRD’s Special Assistant Christopher Bong Go call him “PIAO”?

    YES, only close to Bong, they call him “PIAO” for the Hokien word “piao si ngi” which means putang-ina!

  11. Great read as usual, RT!

    PUNYETA! Haha, gotcha! You forgot Heneral Luna’s favorite expletive! :-)

  12. For sure, I don’t accept those words at home, sampal ang aabutin ng anak ko or whoever within my family circle. Ang pagkakaalam ko nasa pagpapalaki ng magulang yan or kung anu ang kinagisnan mo or your surroundings. However, as the jurisprudence is saying, it is “common expression” and not slander. It is an expression of anger and displeasure, so be it.

  13. is there any other world leader that openly curse? What do you think the US or the foreign press will do if they hear obama curse? Lol

    • You have to understand, dear, not everybody was raised by the same parents and in the same environment, ok? Even if they were raised by the same parent or raised in the same environment, not everybody have the same temperament, ok? so you should not compare President Duterte to any other world leader. Our Philippine President is UNIQUE, and he is not gonna compromise who he is just to please you or other world leader. He is offering himself as a whole package, take him or leave him, he doesn´t care, even if it means loosing his Presidency.

  14. Bobbi Tiglao Maraming salamat sa iyong sinulat at mabuhay po kayo! Hindot! Fucking enjoyed the piece about the Supreme Court’s view(s) about the use of Putang ina. About expletives I guess the Chinese and the Jews are tops, the Chinese reaches up to grandmothers and how about Jesus words: you brood of vipers! In Butuan City it is: bilatinamo! The pussy of your mother.

  15. My late mother’s expression was “putah” and my late dad “yodeputa”. And we know their ok, meaning in good health when we regularly hear those words coming out of their mouth in conversations. If we don’t hear those words, we know we should worry.
    Mr. Oliveros is right, the American expression “God damn it” is so fucking worst. But we’re not fucking scandalized.
    It was media’s fault, gardemet! They gave it a wrong translation and sent a wrong message to Obama.
    Fucking good article Mr. Tiglao!

  16. As studies suggest that people who normally swear are the most honest people. And people who normally criticise others behaviour are the most unhappy and untruthful people.

  17. I’d rather want to hear Duterte Swear than steal millions and millions of taxpayer money intended for hospitals schools and roads

  18. In Ilokano dialect: Okinnana;Tagalog, putang ina; In Ilokano, okinnam, in tagalog, putang ina mo.

    Okinnana is not direct to individual and it is not a curse, it is a matter of expression when some one get angry.. While Okinnam, direct to individual and it is a curse.same thing in tagalog. So I agree with sir tiglao and others.

    • When you are the president and not just anyone on the street, you have an office to uphold, accountability that is uniquely yours, certain standards you are to hold yourself to, etc. All this justification is beside the point. Have you ever heard Mr. Obama use that kind of language in reference to/to address another president? I’m sure he’s familiar with the wide application of the “f” word.

      So much as you, Mr. Tiglao and the rest, want to parse the language, explain away the expletives, and then defend them with a Supreme Court ruling..doesn’t make what he said appropriate. Seriously, you want to go with that?? Sorry but I find it pathetic…and somewhat immature.

      Even locally, his people have had to define and redefine some of the things he says…and you can’t say we don’t “understand” him. There are things you may want to do/say in your backyard…but if it is offensive, inappropriate, and crude, don’t expect your neighbours to appreciate it.

    • ILVING T ZAMORA on

      You’re fuckin’ wrong, ZAK…. “OKINNANA” in IIocano means “Pussy of a Mother” or “Mother’s Pussy”; OKINNAM translates to “Your Mother’s Pussy!” The former is a nasty expression, the latter is the cuss/curse word!
      ..

  19. I have a friend who uses the PI very frequently as an expression. This guy is the nicest, most honest and considerate person I ever met. When I first met him, I was uncomfortable of his conversations. I got used to him because I knew he really did not use it for its literal meaning. It is his person and I believe it is difficult for him to unlearn. But, why should I want him to change? He is honest, concerned and considerate to his friends and other people. He is fair. Of my golfing buddies, he is the only one who does not cheat and does not act as a sandbagger. I myself do not use PI or any other profane words. Others do. So what the “F…”! So why should I not like Duterte? He is great!

  20. To find out how Duterte measures up with other politicians in the case of having a foul-mouth, all one has to do is to type in the words on his or her key board – top 16 foul-mouthed politicians. In it are 16 famous American politicians, and list Obama as among the top 16. So for the uninformed and prude people, this incident should be taken with a grain of salt, because it is not grevious in any way as the word ‘putang ina’ expressed in a fit of anger often cannot kill. To raise the bar of direct personal threat, let us take the case in Sudan, where the Sudanese presidential guards fired at an American convoy, with it is the second highest ranking American diplomat, the American security detail has to call in the marines to extract them out of the place, but the Americans downplayed this incident.

    So this narrative about ‘putang ina’ and much hype being thrown its way, should not even bother America, for it is least lethal nor was it ever intended to throw insult at Obama. In short what can be said about this issue and those who continue to get stuck up on this, let us tell them – come on get a life!

  21. makasalanan na pinoy on

    How the fuck are you Mr. Tiglao? There are still a bunch of dickheads around here that don’t like your article, but hey, just tell these shitheads to fuck off. I enjoyed reading this article and I haven’t laugh so hard in a long time that I almost shit on my pants. Fuck! loved it!!.

    • Very true! When I was in elementary grade in the 70s we used “putang ina” on a regular basis.

      When I moved to Manila in the late 80s, I noticed the expletive was not taken so lightly or easily.

  22. If you are not from Davao, no relatives living there or not even had the chance to visit the city, you will be shocked by the expletive “putang-ina”….it is a very common expression used in all walks of life……sa kwentuhan pa lang umaatikabo na ang putang -ina….

    • Very true! When I was in elementary grade in the 70s we used “putang ina” on a regular basis.

      When I moved to Manila in the late 80s, I noticed the expletive was not taken so lightly or easily.

  23. Elsa G. Jambre on

    In two months, we have witnessed an authentic move to clean up the gutter. Why do Filipinos dwell on play of words, disgusting and displeasing they may be, and waste time on such unproductive matters when there are tons of concerns to be faced and work to be done? Our streets remain crowded with illegally parked vehicles, still littered with garbage no matter how much cleaning up is done, unfinished road projects, no one seem to be working on them, and everything that each citizen should be taking upon himself. Hello, Filipinos, are we that shallow, making a lot of noise, empty-headed, noisy magpies, or what? Insanity is really contagious…

  24. Really? you spent at much time justifying his comment? LOL he made a speech in English, broken only by a profanity that has different meanings in different dialects. serious even Tagalog speaking children of Bicol parents cant understand some words in either of the two main Bicol dialects let alone Visayan or the hundreds of other dialects! Little Roddy is becoming an international joke, and making Philippines a laughing stock A clever president is clear in their wording avoiding any chance of misinterpretation. Shame on the Filipinos for letting your wonderful country be weakened by stupidity.

    • Seriously?! Clearly you’re eyes aren’t open as wide. Philippines has been a laughing stock in some way long before Duterte’s time. The only difference is Philippines’ media did not sensationalize it as much, if at all, they down played it. If our neighboring countries do respect us, they won’t dump containers of trash in our ports, they won’t keep their drug factories in our cities, ask our people to make them and then sell it to our youths, and the list goes on. We vote for people who have committed political crime, we don’t do anything despite corruption being exposed. Our country has been lurking in the dark for so long, covered in hypocrisy. We don’t like to approve divorce because of our religious beliefs but how many in our country have extramarital affairs? And yes, again the list goes on. So sinong niloloko natin? You think other countries don’t realize how we are fucked up? Try living in another country, then you’ll probably realize how fucked up the Philippines has become. Then I don’t think putang ina will even be enough when you see how some nationalities treats us. Open your eyes, Pres. Duterte is trying his best, instead of betting on his weaknesses and continuously opposing his ways, why don’t you try and help first. Meron ka bang nagawa? Drug killings? What about those people killed by drugs, victims of crimes due to drugs? What about the future of our youth? When drugs hit the streets and they are hooked what will become of our society? Aee you even sure our police are the only one who kills? I am not one to side with all these killings but instead of fucking complaining and criticizing, fucking do something or sugfest a better way. Vigilantes can be of two sides. If may pumapatay talagang vigilantes, pwede naman mag naghuhuli din ng mga pumapatay, di ba? Ilan na ang napatay sa lugar namin, in both cases the men’s faces were covered in black, ang nakakapagtaka sa place namin kung hindi ka tubo don or at least familiar sa mga inside streets hindi ka maglalakas ng loob pumasok sa looban at eskinita. These guys did just that, they chased the guy up to theend of the ally regardless kung maraming tao sa paligid and them fired at him. After that, wla naglakad lang palabas. Even the police in the past didn’t dare to go in as deep in those alleyways during sting operations kse takot sila makuyob. So common sense lang kakilala ang puamapatay. Now get a fucking grip of yourself and let’s think of a way how to help our government in the clean up and making sure only the criminals are killed.

  25. Just a grammatical point. Fuck as verb can be both transitive & intransitive. Yes! But your e.g. John fucked Mary. & Mary was fucked by John. – the verbs used are both transitive, with the 2nd being in the passive voice.
    John fucks beautifully. -would render the verb intransitive.
    The article, sir Tiglao is very informative.

  26. No place for those type of words either at home or in any international setting. Shows no breeding whatsoever. Words are very powerful. And he claims that he is a lawyer…

    • Exactly! It doesn’t matter what it really means. The point is it’s a profanity coming from a head of state! Why can’t some people get that?

    • Breeding… I wonder how that will improve the economic situation. Words are very powerful indeed. It shows independence. And it can twist things to suit anyone EVEN IF THOSE WHO DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE CULTURE WILL INSIST ON THEIR OWN INTERPRETATION. Duterte is a lawyer, was even a fiscal, mayor and now PRESIDENT all on his own accord WITHOUT HAVING TO DEPEND ON BREEDING TO PUT HIM AT THE TOP.

    • No breeding? You’re talking about Benigno Simeon, the Lying Psycho. Now there’s a prime example — bad upbringing, no class, no breeding.

  27. That’s really the true meaning of “putang ina mo”, to express one’s anger. Just like “yodeputa” or “Linte” in Ilongo and in Bisaya we had “yawa ka” or “jawa ka” or “pesteng yawa”.. It is commonly express and people never mind it except the Media in Metro Manila who want to sensationalize it and put a different meaning from the original dialect that come from it..

  28. Jose A. Oliveros on

    Thanks, Amb. Tiglao, for taking note of my comment in your column last Wednesday. By the way, you forgot to include another favorite American expression – God damn it, which Filipinos have transformed into gardemet. I am really wondering why there are people who cringe or scandalized when they hear the phrase “putang ina” as if their virgin ears have been raped. But these same people don’t react when Americans or even Filipinos exclaim “God damn it” which is taking the name of the Lord in vain?

  29. The ‘expletive’ expressed by Pres. Du30 was not directed to Obama; it cannot ‘hold water’ in court as such.

  30. As usual mga animal na Yellowtards much so with the dreaded Yellow media…….aysus dedma lang sila kasi supalpal sila palagi

  31. Great, Mr. Tiglao! See…what happens if one does not know the principles of translation? I suggest that Mr. Obama’s advisers and the foreign press be made to take translation lessons.

  32. Peter Gonzales on

    What a fucking article you have written Mr. Tiglao. I fucking enjoy it and widened by fucking perspective. Aaay mga
    yodepota!

  33. Please take note that what President Duterte said was “Putang ina” and not “Putang ina mo”. These two tagalog phrases have different meanings. The first phrase, is a very common expression being uttered by most Filipinos, and do not pertain to a specific individual. Henceforth, President Duterte was not referring to Presidentg Obama when he said this words.

    • In our hosts country, everybody here respect the dignity of a person. We think before we say something to a person, co-worker or to our boss.

    • You’re right. He never said “putang Ina mo.” He said “putang Ina”. It’s too bad, even Filipino reporters are VERY IRRESPONSIBLE. They, too, are as arrogant and cannot discern what responsible journalism is all about.

  34. dont justify it, malas lang niya iba lahi ang pinatamaan niya and they take that seriously, dati ka pa man din na na govt opisyal tatanga tanga ka pa din, regardless of what the supreme court held sa kaugalian natin masamang mura pa din yan o at least mura pa din yan, e sa atin isa na yan sa pinakamalalang mura e. just shut up!

    • I beg to disagree. Sa tagalog mas malala pag tinawag kang tarantado kaysa putang ina mo. I’m an ilonggo so I’m using the curse yodeputa.

    • Hindi ko alam kung sino sa amin ni Mr Tiglao ang pinagsasabihan mo ng tatanga tanga. I
      But, I am pretty sure na may sense pareho ang ipinost namin dito. I am also sure na ikaw ang tanga at bastos pa dahil kung may pinag aralan ko, hindi ka magku kumento ng ganito lalo na at hindi mo alam ang pareho naming background, at karanasan sa aming mga buhay.

    • “I am also sure na ikaw ang tanga at bastos pa dahil kung may pinag aralan ko, hindi ka magku kumento ng ganito lalo na at hindi mo alam ang pareho naming background, at karanasan sa aming mga buhay.”

      So ngayon na ikaw yung binabastos dapat binabackground check ka muna? Na hindi justified ngayon ang pag gamit ng “tanga” pero ang pag gamit ng “putang ina” okay lang? Double standard ka pre. Tanga nga ka nga kung ganun.

    • For sure, I don’t accept those words at home, sampal ang aabutin ng anak ko or whoever within my family circle. Ang pagkakaalam ko nasa pagpapalaki ng magulang yan or kung anu ang kinagisnan mo or your surroundings. However, as the jurisprudence is saying, it is “common expression” and slander. It is an expression of anger and displeasure, so be it.