The eminent French theologian Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, (1877-1964), whom many regard as the last century’s greatest Catholic theologian, was once said to have begun a homily to an assembly of distinguished churchmen, by quoting the Gospel of St. John (1:1): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” While the assembly held their breath for his next words, he took a deep pause, bowed, and in a moment was done. Thunderous applause followed, and many have since described this homily as one of the greatest ever.
Words, both human and divine, have long spelled the destiny of mankind. With one word alone, God brought into existence what did not exist before. “Let there be light,” and there was light. And so goes the entire history of creation. “I shall be your God and you will be my people,” Yahweh tells his people in Ezekiel. Yet demagogues and tyrants have since said, “I am your god and you are my footstool.” This is what we seem to be witnessing in our here and now.
War of words between men and nations
From East to West, from North to South, words are causing the most explosive conflicts between men and nations. In the United States these last few months, we have witnessed a fierce exchange between two politicians determined to do anything and everything to gain the privilege of leading the world’s lone superpower. It has been a no-holds-barred, and no known defects of either party have been left unexploited by the other. But in one careless swing to the extreme, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton called supporters of her Republican opponent Donald Trump as belonging to a “basket of deplorables.” And suddenly this single phrase seemed to poison the whole stream.
Clinton was quick to disown her statement, saying it was absolutely wrong. But the “deplorables” appeared to have been mortally offended, and in no mood to be easily placated by this quick admission of error. One US-based Filipino-American blogger says Clinton’s “basket” was obviously meant to include Filipino American voters, and they would use their votes in November to respond to the slur. Good luck, Hillary Clinton!
DU30’s war with Obama and Ban Ki-moon
In the Philippines, President Duterte’s use of foul language to express his most passionate opinions about certain issues and personalities has compounded beyond measure the controversy over the extrajudicial killing of close to 3,000 suspects in his anti-narcotics war. This caused the cancellation of a proposed meeting between DU30 and US President Obama, and the denial of a similar meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of the Asean summit in Vientiane. It has now distorted the world’s perception of the DU30 presidency and the position of the nation’s 100 million people.
Before we could recover from this diplomatic incident, DU30 upped the ante by declaring that he wants the US Special Forces, which the previous Aquino administration had welcomed under its Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US, out of Mindanao. There are now three issues involved here. First, the summary killing of suspected drug dealers, numbering close to 3,000 as of now; second, DU30’s use of foul language to attack those who criticize the killings; and third, the proposed expulsion of the US forces in Mindanao.
The killing of suspected drug dealers, after “resisting arrest” or fighting with the police or vigilantes, is an admitted fact. The number is now reported to average 44 victims a day, and climbing. The only point of contention is whether Filipinos who criticize the killing are more interested in protecting the drug dealers than in supporting DU30’s anti-narcotics war, and whether or not outsiders like Obama and Ban Ki-moon have any business poking their noses into this matter.
He wants the US out of Mindanao
DU30 has denied calling Obama a “son of a whore,” but the world press has not disowned its reports that he actually did during a press conference in his hometown, Davao, before he flew to Vientiane. He has not denied calling Ban Ki-moon “tarantado” — a “crazy fool”— though, which has not elicited a response. It is not easy to figure out which of the two – his foul language or his peculiar position on the summary killings – is the more serious offense as far as Obama, Ban Ki-moon and the world press are concerned.
But DU30 has thrown in an entirely new matter that goes into the heart of US-Philippine security relations—his demand that the US military forces withdraw from Mindanao. As in the case of his brushes with Obama and Ban, he has aired his demand in public even before notifying Washington. This is a welcome move to many Filipinos, but its implications to the President’s personal and political security are not easy to imagine. The US has a known history of removing “unwanted” governments and government leaders.
DU30’s basic problems
But with or without this latest add-on, DU30 has enough problems that are deeply personal in nature. The first of these is what a friend refers to as his tendency to use “the mother tongue.” This is a pun on his favorite Filipino cuss word, “tang ina” or “putang ina,” which is a contraction of “puta ang ina” (the mother is a whore). Or “puta ang ina mo”—“your mother is a whore.” Although he curses in Filipino, his friends explain that this habit is imbedded in the Visayan culture, and does not deserve all the attention it is getting from Filipino (Tagalog) speakers.
I have my own problem with this rationalization. We generally look to our President not only as a leader, problem solver, etc., but above all as a role model. We try to teach our children from early childhood the virtue of chastity, or holy purity, and polite and non-offensive speech. In my region of Bicol, where the “sili” (pepper) plant is regarded as a regional symbol, parents tell their children never to use cuss words or foul language, unless they want their tongues soaked on pepper. Can we still teach our children and grandchildren the same thing when they hear their role model saying “tang ina” all the time?
I have known seven Presidents before DU30—from Diosdado Macapagal to BS Aquino 3rd. Not one of them was like President Digong. One former President was known to throw things at an offending Cabinet official in a fit, but none of them ever publicly cursed anyone. In the 10 years that I served as Marcos’ press secretary, spokesman and information minister, the strongest word I ever heard the man use was “lintik,” which literally meant lightning, to express shock or dismay that something untoward or completely unexpected had happened.
By definition, a national leader must be physically, emotionally and intellectually mature. Maturity entails at least three basic qualities: self-knowledge, self-control, and self-giving. One must know one’s own strengths but above all one’s own limitations. If he is a believer, he must know that without God he is nothing. One has to control one’s temper and appetites—for food, for carnal pleasures, for material possessions, for personal and political power. And at all times one should be prepared to argue against one’s self-interest, in favor of the interests and well being of others.
Is there a medical explanation?
DU30 is much too intelligent not to know that his invective-laden speech is a costly distraction from his official role. I have just read an account that says Andre Malraux, Charles de Gaulle’s minister of culture and one of the wisest men in France at the time, was afflicted with Tourette syndrome, characterized by the uncontrollable use of offensive language. This account needs verification. But if this is true and if DU30 has a similar affliction, the nation must be told that his apparently uncontrollable use of foul language is a medical problem, rather than a problem of character.
The communications secretary, Martin Andanar, has declared the war on drugs a “success,” reportedly because some 700,000 drug users had surrendered and the supply of drugs had been allegedly reduced to a significant level. But this conclusion is premature. It is an obvious effort to lift the burden from the President’s shoulders, but it is essentially a fruitless attempt—principally because there was never any published data of the available supply of illegal drugs on July 1 and how much there is today after nearly three months of the drug war.
Indeed, 700,000 is an impressive number. But many, if not most, of these have surrendered for fear of getting killed by the police or vigilantes. In a sense, the government has succeeded in creating a climate of fear. If there are over 3 million alleged users in the country, though, the majority have not been touched by this fear. As far as the illegal drug manufacturers, financiers and mega distributors are concerned, not a single one of them has been killed, arrested or surrendered since July 1. What success is it then where the very first line of the illegal industry remains untouched?
DU30’s beef against Obama and Ban Ki-moon is that they are outsiders who have no business trying to meddle in the internal affairs of an independent and sovereign country. Indeed, it is a breath of fresh air to hear the President speak of the Philippines as an independent and sovereign country. But it is disturbing to hear anyone say that what the Philippine government does to Filipino citizens is beyond the care and concern of non-Filipinos. No man is an island, says John Donne. What you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me, says Jesus Christ, our Lord and Master.
The fact that American colonial forces massacred Filipino natives during the Philippine-American war from 1899 to 1902 and even beyond, cannot be an excuse to kill drug suspects without due process, and to tell the rest of the world that it is strictly the sovereign affair of the Philippine government. In the absence of an independent political opposition in Congress, an independent and active critical opinion in media, civil society, and the academe, and a strong moral voice from the Church and religious sector, the international community becomes the first refuge of Filipinos whose human rights are casually violated by their government.
Is neutrality an option?
This does not mean Obama or Ban Ki-moon should run the DU30 government. DU30 has every right and duty to tell Obama that he cannot tell him to be less friendly with China, or to legislate contraception, abortion, same-sex “marriage,” divorce and all sorts of population control measures simply because the US government or the LGBT international lobby wants it. But he need not be hostile to any legitimate expression of concern about the human rights of Filipinos.
With respect to the US military presence, DU30 should have the courage to revisit the EDCA on the basis of the Constitution, which renounces war as an instrument of national policy, and declares the country as a nuclear weapons-free state, and the strategic vision of the Philippines as a God-fearing and peace-loving country that does not want war in this millennium or in the next. If DU30 finally decides to renounce the EDCA, which is but an executive agreement, it should be on the basis of these legitimate motives, not simply out of personal pique arising from an exchange of words that got out of control in the Western press. Perhaps the time has come for DU30 to consider political neutrality as a possible option for the Philippines.