Partly because it has risen to the front of current international perception of our President and our country, and partly because it is hard to keep track of all the cuss words, vulgarisms and threats that his mouth has spewed out, I think we should label and codify the tough-talking language and comments of President Duterte as “Talk Duterte.”
I got the idea from reading the first report of the Economist on the election of Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency in its issue of July 9, 2016. The article (“Change of command in the Philippines”) carried the curious subhead, “Talk dirty to me, deciphering the new President’s tough-guy language.”
I get the pun and the message. Talk Duterte sounds awfully close to “TalkDirty” (a slang term from pornography).
The magazine opened its report with these words:
“Chief among the traits of Rodrigo Duterte that won him the presidential election in May was his forthright manner of speaking. Yet the meaning of his aggressive, expletive-laden talk was often obscure. What would he really do as Pesident? Filipinos are starting to get a glimpse.
“In one respect—his promise to give the police a free hand to kill criminals, notably suspected drug-traffickers—the man …seems to have been taken at his word even before his inauguration on June 30th. In the first six weeks after the election, the police shot dead suspected drug-traffickers at the rate of nine a week, over four times the rate in the preceding four months. A day after being sworn in, Mr. Duterte reassured officers paraded in front of him that they had the right to kill suspects who threatened their lives by resisting arrest. ‘Do your duty—and if, in the process, you kill 1,000 persons because you were doing your duty—I will protect you,’ he said. He later took aim at their bosses, accusing five serving and former police generals of being ‘protectors’ of drugs gangs.”
First tirade of expletives and vulgarisms
The Filipino public and the media got their first big helping of Talk Duterte during his proclamation as the presidential candidate of the PDP-Laban political party in November 2015 at the Century Park hotel.
What was supposed to be the maiden speech of his campaign turned out to be a veteran tirade of epic dimensions, as he railed against everything and everyone:
He called Pope Francis a “son of a bitch” for causing a traffic gridlock in Manila.
He cursed the rapists and killers of an Australian missionary at the Davao penitentiary in 1989, because he said he as mayor should have been first because she was so pretty.
He boasted that he had three girlfriends and a common law life (his marriage was annulled long ago because of his womanizing).
That speech shocked many in the country and abroad. But the people were not paying close attention. They found Talk Duterte refreshing and exhilarating. He received 38 percent of the votes.
Talk Duterte goes global
You would think that having won the prize, he would let up and appear presidential. But no, he felt he had to keep adding to the lexicon. This is who he is. The world must also hear and listen.
When the American and Australian ambassadors criticized Duterte for his rape joke, he threatened to break off diplomatic relations with those countries.
On May 26, 2016, during a press conference in Davao City, then President-elect Duterte launched a series of obscenity-filled attacks on the Catholic Church, branding local bishops corrupt and sons of whores, who are to be blamed for the nation’s fast-growing population. On August 5, 2016, as he addressed troops at the country’s Armed Forces Central Command Headquarters, Duterte recounted US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to the country, and recalled in Filipino that he was feuding with US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg. He called the US ambassador “a gay son of a bitch.”
When a United Nations taskforce criticized Duterte for the extrajudicial killings during the war on drugs, he attacked the UN for its failures in the Middle East.
Speaking at a press conference to unveil his new Cabinet and when asked a question about the country’s many unsolved murders of journalists, Duterte declared that the journalists killed in the Philippines were corrupt.
The United States embassy on Friday, August 12, issued a statement that addressed three issues surrounding President Duterte and the US: Duterte calling US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg “gay” and a “son of a bitch;” Duterte saying the US’ pledge of $32 million for law enforcement was a way of making amends with the Philippines; and hundreds being killed through extrajudicial means as Duterte wages a bloody war on drugs.
The US Embassy described the comments about Ambassador Goldberg as “inappropriate and unacceptable.
Straining the US-PH alliance
In an analysis for CNN, Dr. Matthew Davies of the Australian National University contends that President Duterte is leading the Philippines to isolation, and that an isolated Philippines would weaken the US position in Asia Pacific.
Expounding, Davies wrote: “Duterte’s assumption of the presidency was widely predicted to lead to a chill in the bilateral relationship with Washington, with analysts expecting a hedging strategy, seeking to play off the US and China.
“Yet Duterte’s homophobic slur reveals not a well-conceived strategy to hedge between superpowers, but a country stumbling towards a dangerous isolation.
“Duterte’s temperament and policies have strained the shared values that President Obama rightly identified as at the heart of the Washington-Manila relationship.”
Davies concluded his analysis as follows: “An isolated Philippines would significantly weaken the US position both directly and indirectly. Of immediate concern would be the ability of the US to project power into the South China Sea.”
Significantly, Dr. Davis goes on to urge a US response to Talk Duterte that is firm and measured:
1. First it must be made clear that such language is against not only the rules and expectations that govern diplomacy, but is contrary to the values that underpin the relationship between the US and Manila.
2. Second, as befits the wider strategic view of the US, no rash strategic decision can be made, however distasteful. The long-term shared interests of the Philippines and US in a rules-based international order in general and an open and navigable South China Sea in particular — must be recognized and emphasized.
3. Third, Washington must quietly expound the value of the enduring relationship in the face of such provocation.
“Duterte’s statements, perhaps not even all his actions taken together, do not have to mark the beginning of the end of the US-Philippines alliance. But it is in the interests of both sides to underline that this should be the end of the first phase of Duterte’s stewardship of this most important relationship.”
That Talk Duterte has provoked this kind of analysis and counsel means that President Duterte should mind his words a little more.