I sometimes feel I am on the wrong side of history chafing at President Duterte’s diplomatic gaffes and vulgar insults against his perceived and proclaimed enemies. Despite his follies, DU30, I am told, continues to receive popular support from the masses, and opinion writers who criticize his vulgarities are in danger of losing their readers. A recent front-page article by Dr. Dante A. Ang, chairman emeritus of The Manila Times, suggests that the masa adores “Digong” precisely because of his vulgarities, not just in spite of them.
Dr. Ang’s insight is worth framing for posterity: “He possesses all the No-Nos of a respected leader. He is profane, vulgar, amoral. He does not have a clear path to economic deliverance. His campaign against drugs does not distinguish between the user and the pusher and the innocent bystander. Yet, despite all these negatives, people gravitate to him. They are all too willing to turn a blind eye to the alleged abuses and excesses. Why?”
The writer leaves it pretty much to the reader to conclude why. But right off, this apparent celebration of vulgarity and offensive manners is the clearest proof that something is terribly wrong with us as a people. We celebrate and applaud the odious and the execrable. We are entertained by what should offend us to the core. Once we have chosen someone to lead us, no matter how quickly he reduces himself into a much lower organism after that, we refuse to see that we have been deceived by our own illusions. We could no longer see him doing anything wrong, unless we were the direct and immediate victims of his offense.
DU30’s effect on our morals and manners
This happened under B.S. Aquino 3rd. It is happening under DU30. We expected change to come, and change has come. So what we thought was the worst government we ever had seems to be looking better than the present one. I am not talking here of the pivot to China, which should be pursued without trying to make an enemy of the US. I am simply talking of DU30’s direct and immediate impact upon our morals and manners as Filipinos. We could be loud and vulgar when we are drunk, otherwise we are normally well-mannered and pleasant to deal with. Yet in the last four months, there has been an obvious lowering of our standards of civility and decency everywhere, and we have ceased to be sensitive to the delicacy of certain words. Not to mention values.
In many places, including one health facility that offers excellent water therapy, I have lately noticed a sudden explosion of cuss words among millennials, which I never heard before. DU30’s notorious “putang ina” (whore of a mother), which he denies having used on Barack Obama, appears to have invaded the public square as the new argot to proclaim the notion of being male or gay. These vulgarities pollute the environment much more quickly than carbon emissions do, and should become the concern of our environmentalists.
An environmental issue
As Environment Secretary, Gina Lopez should perhaps initiate a move to prohibit, under a heavy fine, the use of vulgar and offensive language in public office and public places. This would help ensure a much cleaner environment at least in government. For precedent and model, I would refer her to Salt Lake City, Utah. In one of the famous shopping areas in that city, you will find a sign that reads, “This is private property. The use of offensive and vulgar language is forbidden, together with the consumption of alcoholic drinks and tobacco.” Or words to that effect.
DU30 should be the first one to welcome such a move. He has tried to cut his habit of exclaiming “putang ina” whenever excited, by promising God, during an alleged private conversation with the Lord at 30,000 feet altitude, on his way home from Japan, that he would stop using this cuss word. But he could not help himself when he learned recently that the US government had decided to deny the sale of 26,000 N-4 rifles to the Philippine National Police. So he cursed again.
No conversation with God—joke only
For the US, this was apparently one way of helping DU30 fast-track the implementation of his announced move to “separate” the Philippine militarily from the US, and buy more arms from China and Russia. But apparently he had forgotten his “separation” announcement, so instead of thanking the US State Department for its gratuitous help, he broke his promise to God not to curse anymore, and did it again by calling the US government “monkeys.” He had to explain by saying—exactly as I had suggested in an earlier column—that he never had a private conversation with God; that it was all a joke.
In apparent consideration of the sensibilities of believers, DU30 did not say whether or not he believed in God. With him having publicly cursed God at least once in the last four months, I can only hope he does not say that he had felt free to curse God because he did not believe in Him after all, so there was really no one to take offense. Except, of course, the overwhelming majority of his voters who believe in Him.
I hope and pray, together with all those who have not entirely given up on DU30, that he would finally be able to control his temper and his mouth. That has become his main problem and he should exert every effort to deal with it. If he cannot stop his cursing, he should perhaps do what Erap Estrada did about his own inadequacies. He made fun of his own booboos, and used his follies to disarm his critics. Erap manufactured jokes at his own expense, and called them “Eraptions.”
Laughing at one’s follies
Ousted in 2001, and convicted of bribery later, he served a sentence, but was finally pardoned by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Erap made a joke of this sorry turn of events by saying that true to his habit of never finishing anything, he didn’t finish his schooling because he became an actor and a politician, then he didn’t finish his presidency because they took it away from him, and he finally decided not to finish his jail sentence. Many are still laughing at Erap’s jokes.
Some observers thought DU30 could have started laughing at himself, like Erap, when he was in China, had he announced that he had adopted a Chinese name—Poh Tang Nah. In Japan, he could have told the press that he had adopted “Nakamura” (able to curse) as his nom de guerre. At his probable encounter with Obama in Peru this month, he is advised to try and assure the outgoing US President that he never said “puta ang ina mo” (your mother is a whore); all he said was “puti ang ina mo” (your mother is white). If Obama laughs with him, then the world would be laughing with them both. It is a win.
If there’s no chance he could stop cursing foreign heads of state, international institutions and functionaries who disagree with him, he could perhaps issue an executive order, or ask his rubber stamp Congress to enact a law, saying that whenever the head of state uses “putang ina” in his speeches, it should be understood simply as an expression of disbelief or surprise, and not as a profanity intended to malign anybody’s mother or any particular individual. Any foreigner who takes the phrase differently would be automatically declared persona non grata.
Finally, the Cabinet should exert every effort to convince Oxford, Cambridge, Webster, Merriam or any reputable dictionary to enter “putang ina” as a new word in the English language, to mean “an expression of disbelief or surprise,” in the same manner that “Imeldific” and “kilig” have entered the English language. If this were done, then DU30 could spend his entire watch spreading “putang ina” around the world without any serious adverse consequences. He might even get himself nominated for the “Gusi Peace Prize,” whose streamers now form the backdrop of the People Power monument on EDSA.
The real threat —rising racism
But our real problem is no longer just DU30’s foul and pugnacious words. His rabid anti-Americanism has apparently energized every pro-DU30 thug everywhere not only to repeat his vulgar epithets but also to enforce their borrowed anti-Americanism with the necessary muscle. An old friend on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., a lawyer, has written to express this concern. Small-town thugs could fan the slightest hint of anti-Americanism just for kicks or to satisfy some personal grudges.
My friend reports that a few days ago, a lady constituent of Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, an old colleague in the international pro-life and pro-family movement, sought the latter’s help on behalf of her parents in Mindanao, who had reportedly been arrested and jailed for running an orphanage. Her mother is a naturalized American and her father an American missionary. The reported charges are “problematic,” writes my friend, “and their legal situation is in limbo.”
I am sure the office of Chris Smith would be looking deep into this case in the coming days. At the same time, I have received a report about a group of rowdy characters recently quoting the President and harassing an innocent American pedestrian in Pasay City, and asking him to go back to America. Like a deer caught in the headlights, the foreigner did not know what to do; other Filipinos at the scene came to the rescue.
This is a most dangerous element to introduce into Philippine society. Racism has no support among Filipinos. At a time when the Jews were being persecuted by the Nazis, and many countries in Europe were closing their doors to the Jewish refugees, we opened our doors and our homes to these refugees. After the Vietnam War, we set up facilities in Bataan for the boat people coming from Vietnam on the way to the United States. Thus, it is not uncommon to meet a Vietnamese-American in New York or in Washington, D.C. who could not forget their experience of Philippine hospitality in Bataan.
Any kind of anti-Americanism among Filipinos is bound to show up in their dealing with other white-skinned nationalities. For Filipinos tend to regard every white colored foreigner as American, to the amusement and, sometimes, discomfort of other races. In the 1970s when the first Soviet correspondents for Tass and Pravda came to Manila, their only complaint was that whenever they visited places outside Manila, they were royally treated by the locals, who uniformly called them “Joe.” A reversal of that warm pro-Americanism would likely affect other white-colored nationals, too.
But it’s not anti-Americanism alone that’s being whipped up by DU30’s rhetoric against his perceived and proclaimed enemies. Among pro-American Filipinos, especially those who “love” America and things American more than Americans themselves do, DU30’s effort to play China against the US is also reported to be generating intense resentment, not only against him but also against the Chinese. This heightens the volatility and vulnerability of Philippine society. With anti-Americanism, anti-China feelings and anti-Dutertism on the rise, how long will it be before we see Filipinos fighting Filipinos in defense of the Americans or the Chinese or Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco’s vision of a resurgent North Korea-type communist state?
Wake up, shape up and talk to us, Mr. President.