2018: A nation fed with jokes
MANILA, Philippines – He started the joke, which made the whole nation – and even the world – languishing in a believe-it-or-not situation.
With 2018 winding down, let’s look back at the year and the year before that saw President Rodrigo Duterte hogging the local and international headlines not only for the repercussions of his bloody war on drugs and criminality but also for his penchant for dishing out outlandish remarks – which he would later play down as “can’t you take a joke?”
During the conferment of awards to the Asean-National Organizing Council officials at Malacañang on December 3, Duterte stunned the nation when he “admitted” he was taking marijuana to keep him awake, citing his hectic schedules.
“It’s a killing activity and I think my age… me, not that much, because I take marijuana to stay awake. Others may no longer take it,” the 73-year-old leader said.
His remark sparked public debates as the use of marijuana remains illegal in the Philippines.
But hours after, the President recanted, and told reporters that “it was a joke.”
He explained that he only wanted “to shake the tree in the middle of a boring speech.”
“It was a joke, of course, it was a joke. And nobody could stop me from just doing my style,” he said.
The President also had dropped a few bombshells on his political rivals in some of his speeches, which his spokesman would later temper.
In a speech on December 18 in Davao City, he accused former Interior secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, who lost to him in the 2016 presidential elections, of ordering the ambush of former police general and now Daanbantayan, Cebu, Mayor Vicente Loot.
Sought for clarification the next day, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte “obviously was saying it in jest.”
Aside from Roxas, detained Sen. Leila de Lima has been the President’s favorite punching bag. The President’s favorite line has been: Have you seen De Lima’s steamy sex video?
From a detained woman senator, Duterte – often branded as misogynist – trained his sights on women rebel returnees. In a speech early this year, the President ordered the military to shoot female communist rebels right in the vagina.
“Are there any women holding guns?’ ‘Sir, she’s a fighter. An amazon.’ ‘Shoot her in the vagina,’” he said in a speech before rebel returnees at Malacañang on February 7.
He later defended himself in a separate speaking event a week after the controversial speech by saying it was a “sort of sarcasm.”
But his inclination to cracking jokes about women did not end there.
In a speech on August 30 in Mandaue City, Cebu, the former Davao City mayor said his hometown has the highest number of rape cases in the country because it’s populated with beautiful women.
“They said there are many rape cases in Davao. As long as there are many beautiful women, there will be more rape cases,” he said.
Predictably, the members of the women’s rights groups found Duterte’s explanation offensive.
Data from the Philippine National Police (PNP) indeed showed that Davao City has the highest number of rape cases in the Philippines in the second quarter of 2018.
President’s pre-2018 ‘jokes’
As early as 2016, the President showed his predisposition to crack jokes in public speaking engagements that provided the public a window into his avant-garde style of running the administration.
Months after he won the presidency, Duterte said the Philippines would pull out from the United Nations but later said this threat was said in jest.
“Can’t you take a joke? What will you join, the association of those who have sunk?” Duterte told reporters in an ambush interview.
Even Vice President Ma. Leonor “Leni” Robredo, who joined the President’s Cabinet as chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) but was later asked to stop from attending the Cabinet meetings due to “irreconcilable differences,” was not spared the President’s jokes.
In a speech on March 20, 2016, he confessed to Robredo that she was one of the topics in his roughly 13-hour meeting with his Cabinet officials.
In his first year in office, Duterte openly flirted with Robredo during an event in Tacloban City marking the third year of the Supertyphoon Yolanda tragedy as he joked about ogling at the Vice President’s legs.
He did not stop there. Even the victims of Supertyphoon Yolanda were targets of Duterte’s jokes.
In a speech on January 2 last year, Duterte joked about hoping that only the ugly women died during the disaster and not the beautiful ones.
“I looked up to the sky and said, “Lord, I hope only the ugly died. I hope the beautiful ones did not. The Lord said, That’s okay,” he said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
In another gag-filled speech in Bangkok, Thailand before the Filipino community last year, Duterte said Robredo, a widow of the late interior secretary Jesse Robredo, should marry him. He made the proposal at the time when rumors were swirling that the vice president wanted him out of power.
“[She is] in a hurry. She wants me out. I haven’t even reached one year, then you already want me out. Okay, she’s still young, okay, marry me,” he said.
Even the religious groups and the Catholic Church did not escape Duterte’s ribbing.
In a speech on November 1 this year, he mocked the Catholic celebration of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in the country.
“These Catholics are fools; why do we have this All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day?” he said.
Apparently joking, he proposed putting his picture at their altar so people would worship “Santo Rodrigo” rather than those inebriated saints.
Days after, Panelo said it was only a joke, a kind of “playful jab,” from the President.
Joke or no joke, there was no letup in his attack on the Catholic Church after that.
In his speech during the awarding ceremonies for the 2017 Presidential Award for Child-Friendly Municipalities and Cities (PACFMC) in Malacañang on December 5, he told the audience to kill their bishops.
“Your bishops, kill them. These fools are useless,” he said.
As expected, Panelo said Duterte’s “kill order” should not be taken plainly.
“I think that’s only a hyperbole on the part of the President. We should be getting used to this President. He is making these statements for dramatic effect,” the spokesman said in a Palace briefing.
In another joking binge that spoofed his critics, the President in August said God had promised him that all victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK) would go to heaven.
“Enjoy your human rights in heaven,” Duterte said, adding: “God promised me all extrajudicial killing victims would go to heaven. I asked that of God, and he said, ‘all right, it can be done.’”
Political analyst and University of the Philippines Professor Maria Fe Villamejor-Mendoza said Duterte’s policy statements must be well thought out.
“Policies are supposed to be well-studied and not reversed the minute one awakes on the wrong side of the bed,” Mendoza, dean of the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG), told INQUIRER.net.
In 2016, almost a month after he won the presidency, the foul-mouthed and trash-talking mayor promised to metamorphose into a butterfly.
“I am not yet president. You wait. I’m really a rude person. I’m enjoying my last time as a rude person,” he then said.
“When I become president when I take my oath of office, it would be a different story. There will be a metamorphosis,” he added.
Even before he won the presidency, Duterte has repeatedly said he would not run for president despite being under constant prodding from his supporters.
“After talking to my family and everybody else connected to my life, I would like to categorically state now, and also to end the agony of those waiting and for those who believe in me, I’m not running for President. I’m sorry,” he said.
But he changed his mind weeks after the deadline of filing of candidacy and declared he would run for president as a substitute standard-bearer of the PDP-Laban.
He ran under the platform of eradicating drugs, crime and corruption within the first three to six months in office.
With this promise, he won the presidency with 16 million votes.
But on his third month in office, Duterte admitted that he could not curb crime and illegal drugs in three to six months.
“That self-imposed time of three to six months, well, I did not realize how severe and how serious the problem of drug menace in this Republic until I became President,” he said in a September 18, 2016 interview in Davao City.
He admitted he was wrong to make his self-imposed deadline.
Mendoza said the President’s jokes indeed “abnormally endear him to the people because he presents a ‘totoong tao’ image- flawed, ‘down to earth’, imperfect, ‘hindi aral ang lenggwahe-galing sa puso ang kilos at salita.’”
“This ‘leadership’ style allowed him to govern with authority but not respect – as if people were led by a pied piper,” she said.
“His admission that he could not address criminality, corruption, drug problem, and other ills of the society as fast as he promised was accepted easily, unlike GMA’s (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) ‘I am sorry’ or Miriam DS’s (Defensor-Santiago) ‘I lied!’ because he projected himself as ‘tao lang’ and not a superman,” she added.
“But all these images,” Mendoza said, “only cover up for his inefficiency and ineffectiveness in leading the country because he strikes without seriously thinking of the repercussions of his actions.”
“He governs by gut feel,” she said.
Despite his blunders and crass language, the survey showed Duterte still enjoyed the trust of many Filipinos.
In the third quarter Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey, Duterte’s net trust rating remained “very good,” even rising to +62, a five-point increase from the previous quarter’s +57.
In the Pulse Asia survey released on September, 7 out of 10 Filipinos still trust the President though the result was a double-digit drop from 87 percent to 72 percent, a 15-point drop from his June 2018 rating.
‘Seething rage of the overwhelming majority’
Panelo explained why Duterte still exists in the people’s heart.
He said Duterte’s “support base remains strong simply because the majority of the Filipinos identify with him and relate to him.”
“They see themselves in him. Their outrage against criminality, illegal drugs, corruption, terrorism, rebellion and the governments’ neglect in giving social services which they speak privately among themselves punctuated with expletives are publicly verbalized by the President in colorful lingua franca that they regularly and commonly use in their everyday conversations,” he told INQUIRER.net.
“Duterte mirrors what the masses revolt against, especially the inequities in society, that the traditional politicians whom they have elected not only failed and neglected to address but maintained, as well as the corruption that characterized their governance. Duterte is the embodiment of the seething rage that the overwhelming majority of Filipinos feel,” he added.
Despite his crass language and unconventional style of leadership, Panelo said the Filipino masses and the President have become one.
“Duterte’s style favors him because the Filipino majority has made him their symbol. The critics and detractors can never destroy the President no matter how many times they try because the Filipino masses and Rodrigo Roa Duterte have molded into one,” he said.
Mendoza agrees with that view. She said the results of the surveys favoring the President reflected “the majority’s unfounded exasperation of the seemingly no action or solution by those who were the ‘prim and proper.’”
“Gone were the days that people would be patiently waiting for ‘results.’ They want action now,” she said.
So should the President act presidential as he promised two years ago?
Mendoza said: “President Duterte promised he would metamorphose like a beautiful butterfly if he becomes President. He is now the President of our country but he did not transform into a President as against a mayor, a statesman as against a street-smart mayor-president,” she said.
“Ideally,” according to Mendoza, “the president [of the Republic] should be a statesman/woman, of higher breeding, not foul-mouthed, dignified, seriously talking about strategic policies to move the country up. She/he should project the best of or about us.”
“I don’t think we should accept [Duterte] as himself. The presidency is the highest position in the land. We should only expect the best from him,” she said.
The President, she said, “should lessen the gutter language and profanities/vulgarities, [and] level up his standards of leading.”
“He may joke from time to time but let the jokes be clean and respectful of others. If he wants to malign others, let him malign himself so he will have a dose of his own medicine,” she said.
The UP professor slammed as “pathetic” Duterte’s rape and sexist jokes.
“There are times for jokes to lighten the load, to smile when stressed, to laugh at our mistakes and mortality but not at the expense of other people’s dignity and human rights,” she said.
“The rape and sexist jokes are pathetic. The kill jokes encourage a culture of impunity. The ‘jokes’ against those who are not similar-minded like him, the opposition, the alternatives, e.g., ‘you are my enemy…your career is dead!’ smacks of low self-esteem,” she added.
Serious leadership problem
“Using his position to bully others,” Mendoza said, “is seriously a problem of leadership.”
“As a President of the country, he has to be the father of the nation, heal wounds, patch misunderstanding and differences, nurture diversity to unify the country. Sad to say, he has a different style that works for him to be strongest at the expense of other institutions,” she said.
“How can democracy flourish when we have a very strong President and very weak-all other institutions of governing and governance?” she asked.
Mendoza said she “wished the President leads as our president – dignified and really respectful of others, of human rights and the rule of law.”
“Let him be our ambassador of goodwill, and really a servant leader for our people. Let him be beyond himself, his generation, and of Davao. Please be the president of the Philippines,” she said.
President not a bad leader
But for Panelo, Duterte is entitled to make jokes and “one joke will not make him a bad leader.” He even advised the public to use our common sense to distinguish whether the President is joking or not.
“You know, you cannot deprive any person, not because he’s the President, to crack jokes. As he said, he does it because usually, events are boring. So he gives some jokes to make us laugh,” Panelo said.
“That’s his style,” he added./ac
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