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  • By Diana G. Mendoza

Duterte's ‘jokes’ pushing the limits of civility

Manila— If there's one thing that most Filipinos put up with under the government of President Rodrigo Duterte, it's his jokes and profanities that have shocked them from day one of the campaign period to the May 2016 presidential elections that he won. And up to this day.

His recent graphic anecdote about molesting their housemaid upset Filipinos anew, and his offensive stories don't stop, even when, in early January, he acknowledged his rudeness and seemed to have apologized, but not without giving an excuse.

“I hope I have not offended anybody by my strong words or my jokes,” journalists quoted him as telling a provincial audience. While saying he was trying to “push the limits of civility,” Duterte reasoned out that he intentionally uses harsh words to attack those who had been unfairly criticizing him even before he became president. "I am deliberately being rude because they have been rude to me even during the campaign period," Duterte said.

Journalist Ellen Tordesillas, editor of the online news site Vera Files, said as the president of the Philippines, chief executive, head of state, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Duterte’s powers “are awesome; his words carry the weight of his powerful position.” But in his one year in office alone, "Duterte has shocked, stunned and bewildered not only Filipinos but also the international community with his pronouncements."

Many of his words are offensive to women. Prior to the anecdote about molesting their housemaid, he ordered soldiers, in a speech last year, to shoot female communist rebels in the vagina.

Armin Luistro, president of De La Salle University, told a conference on democracy and disinformation that this was the “language of the drunk,” and called on Filipinos who ought to know better not to encourage its use. The academic also urged people not to be complicit in Duterte 's obscenity by not applauding or laughing in the face of jokes, a reference to so the many videos showing the audience doing these gestures in an apparent agreement with his jokes.

While he remains unfazed at the backlash over his crass language, Duterte continues to tell stories, often attacking his critics. In his first year, he succeeded in putting one of them, Sen. Leila de Lima, to jail for drug charges put up by his legal team, but not before he told the public about her alleged sex video. He accused his rival for the presidency, former senator Manuel Roxas II, of ordering the ambush of former police general who is also a mayor on Cebu province.

He also mocked the Catholic faith and targeted Catholic prelates when he asked the audience to kill their bishops. He also suggested that officials of the Commission of Audit be kidnapped and tortured because the government agency's checks on accountability were obstructing his government projects.

Observers say that whether or not his words contain profanities and obscenities, which they often have, Duterte's bawdy, misogynistic sexual jokes and violent statements are his way of asserting his power or perhaps, freedom from the normal restraints of decency, the way he flaunts about ignoring the law, the principle of due process and human rights.

He has also used this style to hit his critics and ironically, gain the support of his admirers, who are the ones who laugh and approve of his jokes.

He has had at least four spokespersons, all of whom have said that his statements and stories were merely jokes and were his expressions of free speech. One of them even asked Filipinos to use their “creative imagination” so that they can understand what the president says.

Filipinos know that there will be a next joke and this will go on. If they are not outraged, it is on them.


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