The time is fast approaching when people will dismiss out of hand the words spewing from President Duterte’s mouth.
The expletives, the mean-spirited attacks, the rambling observations and the half sentences that trail into oblivion, and the controversial declarations and outrageous claims all aimed at provoking a reaction—all these will fall on deaf ears, inured by the sound and fury of his voice, signifying nothing.
For better or for worse, this President has accustomed us to his atrocious behavior and his scandalous pronouncements. They no longer shock us as they should.
Thus none of us were really surprised when Mr. Duterte claimed this week that he used marijuana—still an illegal substance in this country—to cope with the “punishing” schedule at the last summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore.
Nor were we surprised when he later said this “revelation” was all a joke.
“I’m like that. If you [media] said it was a joke, I do not mind that. Of course, it was a joke, but nobody can stop me from just doing my style,” he said. “If I want to joke, I will joke. Now, if you believed it, then you are stupid.”
Unfortunately, the President’s “jokes” still catch some officials by surprise.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, for example, seemed to give the President’s initial admission some credence and tried to cut him some slack when he said marijuana is used mostly to calm a person down. “It is not an upper,” he said—as if that make its use by the Chief Executive all right.
This reaction may have proved the President’s point about people who believe him, but it also highlights the danger that Mr. Duterte’s allies and subordinates will take his words—even the most outrageous ones—seriously and find ways to excuse them, or worse, put them into action.
For example, when Mr. Duterte proposed the creation of an armed civilian group called the “Duterte Death Squad” to kill communist assassins, his spokesman defended the preposterous idea as a logical extension of statecraft. The chief of the national police even assured the public that all members of this elite group of assassins would first need to have their gun qualifications certified.
These government official forget that while they serve at the pleasure of the President, they owe their loyalty to the people they have sworn to serve. When the President proposes something that is patently wrong and disastrous—such as officially sanctioned death squads—it is not their duty to applaud him but to caution and advise him to take another, more righteous route.
Mr. Duterte, on the other hand, should know that as he struts and frets his hour upon the stage, he will one day soon be heard no more. Would it not be better that the words he speaks today be remembered for their wisdom rather than their folly?