Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella and the rest of the Palace mouthpieces must really be at their wits’ end to come up with this one. After a global firestorm over what President Rodrigo Duterte had been spouting, his spokesman Ernesto Abella said it’s up to media to use their creative imagination to decode what his boss really says and means. After the Da Vinci Code, we have to learn how to read The Duterte Code if we are to take Abella seriously.
So it’s now up to the media to decode what the President says. The presidential communications team must be getting desperate, if not going nuts on how handle someone like Digong. There is noting esoteric or deep in what Digong says. It’s plain profanity and a penchant for cussing anything, everything or anyone whose views differ from his.
“Don’t take literally everything that President Duterte says,” said Abella adding, “they are expressions of frustrations and the public should wait for him to clarify and not take his statement out of context.” Abella pointed out that the President “carefully calibrates his words, so going along that line if we follow his style let us not simply put a period at the end of his statement.” Calibrating his statements does not look like the style of the man. Talk first, think later seems more like it.
If this is not the case, then why apologize to the local Jewish community for his outrageous comparison of killing thousands of drug suspects to Adolf Hitler’s slaughter of some six million Jews during the Holocaust? It may not have dawned on the President’s men that a head of state is defined by what he says in public. In a world made smaller by the Internet and social media, anything one says (more so a head of state), is immediately carried halfway across the globe. There is no off-the-cuff or off-the-record comment. Anything you say or do will and can be used against you—so goes the Miranda rights US policemen tell arrested suspects.
Digong’s frequent use of the “F” and “ P…I” words is plain and simple profanity. In his latest outburst, Duterte told US President Barack Obama to “go to hell” for expressing concern over the extrajudicial killings of suspects in his brutal war on illegal drugs. Before this, Duterte called Obama a “son of a whore.” He also called United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon “a fool” for voicing the same concern as Obama,
Even Filipinos themselves are beginning to be worried by the President’s bizarre behavior. In a series of worrisome pronouncements, Duterte said he wants to pull the Philippines out of the UN; put an end to the PHL-US “Balikatan” war games; review and scrap the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, and finally to end ties with the United States before his six-year term is over, as part of charting a new, independent foreign policy to bring the Philippines closer to China and Russia. The presidential spokesman—as it has become his norm to clarify almost everything Duterte says—explained there is no official shift yet on the country breaking ties with the US. The US State Department and its embassy in Manila said Washington has yet to receive an official diplomatic note from the Duterte government.
But can’t we make new friends while keeping old ones? There’s nothing wrong with being pragmatic and exploring a wider open field in foreign relations. But it’s also wise and prudent for a small country like the Philippines to retain time-tested allies like the US for balance and equilibrium in geopolitics. Unfortunately, President Duterte does not seem to be getting any help from his Foreign Secretary, Perfecto Yasay Jr. in this department. The man looks totally clueless —like someone who has been told to only warm up the seat for someone else. It’s an open secret Duterte’s defeated vice presidential candidate Senator Alan Peter Cayetano wants this job. Cayetano, however, has to wait for the one-year ban on losing candidates before they can be appointed. .
On the positive side, President Duterte announced noteworthy appointments that included Chito Santa Romana as ambassador to China and Teodoro Locsin Jr. as ambassador to the United Nations in New York. Congratulations also to DFA Undersecretary for Public Affairs Charles Jose who has been nominated as our envoy to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Sta. Romana, a former leftist militant, was driven to exile in China where he spent decades and later as bureau manager of the American TV network ABC. He speaks fluent Mandarin and has an insight on the Chinese mindset. Duterte’s appointment of Sta. Romana is a departure from former President Benigno Aquino’s practice of recycling retired ambassadors to Beijing where they don’t last long because of failing health.