Nine years ago, at a rally in Makati against President Gloria Arroyo’s charter change plans, then Sen. Mar Roxas expressed his frustration at the rampant corruption (“euro generals,” NBN-ZTE, fertilizer scam) in the Arroyo administration by letting out an expletive: “P*tangina, ano ba ito?”
That was it. One time, one word. You can relive the moment, Reader, in any number of segments on YouTube. What was the effect of this public outburst of profanity? Almost universal condemnation: Behavior not worthy of a national official. Behavior not worthy of a gentleman. A fall from grace.
Arroyo took full advantage of that mistake; so did Jojo Binay, who ran against Mar in the 2010 vice-presidential race. Political ads showing a child asking, “Ganito ba ang gusto ninyong halimbawa para sa amin? (roughly: Is this what you want to give us as an example?),” or “Ituro ninyo sa amin ang tama (Teach us the right things),” or “Huwag mambastos sa babae (Don’t disrespect women)” took up the airwaves. There was also one that showed Mar’s appeal for decency (“It is hard to be a decent Filipino”) side by side with his “P*tangina, ano ba ito?” statement, to show that he shouldn’t be talking about decency.
Okay, fast forward to today. You have Rodrigo Duterte, as a candidate and as President of the Philippines, spitting out expletives one after another—not just p*tangina but also f*ck you, leche, to mention just a few. Not only that: He regularly disses women, with a special focus on rape victims. And he gets away with it. No outrage that he is affecting our children’s values. In fact, he is defended by his supporters who say that he is merely reflecting the frustration of the Filipino people, and their basic values. So it is okay.
Are we saying that all our former presidents, from Quezon (who was reportedly as profane, but always in private), to Roxas, to Quirino, to Magsaysay, etc., were not reflecting the frustrations of the Filipino people, because they did not use cuss words? Worse, are we saying that profanity constitutes a basic Filipino value?
Does this constitute progress—a sea change in our culture in nine years? Or is our sipsip (fawning) mentality dooming us to hearing and wincing at that foul mouth for the next five years? But if that is the case, what will be the impact on our children and our culture? A pity, actually, that his mother is not alive to wash his mouth out with soap every time she hears an expletive.
On the other hand, while President Duterte should be excoriated for doing what no predecessor has ever done, he should also be praised—for also doing what none of his post-World-War-II predecessors has ever done: that is, going out to confront those rallying and demonstrating against him during his State of the Nation Address. (I say post-WWII because my father told me that President Quezon used to go to the University of the Philippines to meet with his student critics there, apparently under the impression that if he could defend himself to the UP students, he could defend himself to the Filipino people.)
I say this takes guts, plus a great deal of righteous indignation. Let’s face it, most of those protesters were from the hard Left, and of all his predecessors (again another first), he is the only one that has opened his Cabinet to those with socialist/communist leanings—giving them very sensitive portfolios at that, such as social welfare, agrarian reform, and labor. And what does he get in exchange? His motorcade gets ambushed and police and military are killed by them. So one can understand why he thinks the protesters don’t have a leg to stand on. And he is not afraid to face them.
Then again, the Ombudsman was not invited (all high government officials were) to his Sona. She is his relative, even. But the invitations are issued by Congress, so that was not his fault. What was his fault was singling out someone—Sen. Sonny Angara—during the Sona and calling him out for not clapping at the President’s push for tax reform. Joke? That’s what Angara calls it.
We’re in for a roller-coaster ride.
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