Government by the obscene

/ 05:09 AM October 31, 2017

The recent scandalous public utterances of Secretary Martin Andanar and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo may have been scripted, designed to help deflect public attention from hidden wealth and drug smuggling allegations haunting President Duterte and his family, or they may have been launched, like other controversies, in an attempt to distract the public from its growing anxiety over extrajudicial killings. It doesn’t matter. We see through the statements and have not forgotten that only the poor caretaker of the warehouse where shabu linked to influential people in Davao was stored is in detention; we continue to monitor the President’s responses to the controversy over his bank accounts, and remember (at least I do) that when he visited the Inquirer in August 2015 he told us that he had “only P4 million” in the bank.

But the obscenities Andanar and Panelo used, whether deliberate or inadvertent, also reflect one aspect of the Duterte presidency which has begun to lose its sinister sheen: the use of foul language as format and substitute for policy. Some people still laugh, or titter, when the President fails in public appearances to “limit [his] mouth,” to use his own euphemism; I would think that part of this audience response can be attributed to nervous laughter, and part to a genuine appreciation of his colorful language. But I am not the only one to sense a general fatigue over his outrageous remarks. I’m sure part of this is resignation to the new normal, but if I’m not mistaken many people have learned to tune out the President’s bombardment of F-words, insults and rape jokes, to choose not to bear witness to his linguistic airstrikes. Like any entertainer whose performance is based on shock appeal, even a charismatic but tediously repetitive President will lose his audience.


All this makes the two secretaries’ scandalous statements not only sleazy but also lame.

Andanar’s incoherent stereotyping of European allies in a London speech as “pala-iyot” (sex-crazed) and their protests over human rights abuses in the Philippines as mere noise from those who are “kulang sa iyot” (sex-starved) is an immature official’s version of what passes for bravado. Panelo’s repellent attempt in a Swiss radio interview to list his alleged sexual prowess (“better in bed”) as among his talents and his repulsive claim that he “f-cks” his clothes “like an 18-year-old” prove that this postmature official who brought his girlfriends to one of the first pre-inauguration Cabinet meetings and was admonished for it remains a moral bankrupt. Like Donald Trump who insists he is “very intelligent,” in the process proving he isn’t, Andanar and Panelo tried to talk tough, in the process proving they aren’t.


All they have really done is focus attention on the obscenities that have become characteristic of this administration. This is not a distraction from anything; rather, it is a concentration of perception. We are paying renewed attention, and we see ever more clearly that we have a government of the obscene.

It is obscene when the President declares he is “happy to slaughter” three million drug addicts. It is obscene when he welcomes the news of an overnight bloodbath of mere suspects and asks for more of the same. “There were 32 killed in Bulacan in a massive raid, that’s good. Let’s kill another 32 every day. Maybe we can reduce what ails this country.” And it is obscene when, in a fit of lucidity or conscience, he claims he did not encourage any of these killings.

Obscenity in this sense is not about the private morality of officials. A police officer may be faithful to his wife, but violates his oath by killing suspects in cold blood; a politician may be adulterous, but scrupulous about not committing any abuse of power. Public morality is what our republican system of government requires, what Montesquieu, the theorist of the separation of powers, called “a constant preference of public to private interest.”

For all their self-satisfied sex talk, what Andanar and Panelo have done is shine the spotlight again on this kind of obscenity. Montesquieu described political virtue in a republic as “the love of the laws and our country.” Thanks to our tough-guy wannabes, we can now call out the plans to subvert “the laws and our country” through such tricks as a revolutionary government for what they really are: obscenities.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand

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TAGS: john Nery, Martin Andanar, Newsstand, obscenity, Rodrigo Duterte, Salvador Panelo
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