Shocking truth or shocking lie?
He stabbed someone dead when he was 16 years old, President Duterte told his Filipino audience in Da Nang, Vietnam, a week ago when he was there for the Apec conference.
His words in the raw: “At the age of 16, may pinatay na ako eh. Tao talaga. Rumble. Saksak. Noon 16 years old yun. Nagkatinginan lang. Eh lalo na ngayon presidente ako.” English translation: “At the age of 16 I already killed. A human being. Rumble. By stabbing. I was 16 years old then. Our eyes merely met. How much more now that I am president.”
The President did not say that he killed for self-defense.
This was not the first time that he bragged about his violent streak. He had openly confessed that he shot a fellow San Beda student when he was in college.
The President ranted some more “You f*ck with my countrymen, I will not let that pass. Who cares about human rights? My issue is, at least we’ve killed them and that would lessen our problem. I will really kill you. That’s true. Let it be announced to the world.”
The newly appointed presidential spokesperson, Harry Roque, promptly performed damage control the way his predecessor from the “Department of Interpretation, Explanation and Translation” was wont to do.
“I think it was in jest. The President uses colorful language when with Pinoys overseas,” Roque said. Well, how many times in the past did Mr. Duterte’s spokesperson have to find explanations for his utterances that were either sexist, insensitive, insulting, or outright rude and unbecoming of a head of state?
This brag about having killed someone at the young age of 16—a crime of homicide — has yet to be proven true. But why dispute the President’s own words, Mr. Roque? If true, then he had indeed killed a human being as a teenager. Who did he kill? What became of the case? Was there a record of it?
If it was just a “jest” about something so serious, then it was no jest at all. It was a fabrication, a lie. The President therefore lied, and a person who lies is a liar. No one will not dare call him that but he made himself one by making up a story. If indeed he made up that story about himself — lied, that is — might he not be prone to doing the same about others? I shudder to think so.
You either did it or didn’t. To call a shocking statement mere hyperbole — as the President’s apologists are wont to do — is to miss its meaning. Hyperbole is “a figure of speech that involves an exaggeration of ideas for the sake of emphasis.” But it is based on something that is true.
When a “Yolanda” typhoon survivor says that the waves are as big as mountains, there is basis for saying so. This is not a fabrication. But to state something as fact from out of nowhere, even if self-deprecating or especially to impress, is telling a lie. We don’t like liars.
Confessing (to simply impress or to sow fear) to killing at 16 CANNOT be a joke. It is either a shocking truth or a shocking lie. Either way, the speaker — proud, unrepentant and unpunished — is a walking peril.
While mulling these, I remember the long feature story about a crime that I wrote in the Inquirer on May 14 and 15, 1995. It was about the killing of Oliver Ang, 14, a scholar at the Philippine Science High School. Oliver had just stepped out of a fast-food place at SM City when Teddy Bernardo, 17, and Cesar Rivera, 20, took him at knife point and led him to Edsa. They wanted Oliver’s cash and when he refused to give it up they stabbed him six times and left him bleeding on the sidewalk.
I did a walk-through in the area in order to picture how it happened. I did a long interview with the young killers at the Quezon City Jail and their jailers as well. I also searched for Teddy’s mother in the San Roque slums and found her.
I am trying to find out where Teddy and Cesar are now, what they have become after 22 years. As to the Davaoeño who bragged that he killed someone when he was 16, he is, at 72, now president of this republic.
Send feedback to [email protected]
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.