An excruciating experience
Watching and listening to President Duterte give a speech is like falling down the rabbit hole. One is hurled down into a surreal state that can produce a kind of stupor. A friend who also watched him confirmed that she ended up feeling off-kilter, a bit like being sedated.
It happened to me on Thursday evening, Dec. 13, while surfing TV to get the news, when I came across the government channel PTV. The President was in Las Piñas to inaugurate a new hotel and celebrate former Senate president Manuel Villar’s birthday. His speech lasted over an hour and was the usual rambling cringe-worthy spiel that veered off to various tangents from his standard message about death to drug-pushers, drug-takers and the Church. Peppered with his usual P—na’s, the talk that many folks now accept as normal has often made me wonder why mothers are the ones who get vilified when fathers are more often the ones who need cursing, as in the Cebuano “Yawa’ng ama!”
To say the experience was excruciating for me would be putting it mildly. Unlike my friend who described feeling discombobulated and sedated, I felt more like the top of my head would explode. What was, and is, unbelievable about the whole experience of watching the chief executive talk is to see his audience laughing and clapping over such addlepated language while listening raptly to his crass pronouncements.
It’s not quite Adolf Hitler haranguing the masses, whipping them into a hysterical frenzy. It’s more like Charlie Chaplin’s film “The Great Dictator,” where he plays the despot in such a way as to elicit more laughter than horror among his audience.
A Cebuano and Tagalog speaker like myself may find it intriguing to try figuring out the brain processes of the country’s chief of state, in hopes of gleaning something meaningful from the platitudes which politicians habitually spout. But all I got that evening of Dec. 13 was fog in my head and a stone in my chest.
I’ve watched the President a couple of times before, and the speech he gave in Davao prior to his election victory is imprinted in my brain. He was asked a valid question by an Inquirer reporter about the state of his health, which elicited a depraved response in the form of heckling the fellow about his wife’s vaginitis. If I remember rightly, it turned out that the journalist was single.
It didn’t require an eagle-eyed person watching Mr. Duterte’s entry into the hotel in Las Piñas, escorted by various officials, to spot a man whose job evidently was to stand mere inches behind the President as he walked from his limousine into the hotel. The man wore the little black microphone on his shirt front and an earpiece, marking him as a bodyguard shielding his boss from any possible attackers who might come from behind.
Flanking the President were some government officials and various flunkeys, so there didn’t seem any danger of there being any maniacs, like those who tried to assassinate US presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan decades ago, not to mention those who killed Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.
Inquirer’s Solita Collas Monsod wrote a piece called “Donald Duterte and Rody Trump” (11/3/18), where she reflected on the bizarreries of the two leaders. She pointed out that both leaders are the oldest ones their respective countries have had, and that both have strong leanings toward authoritarian leaders (Putin and Marcos).
Another Inquirer contributor, Sylvia Mayuga, asked in her piece, “The Politics of Memory”: “Is (Duterte) leading us, or merely leading us on?” She wrote of “the difference between this troubled and troublesome minority President and the statesman we badly need now.” That was on Oct. 26, 2016.
When I mention my Duterte speech-watching bent to family and friends, most ask why I subject myself to that ordeal; why not just read about it the next day? I may respond that I’ve traditionally been a serious student of the behavior of Filipino politicians. But the truth is, more likely I’m just a masochist.
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Isabel Escoda, who has written books about Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong, has provided commentary pieces to the Inquirer since the 1980s.
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