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Slapping Duterte

/ 04:07 AM December 10, 2019

President Duterte has a preferred way of showing his contempt or disgust or anger: He would say — in English, Filipino or Bisaya — that if he runs into those who have offended him, he will slap them in the face. (Go ahead. Google “Duterte + slap.”) What I want to know is: Why? Why this particular act, this form of disapproval?

Last month, when the former Human Rights Watch director Phelim Kine had the effrontery to suggest that as cochair of the Inter-Agency Committee On Anti-Illegal Drugs, Vice President Leni Robredo can have Mr. Duterte arrested, a fulminating President said: “Yan ang imbitahin mo? Ganun ang salita sa akin. P***** i**, Leni, sa harap mo sampalin ko ’yan. Dalhin mo dito (That’s who you will invite? That’s how he talks about me. [Expletive], Leni, I will slap him in front of you. Bring him here).”

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Last year, adding more fuel to the fire of his embittering feud with Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, he said in Bisaya: “Kung mag-kita mi, tamparoson nako siya (If we meet, I will slap him)”— although the idiomatic reverberations of his threat may be captured better in the phrase “I will bitchslap him.”

The year before that, in 2017, addressing UN Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial Killings Agnes Callamard, the President first said in Filipino that he would slap her if they ever met, and then expanded in English: “I will slap her in front of you (referring to the audience of overseas Filipino workers he was addressing in Vietnam). Why? Because (and here, characteristically, he changes point of view midstream) you are insulting me. Why? Because you yourself do not believe in the research of your own organization. You are f****** me and I do not want it.”The President is missing a “with”after the f-word, but who knows if he was only speaking idiomatically?

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And in 2016, while making his first presidential visit to Beijing, he called on his audience of Filipino expatriates to slap officials who will try to demand bribes, the better to bring them to their senses. “From now on, kung may maghingi sa inyo, que se joda presidente, vice president, para sa papel mo, p***** ina, sampalin mo (if anyone asks for a bribe from you, for your documents, whether it’s the president, vice president, [expletive], slap them).”He repeated the same, ah, fatherly advice in his State of the Nation Address of 2019: When a corrupt official asks for a bribe, “Make a scene. Sampalin mo ”˜yang mga y*** na ’yan kasi aabot rin sa akin ”˜yan (Slap those devils because that will also reach me).’’

There are many more examples of this presidential addiction to the slap in the face as mode of action. For some time, I have been wondering why this most macho of Philippine presidents (although, to be sure, one who never fought a war or endured prison or even ran against an entrenched political adversary) would prefer to use the image of the slap rather than, say, that of the punch. At first I thought it was a generational thing. The toxic masculinity of my generation found expression in fistfights and sometimes belt-whippings; slapping someone would have been considered less than manly. But then ex-president Joseph Estrada, of the famous tough-guy movie persona, belongs to President Duterte’s generation, and I do not recall him ever threatening anyone with a slap in the face. (But Google “Joseph Estrada” + “punch.”)

It turns out, after reading more examples of President Duterte’s slap-happy disposition, that Mr. Duterte has already explained the theory behind the slap more than once. Last year, for example, the President called on businessmen who have problems with corrupt officials to go to him, and he will arrange a meeting. “And I assure you that if it is indeed something which amounts to corruption or graft, I’ll give you the privilege of slapping that person a dozen times in front of me… You place him in humiliation and you maybe shed off his dignity.”He added: “And those are the right remedies for an idiot who is not needed in the government. Humiliation and maybe a loss of face is more than just the money.”

But, real talk. The hapless citizen who follows the President’s advice will land in jail for assaulting a person in authority. That’s the twist, and the twisted part: Humiliation works as policy only when you are the policymaker.

[On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]]

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