Impulse control | Inquirer Opinion
At Large

Impulse control

I suppose the country, if not the world, should be grateful that the Philippine president doesn’t have a “security briefcase” within reach. Judging from Hollywood movies, one of the first things a new American president learns is the code to unlock the briefcase that contains the trigger that will set off nuclear missiles in various parts of the continental United States.

The world trusts that the man or woman who has the power to set off a nuclear conflagration is able to judge the level of threat that would justify letting loose Armageddon in our time. But imagine if that person is someone like our President-elect?


This is a man who has, to put it kindly, problems with impulse control. We already know he cannot stop himself from telling crass jokes at a political rally, especially about his thwarted desire to be first in line at the gang rape of a murdered Australian missionary. We already know he cannot stop himself from releasing a wolf whistle upon catching sight of a certain female reporter, even if it’s in the midst of a public, televised press conference. And he doesn’t have enough self-control to bite his tongue when provoked to curse, cuss and drop f-bombs, even if the target of his ire are such venerable entities as the Catholic Church and the United Nations.

We also know that as a public official, he believes that the best way to deal with suspected criminals is through summary execution. Though there is no direct proof that he encouraged or at least tolerated the infamous Davao Death Squad, his public statements make clear that he would have no problem if it went on a renewed rampage. Heeding his signal, mayors around the country have begun conducting their own variations of shaming and slamming. He even encouraged the communist New People’s Army to convene a “kangaroo court” to try a police officer suspected of being a drug pusher.


As for murdered journalists, they are to blame for their own deaths, he declares. Not all are martyrs to press freedom, he says, some are corrupt or have earned powerful enemies. But unlike the bile he reserves for all sorts of criminals, he has only justifications to offer for those who kill journalists or have them killed.

Maybe that’s why I believe if he had the opportunity to set off a nuclear war, he would do so at the least provocation, maybe beginning with the annoying media who cover his midnight press conferences.

* * *

During his most recent meet-and-greet, Duterte issued a vague promise about undergoing a “metamorphosis” once he takes his oath as President. He vowed to temper his language and to avoid losing his temper.

But why can’t he do it now? He’s not a kid who needs the permission of his bosses (to borrow P-Noy’s term) to turn a new leaf. He knows he’s a public figure, and as the incoming President, he should be aware that the country, nay the world, is looking at and listening to his every action and gesture, every word and statement.

What the President-elect needs at this time, it seems, is not a moderator or a crafter of public statements, but an interpreter, or perhaps a spin doctor, who can soften the blow of his offensive statements, and rephrase his often injudicious remarks. But as it happens, once the words leave his mouth, there is no taking them back, or sugarcoating them. And since he absolutely refuses to apologize after he himself, I suspect, realizes that he “misspoke,” there is no quelling the hard feelings he provokes.

* * *


Let me close this by quoting from a statement of Pilipina, a national women’s organization (disclosure: I am national chair, although I had no hand in crafting the document) in reaction to the tsunami of harsh words issued by Duterte. The statement is originally in Filipino, and I have simply translated portions of it.

“We in Pilipina, an organization working for the rights of women,” it opens, “have been working for the last 35 years for ‘gender equality’—equality for all genders, in laws and implementation, and in all leading institutions that shape culture and society—the family, education, religion, mass media, the arts, and most of all today, the government. One reality we have sought to confront since the beginning has been ‘non-sexist childrearing,’ or the raising and educating of children as equals, to respect others, no matter their gender.”

Which is why, says the statement, Pilipina is calling on the Mayor-turned-President “not to show this kind of behavior to our children, our nieces and nephews, our grandchildren, especially on national TV and radio.”

“Your behavior of whistling at a woman who was merely doing her job, and even your kissing women who approached you during the campaign, your cursing of other people, especially of mothers. Please don’t say that your use of ‘gutter language’ is a product of your breeding or a manifestation of prevailing culture.

“Filipino culture is humane and respectful of mothers, colleagues and children. Filipino culture is compassionate, especially with our poorer brethren. Filipino culture is respectful of the elderly and of women. It is not in our culture to consider as possessions of the man or father or boss his wife, child or women employees, who could be treated rudely or be forced into sex.”

As for those who say that wolf-whistling or overt harassment is just a sign of “admiration,” the women ask: “How do we teach our youth that this is wrong? That women are not possessions or playthings of men? That the so-called reality of a macho culture should not be emulated because it violates the dignity of women?”

For whatever it’s worth, the next six years should prove to be verrry interesting indeed.

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TAGS: Harassment, Media killings, Rodrigo Duterte, women’s rights
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