Newsflash: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is not a conformist as far as the use of diplomatic language is concerned. He is not out of the same mould as US and European political leaders who’ve mastered the art of ‘diplospeak’ – the use of a lot of obfuscating words to say nothing while seeming to be saying plenty. He doesn’t have their aptitude. Nor is Duterte a model of political correctness – another Western construct that’s relieved language of much of its meaning in a paradox of exclusive inclusiveness.
The fact is that these skills will not help him to get across his message to the people he needs to reach. Duterte shoots from the hip; is refreshingly unguarded and tells it like he sees it. His audiences are the people who stand before him at any given time; his language and his message is tailored to their needs. The New York Times and the Guardian are not, and never will be, a part of that audience. He is not speaking to them and certainly doesn’t communicate through them – no doubt much to their chagrin.
Earlier this week, while addressing his troops at the Army 2nd Mechanised Infantry Brigade’s base in Iligan City, Mindanao, as he prepared them for their assault on Marawi City, 40 kilometres to the south where marauding Islamist terrorists are now in their second week of a killing-and-arson orgy – in a single moment of levity he said that he would personally take responsibility for rapes committed by his soldiers. “I will go to jail for you. If you happen to have raped three women, I will own up to it,” he said.
Of course if that remark is taken in isolation, it’s shocking. But that was hardly the point of his speech. Oddly – well not really – that’s the only part of his speech the mass media bothered reporting. But then they always seek to mince Duterte’s words. We should be used to it by now.
The point is though, this was a very serious delivery. It was both solemn and thoughtful. It was not flippant in any respect; it went straight to the heart of the problems facing Mindanao and explained the reluctance with which he had finally taken the decision to impose martial law on the island region. “I am here to give the consoling advice that we do this for the country,” he told the troops.
He went on: “You’re going to fight; fight every day until this conflict is resolved. I could only pray for you; pray for my policemen that there will be deliverance from harm. And because we have the weapons and the equipments and we have the air assets to help you, we will try our very best to protect you at the time when you are fighting … I will look for all means to support you”.
This then was not like some sketch out of MAD magazine as the Western press would have the world believe. It was a speech delivered from the heart by a commander in chief to his men. He was there to reassure them that he was responsible for them. “I am here to say to you, fight and I will pray for you; and I will answer for everything … Under the consequences of martial law – the ramifications of martial law – I and I alone, would be responsible,” he said. “In the meantime. fight for the country”.
Duterte has always shown loyalty to his armed forces. He attends funerals of those killed and makes regular visits to hospitals where those wounded in fighting are being treated – like those at Camp Teodulfo Bautista Station Hospital in Sulu, casualties from the fighting with Abu Sayyaf terrorists, whom he visited in May (photo).
There was no bravado in what he said to his men in this speech. His remarks were measured and sensitive. He even offered members of the Maute Group – the terror organisation responsible for 10 days of burning property and wanton slaughter in the city – the chance to surrender; though he doubted they would. And while he told his troops “During martial law, your commanders, you can arrest any person, search any house” and to kill those who do not lay down their arms, he also said: “If we can inflict damage only to those who want to fight, and contain the fire fight between combatants, that would be the best solution”.
He said he would put the presidential jet at the disposal of wounded soldiers to transport them to hospitals with the best equipment where they would get the best care.
In other words, despite the impression left by a vicious mainstream media that exploits every opportunity they get to paint Duterte as a screaming war-loving psychopath who wants to kill everyone in sight, his speech at that army base in Iligan City was calm, thoughtful, reassuring and caring.
“There is a time for everything,” he continued. “A time to be rich – a time of plenty of money – a time of want. A time of birthdays and a time of gaiety; a time for sorrow. A time to be enemies but there is always a time to be friends. A time to be born and a time to die”.
He was referencing Ecclesiastes (ch. 3, vs 1-8) which we reproduce here,
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace”.
This then was the thrust of Duterte’s actual message to his troops; not the single throw-away line he used – perhaps ill advisedly – to bring a moment of trivial relief to the gravity of what his troops were going into. “This time, this is a time for victory – we will not lose it. How can we lose it, we have everything? We will overcome and we will win. Right?” he said, adding once more, “I will take care of you”.
None of that, of course, made it into print or to the airwaves. The only thing Washington Post readers and CNN audiences knew about his speech is that Duterte had basically told his armed forces that they can go to Marawi City and rape up to three women each and he’d take the wrap for it. And that today, apparently – and lamentably – is what passes for responsible reporting.
Back in September last year as he was leaving Manila to attend a regional summit in Laos, Duterte called then US president “a son of a whore” in reaction to Obama’s unwanted involvement in the Philippines domestic affairs. The media had a field day with it – and still is doing. It’s as if Duterte has committed blasphemy – well in the Obama-fawning media’s eyes he had. Let’s face it though, if Duterte had said Russian President Vladimir Putin was a son of a whore they’d be applauding him. Such is the fickleness of the Liberal mainstream.
But there’s a bigger deficit in understanding which the pampered press suffer from. And that is they lack the ability to understand Duterte. He is not like Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada or the new president of France, Emmanuel Macron. His background, the environment he comes from, is very different; and as such he cannot be compared. One size does not fit all when assessing leadership; it has to take account of many factors – and not least, the people those leaders represent.
Duterte has never been schooled in diplospeak – the fact is it wouldn’t have worked too well in Davao City in the late 1980s and 1990s when he was turning one of the most violent places in the entire Asia region into a place where people could live a peaceful life. Davao City when Duterte became its mayor was a ghetto of thugs, thieves and killers. He wasn’t running The Hamptons in Long Island, New York or Eel Pie Island, Twickenham in the leafy London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. This was a hardened urban environment where rough language was the lingua franca. And the gun was used to back it up.
And that’s how he sent his message out that there would be zero tolerance for the street gangs that mugged and assaulted citizens at will. That’s how he transformed Davao City into being one of the safest cities in Southeast Asia.
To put it bluntly, political correctness would not have worked. It wouldn’t have saved a single life – in fact it probably would have cost more. Diplospeak was not the language of those streets. It would have been taken as a sign of weakness – shocking as that might sound to any journalist sipping the latest fad in New York cocktails at Lanagan’s or McCormick and Schmick’s. We hope we haven’t given him/her heartburn.
Duterte’s speech at the Iligan City army base was not for international consumption. This was a commander in chief just talking to his troops. Reassuring them that they were in his prayers; that he would protect them any way he can and take care of them if they should get hurt.
Furthermore, those troops are not graduates from the precious US universities with their “safe spaces” and “comfort zones”; they’re graduates – many of them – from the same sort of rough streets that Duterte quelled in Davao. They understand all too well Duterte’s message and the language he used. And they’re thankful he has their back.
What amazes us is that while the progressive Liberal media is having cold sweats over one remark in that speech, a remark they’re at pains to interpret literally, there was hardly any indignation even shown when an American “comedian” Kathy Griffin – another cardboard cut-out Liberal – posed with a bloody severed head resembling US President Donald Trump. That, apparently, was not in sufficient bad taste as to warrant the sort of media sledging Duterte got for one line in his speech. For us, that juxtaposition says it all about the mainstream media.