Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Vulgarization of Philippine politics by Duterte

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Talk about the vulgarization of politics. If language is what politicians use to connect with the people, what does Duterte’s expletive-infused speech at the State of the Nation Address (SONA) say about the people he purportedly claims to represent?

And, if language is code, reflective of a society’s attitudes toward its citizens, what does the SONA speech reveal about the president’s—and by extension, our—regard for women?

It has been said that the speech, peppered as it was with curses and invectives and vulgar expressions, including the Visayan word “lulo,” which means masturbation, was classic Duterte, straight-talking, no-bullsh*tting, zero-f*cks-given, with little regard for decorum but a lot of emphasis on telling it like it is.

Clearly they are fans of the brash vulgarity of his linguistic style, with one devotee characterizing him as “foul-mouthed with a heart” (insert Anderson Cooper eye roll here). These are the same ones, mind you, who laugh whenever he mentions rape or makes off-color comments of a sexual nature, dismissing these as merely “jokes” not intended to be taken seriously.

Many of these people have also praised Duterte for speaking “their” language, just as Trump’s simplistic, bombastic, hyperbolic speech rarely anchored in reason or fact appeals to his core constituents, who confuse his lack of a filter with sincerity or authenticity.

Some observers have pointed out that the language Duterte speaks is, apart from illuminating his personal politics of pique rather than policy, is, in effect, that language of the “kanto” boy: rough, uncouth, impatient with convention, with a predilection for cuss words, bastos.

This characterization of the “kanto” boy is, however, facile and patronizing. Duterte’s “colorful” language is more thuggish than boy-loitering-on-the-street-corner. As historian and academic Vince Rafael said, “First, not all kanto boys—the unemployed or what we used to call the lumpen—speak this way. Often they are very deferential to their elders and superiors and only cuss those they hold in low esteem, or those who have oppressed them, but always behind their backs. If they are gangsters, they might speak this way to their flunkies and those they extort from. Second, Duterte is obviously not from the masa as anyone who knows anything about his family of well-connected provincial elites. We can only assume that when he talks like this, he is role playing at being from the masa.”

There is both classism, sexism, and misogyny at play here. When Duterte talks to the nation, spewing insults and invectives like a fire-breathing dragon, he is really not engaging us in conversation, but talking down to us, whether as a paternalistic figure telling us he knows what’s in our best interests; as a boss telling us—derisively at that—that he’s always right; as a gangster telling us, his minions, to shut up and listen; as a wannabe dictator who’s telling us he is the instrument of change that will save us.

And because his language is aggressively male, he is also speaking to what he believes is a largely male audience like him, who high-fives him for having two wives and two girlfriends, who gets the humor when he talks about rape, who agrees with him when he uses a woman’s sexual history to discredit her, who shrugs it off when he catcalls a female reporter, who encourages the “boys will be boys” mentality when he compliments a woman’s legs during an official cabinet meeting.

It’s the language of a man who excludes women, who essentially regards women with contempt, who cannot and will not see them as anything more than sexual objects to flirt with or catcall or compliment if they’re attractive, and denigrate and destroy if they’re not. And especially if they have the balls to challenge him.

To men like him, strong, feisty women are a threat, because they refuse to buy into his bullshit and they refuse to be cowed into submission. He’s slut-shamed women like Leila de Lima, of whom he said about her alleged sex tape circulated (and probably faked) by his army of trolls, “She was not only screwing her driver, she was screwing the nation…Every time I watch the video, I lose my appetite. Only people who will fall for her are … I am not a guard or a motorcycle cop or convict.”

He’s publicly chastised women like Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno for daring to lecture him on the law. Like a true dictator, he warned her, “Get out of my way or it’s Martial Law.” He is right, however, in insisting on the full implementation of the RH Law, although the Chief Justice corrected him, saying, “the Supreme Court has never issued a TRO against the implementation of the RH Law. What has been issued was a TRO against two specific contraceptives regulated under the RH Law. This pertains to two implants, Implanon and Impanon NXT.”

Another target of his pique is Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, whom he has pointedly refused to invite to attend the SONA two years running. He pulled rank once again, ignoring the law, when she called him out recently for encouraging a culture of murder, “goading people to kill” by giving policemen and ordinary citizens carte blanche to kill criminals, especially those who resist arrest.

He, in turn, went on to release the soundbite equivalent of a Trump Twitter tantrum, issuing her with a challenge to show him any law that prohibits him from threatening to kill criminals, then attacked the Office of the Ombusdman for corruption, finally dictating that he alone had the sole authority to order cops or soldiers to investigated. Yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s a script we all know by heart.

Well, she was having none of his bullsh*t. “What does he care?” she said. “Under the law, we have subpoena powers. We have order for particular officials including police and soldiers to show up or file pleadings. If they don’t file pleadings, that’s their lookout.”

No wonder she wasn’t invited to the SONA.

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