Tag Archives: diplomacy

Duterte rants: Foul language matters, but in more ways than most think

Duterte is crass and foul mouthed. Both of which are counter-productive for a high-profile position where diplomacy is part of the job description. We saw yet another example of that in his “Hitler” speech. This is currently being discussed on the main DRP forum here.

Euphemisms, expressions and statements that fall under the category of “inside jokes” do not translate well — even beyond domestic regional divides. If even non-Visayans have difficulty making contextual, rather than literal, interpretations of his speeches . . . what hope will a foreigner ever have. This adds avoidable, inexcusably unnecessary, complexity to our foreign relations. Even among our traditional allies who are — theoretically — more accustomed to our cultural idiosyncracies and our history.

In the speeches this month, even Duterte conceded to the issues his language is causing and has started to simply inaudibly mouthing his favorite expression rather than actually verbalizing it. Tacit acceptance that the prevailing state of affairs is, inherently, disadvantageous to the nation as a whole, and his administration in particular.

His demeanor creates problems that didn’t have to be there in a first place. Less unnecessary, extraneous, talk . . . less mistake. Only time will tell the extent to which Duterte FINALLY learns that lesson.

As inexcusable as the Hitler frackas is, there is a method to this madness. In fact, there is even a benefit to appearing mad. Let that sink for a bit . . . then continue reading.

This foul-mouthed persona fits in with a much broader narrative that fits his trademark approach to law enforcement — which remains his flagship initiative: Deterrence and fear management..

Duterte is a career government executive who knows how to motivate the population under his care. He is well acquainted with the tools at his disposal . . . to include fear, which he regularly wielded to deter criminals or implement behavioral adjustment when he was a mayor.

The power of fear greatly greatly benefits from uncertainty about the extent to which the President is willing to go against the enemies of the state. If one keeps this in mind . . . the rationale for his ill-chosen Hitler hyperbole becomes clear. Same goes for his threats to “kill” that he made throughout his campaign and even to this day. It is his intent to the be the drug lord’s worst nightmare, and what nightmare is scarier than Hitler?

Sounding like a mad-man, which a fair number of folks have actually come to believe, lends credibility to his threats.

What folks appear to be missing . . . is that it is actually WORKING. This is evidenced by the sheer number of individuals who’ve actually flooded the existing drug rehabilitation centers.


This is Psychological Operations at its finest. Any student of martial affairs ought to be familiar the following quote from Sun Tzu

“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

If you can get your enemies, and those that would threaten your way of life, to abandon armed conflict peacefully — through a combination of incentives and the FEAR of consequences — then what responsible leader would not try?


Level-headed critics of the President’s methods rightly point out the need for checks and balances. Skeptical critics allege that the President’s threats and antics are evidence that the need for those checks are lost on the President.

It would do the latter category of critic well to remember that Duterte is more intimately familiar with the workings of Philippine jurisprudence than the majority of observers — both friend and foe alike. He was, after all, a government prosecutor before he entered politics.

The following excerpt from his inauguration speech is relevant to this discussion.

See time index 05:27:

“As a lawyer and former prosecutor, I know the limits of the power and authority of the President. I know what is legal and what is not. My adherence to due process and the rule of law is uncompromising”.

Now, consider the following statement he made both in Vietnam and his press conference in Davao after returning from Vietnam, he repeatedly said:

“There is nothing illegal about threatening criminals”

These are threats. Will he act on those threats? If you think he is really crazy . . .

His statements that challenge the status quo also dovetail well with his efforts to establish credibility with the enemies of the state whom he wants to abandon the armed struggle. This is true for both domestic and foreign enemies. His vocal anti-US stance actually neutralizes their go-to response to peace overtures — that the PH government is merely an “imperialist puppet” of the United States.

Any serious student of statecraft OUGHT to understand that conversations in front of the media are not the ONLY conversations that take place. The former can even be used to either obfuscate ongoing initiatives, or be used to extract concessions that would otherwise not be possible.

Naturally, the very nature of such discussions require them to remain out-of-sight. Given the controversial nature of the public pronouncements, which fly in the face of long-standing international norms, the diplomatic machines of world governing bodies and world powers are automatically obligated to issue official public rebukes, since failure to do so would appear to be tacit approval of such pronouncements.

Behind closed doors . . . it ought to be safe to say that more rational discussions are taking place. Absence of evidence of such discussions is often touted as evidence of absence. This complicates the delicate dance that Duterte is apparently making with the status quo. Complicated even further by his lack of tact.


But . . . what if Duterte REALLY crosses the line?

Every level-headed supporter of ANY point of view needs to be mindful of their “Red-lines”. Lines that should never be crossed is support for that point of view is to continue. Related to this, “trip wires” need to be laid down to warn of approach of that line . . . as well as when such lines are crossed.

Many have suggested that Duterte’s statements alone crossed any reasonable red lines. Especially his statements towards the US and overtures towards alternative powers, to inlude the unthinkable: China.

Let’s think about that for a moment.

The ultimate reason why relations with any country are strong in the first place is built upon in the sheer number of out-of-the-sight-of-media relations that exist at all levels of government. The periodic occupant of the Office of the President is but one such relation. It is, of course, a very important position as it dictates the course of foreign policy. But it does not sever all lines of communication and all linkages.

If all 71 years of US-PH relations can be irrepairably damaged by the antics of a single politician, then common-sense dictates that we question that strength — and nature — of that relationship in the first place. Look to the Netanyahu incident, prior to the 2012 US elections, for an example of how mature relations between independent nations can take dramatic turns, without permanent effects.

If we are ever to arrive at a resolution with China, a dialogue must take place. It would be foolish to pretend that they did not exist. One does not defeat a bully by ignoring him. You win by facing him. Standing up to him as the situation demands, and if necessary defuse the situation with calm words.

At this point in our history, we as a people need to reflect on what it means to be independent, and what it means to be an ally. If there is any legacy that Duterte can leave behind, it would at the very least be this conversation.

How does one know when such trip wires have been triggered? That is what discussion groups like the DRP are for. To foster frank, level-headed, discussions about where things are going. This is why Opus’ decision to shutdown the Timawa forum is atrociously ill-timed, and why it became necessary to create this alternative forum.