That was one of the explanations given by the firefighters of the administration after President Duterte, in his latest bout of foot-in-mouth disease, uttered profanity-laced remarks that prompted US President Barack Obama to scrap their bilateral meeting in Laos.
President Rody hates drugs, he shuns alcohol and cigarettes and he looks like a control freak, so he should be able to control what comes out of his mouth. He can’t keep calling everyone an SOB one day and apologizing the next throughout his presidency.
It’s especially unfortunate because he has natural downhome charm that can be formidable in winning friends and influencing international events for the good of the Philippines.
The only other person I have encountered with this kind of lethal charm and who became president is Joseph Estrada. But with former movie star Erap, you wonder if it’s just an act – the “Eraptions” of bad English, the affinity with the poor. There is no such suspicion in the case of Duterte.
Obama would have been disarmed, and likely surprised by the difference between Duterte in person and the Rude Rody seen on TV. But this milk has been spilled and weeping is useless.
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The other night we waited in the newsroom until nearly midnight for a possible photo or video footage showing Duterte beside Obama.
This was at the gala dinner in the Lao capital Vientiane for leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their dialogue partners. We waited because Philippine officials had announced that Duterte, as incoming ASEAN chair, would be seated between Obama and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Certain members of the Philippine delegation who asked not to be named intimated that they didn’t know where that information came from. The announced seating arrangement was far from the actual: Obama, Ban and Duterte all sat apart from each other.
Instead Duterte was placed between Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Indonesian President Joko Widodo, both of whom were not expected to be critical of the brutal Philippine crackdown on drug suspects.
In fact Widodo, according to reports, wanted to duplicate Dirty Rody’s drug war, although probably not with the same level of viciousness, since Indonesia has the death penalty (and rarely hesitates to implement it on drug traffickers and terrorists).
I can believe the Palace statement on Duterte getting the rock star treatment from his ASEAN peers. Southeast Asia is a region of strongmen. As I have been told recently by foreign visitors, Cambodia and Myanmar, like Indonesia, are also inspired by Dirty Rody’s drug war and may implement similar programs.
Japanese leader Shinzo Abe was reportedly excited to meet Duterte who is famous in Japan. I don’t know if something got lost in translation and Abe actually meant “notorious” rather than famous, but he seemed to be genuinely pleased in that photo with his Philippine counterpart.
President Rody’s standing in certain other countries is another story. His crude remarks against Obama were uncalled for and diminished him, not the US president. Obama’s measured response to the harangue made Rude Rody look like a bipolar brat.
Firefighters of the administration did their best at damage control, but came off over-eager, particularly in that announcement on the seating arrangement that did not materialize. It also sounded too much like spin when they announced that the meeting between the two had merely been reset.
Describing the encounter in a holding room between the two leaders before the gala dinner, Philippine officials expressed optimism that it would lead to mending of ties. In Washington, officials said the two merely exchanged pleasantries.
Yesterday at a press conference, Obama delivered the message that he failed to give personally to Duterte: the drug menace is real, but the war can be waged differently.
Responding to this message will show if Duterte is capable of reinventing himself, if only for the sake of the nation.
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If Rude Rody doesn’t wash his mouth with soap soon, he may find himself being likened to a buffoon – except buffoons are largely harmless and don’t sanction mass executions in the name of law and order.
While his ASEAN peers may see him as a rock star, the foreign press gave him a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons. The image hurts not only Rude Rody but also the nation that gave him a landslide victory and 92 percent trust rating.
It would be interesting to know, through a reputable survey, what Filipinos think of the issue with Obama. The other day, for the first time, several persons from different income groups who have shrugged off the drug-related killings told me they were embarrassed by President Rody’s crude truculence and were starting to regret voting for him.
Yesterday the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines expressed “growing concern over developments that could harm the long-standing optimism of American business to invest” in the country. Some investors, AmCham said, were starting to ask whether the brutal drug war was eroding the rule of law and threatening values held dear by both Americans and Filipinos.
The statement also expressed concern about the “strain” on bilateral relations due to “language from Philippine leaders.” This probably refers not only to Rude Rody but also to his labor chief Silvestre Bello III, who dismissed Obama as a “lame duck” president. If this is the kind of opinion that President Rody gets from his team, you can see why he suffers from foot-in-mouth disease.
Investors from several other countries have expressed similar concerns, long before this disaster with Obama. The investors informed their diplomats in Manila, who in turn relayed the message to Duterte administration officials. Whether the officials mustered the nerve to relay the concerns to their boss is uncertain.
President Rody needs a special kind of true friend – the type who will tell him when he’s doing something wrong, and harming himself and the nation. Someone who will give him tough love and keep him grounded.
Yesterday, in a speech in Vientiane, President Rody said he was accepting the chairmanship of ASEAN from Laos “with great honor and humility.”
If that attitude could infuse his presidency, Dirty Rody would have fewer problems.