Which of the two presidential denials would you consider more colossal or spectacular?
President Donald Trump’s insistence that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Trump’s possible violation of law is a hoax and a witch hunt?
Or President Rodrigo Duterte’s assertion that there is no proof that the Marcoses amassed ill-gotten wealth?
I would say it’s a toss-up. Both Trump and Duterte have proven themselves to be Masters of Bluster, although Trump can probably claim the crown as the Lying King.
With so many of his closest associates and confidants facing jail time and his former lawyer and enforcer, Michael Cohen, bluntly calling Trump “a racist, a con man and a cheat,” Trump still adamantly denies any wrong-doing by anyone, especially himself.
That clearly qualifies as a Mother of Denials. But Duterte’s recent declaration about the Marcoses could easily beat Trump’s fiction.
Duterte’s fantasy is that there is no proof that President Ferdinand Marcos and his family (the ones overthrown by the People Power Revolt, remember?) made billions in unexplained — a.k.a. ill-gotten — wealth.
A news item written by Alexis Romero quotes Duterte as follows: “Until now you have not proven anything except to sequester and sell — hindi mo nga sigurado kung talagang kay Marcos ba ‘yan?”
That brings to mind the joke about two morons, walking along the railroad tracks, who spot body parts on the rails.
“Those look like Joe’s arms and legs,” says one moron.
The second moron, upon seeing a decapitated head, picks it up and declares: “It is Joe’s head.”
And the first moron asks: “Joe…Joe, are you hurt?”
The swards in our neighborhood in Parañaque have an apt expression for that: “Obvious bah???”
In the case of Trump, the applicable joke is about the two morons who spot a pile of bullshit. The morons debate whether or not the filthy mound is b.s. So one of the morons decides to taste it. Only then do the morons agree that it is, in fact, b.s.
A different and more accurate punchline is that even if Trump tastes the bullshit, he will continue to deny it.
In his book, From Third World to First, the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore recounts how he and his group of reformers cleaned up the corruption in their island nation.
They passed a law that presumed that wealth that could not be explained by a public official’s legitimate salary and assets was ill-gotten. In other words, stolen.
Of course, it would not be surprising if Duterte — in fact, nearly all Philippine politicians and public officials — would refuse to accept that premise. There would not be enough jail cells to accommodate those with unexplained cars, mansions, overseas homes, Swiss bank accounts, mistresses and cash-in-hand if the Unexplainables were required to be accounted for, under pain of imprisonment.
One politician who could provide a believable explanation for his millions is Sen Manny Pacquiao. He has the lumps to corroborate it.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV is still waiting for Duterte to explain his alleged millions — as well as those of members of his family — but it looks like Trillanes will wait in vain. His tenure as member of the Senate is running out and that will strip him of immunity if he makes “unfounded” accusations.
The remarkable parallels between Trump and Duterte extend beyond colossal assertions. There are, for instance, their respective obsessive campaign promises which they are desperately trying to fulfill while changing the terms of reference.
Trump vowed to build a border wall that the Mexicans would pay for. That promise has been adjusted several times to its current version which is a state of emergency to justify pulling funds from other sources to pay for the wall.
Duterte, on the other hand, vowed to get rid of the drug menace in three months, otherwise he would resign. The menace still exists and Duterte hasn’t resigned but he is still vowing to eradicate drugs — but not over his dead body. Over the dead bodies of thousands of others, some on mere suspicion.
Both Duterte and Trump have also been outdoing each other in their interpretation — or, rather, in their prostitution — of the law.
Duterte reportedly balked at going after illegal Chinese workers who have begun to proliferate in the Philippines because China might retaliate and go after illegal Filipino workers in that country.
That “tit for tat,” as alluded to by Duterte spokesman Salvador Panelo, is typical among crime lords. For the president of the Philippines to make that gangster-like statement should be cause for outrage among the citizenry. Why no outrage? Well. Because that’s the way Duterte talks and, in his own words, he should not always be taken seriously.
On the US side of the Pacific, Trump’s interpretation of right and wrong depends on whether it is right for him, never mind if it is wrong for others.
Trump’s acceptance of the denials concerning accusations of election tampering (denied by Russia’s Vladimir Putin) and the torture and death of a US citizen at the hands of the North Koreans (denied by Kim Jong Un) is a prostitution of the facts. But there is no outrage among the Republicans. Why no outrage? Well, because the Republicans who are holding elective office are terrified by Trump’s voter base which, he boasts, will stand by him even if he shoots someone in the middle of Manhattan.
Another example of the way Trump distorts facts to fit his purposes was his characterization of the neo-Nazi car ramming in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. Trump laid the blame as much on the victims as on the perpetrators, a clear case of speaking from both sides of his mouth.
Said Trump, “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”
And speaking of Putin and the Chinese, that is another area where Duterte can be compared with Trump.
Duterte has his alleged Chinese connection (or weakness) while Trump has his alleged Russian connection (or collusion).
Whatever denials or explanations may be made by Duterte and Trump, what is undeniable is that the Chinese have muscled their way into areas in the West Philippine Sea over which our country claims sovereignty and Filipino fishermen are being deprived of their source of livelihood.
In the case of Trump, what is undeniable according to US intelligence agencies is that Russia tampered with the presidential elections and is still doing so, quite likely in preparation for 2020.
In a recent meeting between Duterte and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Villamor Air Base, the latter reportedly said to Duterte, “You’re just like our president.” Pompeo meant Trump, of course.
What is debatable is whether he meant the comparison as a compliment. Or as an insult.
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.