Many condemned President Rodrigo Duterte kissing an ordinary Filipina worker in Seoul as a power play — the President taking advantage of his position to overwhelm the married woman to kiss him on the lips. Others say the issue is the crowd’s reaction to the “unpresidential” behavior — the adoring Filipinos cheering vigorously their President flirting with women.
The President’s apologists say there was no power play at all. Mr. Duterte is just being real. It is his nature. Even when he had no power over people, as when he was campaigning for the presidency, he kissed women he fancied along the campaign trail.
But critics ask, “When did just being real metamorphose into crudeness and vulgarity?” I say there was no metamorphosis. To many Filipinos what other societies consider crudeness and vulgarity is normalcy or normality. There are many Filipino habits that societies in foreign countries consider crude and vulgar but which most Filipinos consider normal.
Among them are spitting out phlegm on the street, sneezing without covering the mouth, and peeing against a concrete fence or tree. They are as normal as a mother telling her own unruly son, “putangina mo” or referring to people of Spanish descent as “conyo” regardless of their gender.
Manny Pacquiao prides himself as the only senator in the world to win a world boxing championship. The Philippine Senate passed a resolution honoring him for that feat. Senate President Koko Pimentel and Senator Sonny Angara were so inspired by it that they moved to have Pacquiao’s prize of multimillion dollars tax-exempt. A military unit accorded him arrival honors upon his return from the fight.
In other countries a member of Congress or Parliament disrobing down to his shorts to fight not for his country’s honor but for prize money would be a most shameful act.
It would draw condemnation by the citizenry of the country and consequently merit expulsion from the august body.
Jim Wright, a member of the US House of Representatives for 35 years and Speaker of the House in 1989, was forced to resign that year for receiving tax-exempt royalties amounting to $54,000 from the bulk sales of his book. What is normal for many Filipinos is crass, vulgar, or unethical in other societies.
Fried chicken restaurants here serve fried chicken almost invariably with rice or noodles. They provide customers with spoons, forks, and knives.
In the States, fried chicken is a finger food, meaning it is eaten with bare hands. It is not served with knife and fork. That is why KFC says its chicken is “finger lickin’ good.” But in Canada, a Fil-Canadian boy was reprimanded by his teacher for eating with fork and spoon in school. What is customary for many Filipinos is improper for other nationalities.
So, Mr. Duterte’s flirtation with women is normal male Filipino behavior as are “kanto boys” taunting every attractive woman passing by, male hosts of TV sit-com programs making passes at pretty participants, and businessmen applying their charms on convention receptionists and usherettes.
It is no wonder Filipino swains were able to woo into marriage at first meeting the first Miss Universe, Armi Kuusela, and the first Miss International, Stella Marquez.
A number of other local “lover boys” — a singer, a management professor, and 2 scions of affluent families — were able to win the hearts of contestants in international beauty pageants held here during their brief stay in the country. It is in the nature of Filipino men to court, charm, and even seduce a pretty woman at first meeting or first sight.
Mr. Duterte’s manifestation of his playboy nature is typical male Filipino behavior. But critics say he is no longer a mainstream Pinoy or a Cebuano, he is now president of the Philippines and he must act the part or must act presidential.
But he was elected president because of what he really is, a typical Filipino — a “promdi,” (a Filipinized expression of the phrase, from the province). He thinks, acts, and talks like most promdis. He understands the Filipino people’s problems and their aspirations for he is their own kind, their very own.
That kind constitutes the great majority of the Philippine population. That is why many candidates for president in the past had tried to project themselves as belonging to that kind.
In the last presidential race, Jejomar Binay and Grace Poe played up the fact that they were born to that kind.
But Binay and his family lived the life of the fabulously rich from the time he became mayor of the financial capital of the Philippines.
So did Grace Poe from the time she was adopted by the King of Philippine Movies.
Not Digong even when he was mayor of Davao for 22 years. He kept his simple lifestyle. He presented himself during the campaign as a simple man committed to change the system established by the elitist leaders of the past. “Change is coming,” he vowed.
That explains the hearty cheers he got from his audience in Seoul. They are his kind, and they behaved like normal hoi polloi Filipinos — “mababaw ang kaligayahan.” They are the people who laughed when he joked that he should have been first in the gang rape of an Australian missionary. They are the people who enjoy the toilet jokes of Tito Sotto in his TV show Eat Bulaga. That is why they keep electing him senator over and over again. They are the ones who are ecstatic whenever Pacquiao scores a win, and ballistic when he is “robbed” of a victory by the judges.
President Duterte played to that hoi polloi crowd by acting like the “common tao,” the ordinary Filipino on the street. They howled, laughed, and jigged at the President’s antics. They were happy that President Duterte has remained the same man that he was when he was Davao Mayor Digong Duterte. As he had said many times “I am not a son of the privileged class.”
Change has come indeed, as he had promised during the campaign.
He has done away with the traditional formalities in Malacañang. He brought in his bourgeoisie behavior, inelegant language, and pedestrian sartorial style to the presidential palace.
But he has not changed the situation of the country.
The drug menace, crime, and corruption — the plagues that afflict the country and which he vowed to eradicate — remain rampant.
Ironically, some of the people he placed in government exacerbated corruption in government. Crime has so worsened that he is now thinking of radical measures to abate it.
And the reason the Philippine situation has not changed is because he has not changed from the man that he was — a promdi mayor. He still thinks and decides as such.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.