Duterte: A Chico de Calle, But a Good One

President Rodrigo Duterte taking his oath of office. (Photo by the Presidential Communications Operations Office)

President Rodrigo Duterte taking his oath of office. (Photo by the Presidential Communications Operations Office)

About eight years ago while doing my research on the politics of rodent infestation in southern Mindanao, I always looked forward to the Sunday TV talk show Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa where then-Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was asked about his thoughts on recent local and national political goings-on.

Within that hour, Duterte would go into a long monologue, often punctuated by fiery hectoring and nasty asides especially when his talk drifted into the problems of drugs, criminality, corrupt cops and bishops and his political rivals. Once he shifted into his fighting mode, I would sit back and enjoy the show like many Dabawenos enjoying the weekend. The Sunday sermons by the Catholic priests and the bevy of charlatans proclaiming themselves God’s anointed are dull and uninteresting when placed alongside Duterte’s show.

Dabawenos looked forward to watching the show, because for the most part they actually rarely heard the Mayor talk. They see him at work: supervising a road project here; negotiating between urban poor leaders and owners the lands their communities occupied; opening up battered women’s centers; welcoming new investments to the city. They like their Mayor dirtying his hands, especially when it comes to putting a stop to criminality. This is what drew people every Sunday to Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa.

Then there is the cursing. Many are scandalized by Duterte's cusses and macho asides, and very often criticisms in media are right on the mark. Critics, however, may be way off the mark when extending the condemnation to the people who listened and guffawed at them. My friends who are Duterte supporters argue back that such response only confirms how much the Mayor and his audience share the same argot.

This is the language of everyday life not merely in Davao, but any other place in the country. Tagalogs are known to insert “p____ ina” in every sentence when they speak to each other, so do Cebuanos, Ilocanos, Ilonggos and even Maranaos. Just go to a palengke, ride the jeepney, or just hang out with friends in the mall, by Roxas Boulevard, or in a corner store that sells Tanduay Rhum and has benches. In such places, the luridness of local lingo prevails, spoken not just by men, but also by women.

What made his cursing controversial was that Duterte decided that what is good in everyday life also applies to the public arena and national media. The actors in these domains – interviewers and hosts, guests and interviewees and politicos on stage– must act as if they are God’s gifts to humanity--discreet, indirect, formal, respectful and well informed. Off camera and backstage they most likely sound like the maglalako, butcher, jeepney driver, bus conductor, vendor and even the fraternity thug.

To his supporters, Duterte’s decision to make chico-de-calle patois the primary form of political discourse was a signal that the hypocrisy and disingenuous character of “democratic politics” are over. It was time to call a spade a spade: Mar Roxas is the bayot, BongBong is the noble friend and it’s time to kill all druggies.

Laying bare the real way in which we converse with each other (“How many times do Americans use the word sh__t when they speak?” asked a friend who is a Duterte loyalist when asked her opinion on this) is the second reason why 40 percent of Filipino voters – including the Manila rich – voted for the Davao City mayor.

Finally, Duterte has tenaciously stuck to three topics: the killing of anyone involved in drugs; fighting corruption; being anti-elitist. There is a broad eight-point program, but he is only concerned with the aspects involving criminality and anti-elitism. This is the kind of compartmentalization that most of us apply to our lives. Overwhelmed by the complexity of our existence, our tendency is to focus on specific and most severe themes that affect our lives. The other problems can be pushed to the margins or ignored along the way.

For Filipinos, drugs, corruption and criminality are everyday problems they face. They encounter these in the sari-sari store at the corner of their homes that pushers have taken over, in their meetings with the tax official who demands “pang-merienda naman” to speed up the process and in the traffic law-enforcement officer threatening to ticket them for over-speeding unless they got “to introduced” to Ninoy Aquino (the 500 peso bill).

To his supporters, Duterte’s decision to make chico-de-calle patois the primary form of political discourse was a signal that the hypocrisy and disingenuous character of “democratic politics” are over.

These are the stories they also follow closely. When we who live abroad read the news from home we often head to the websites of newspapers like The Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star and Rappler. Filipinos suffering through daily, excruciating morning traffic in Manila and Cebu, however, are attracted more to the sensationalism peddled to them by daily tabloids. Rags like Hataw: D’yaryo ng Bayan, Bandera, Abante, and Bulgar are the most favored because of headlines like Abante Tonite’s July 5 issue, “NPA vs. Drug Traffickers, Joke Lang?!” and Bulgar’s “Mahihirap OKS makitulog sa M’Canang” in its July 2 issue. These tabloids have become so popular that they are said to be subsidizing their “mother newspapers.”

Until Duterte came around and started nationalizing his Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa diatribes, these broadsheets were the nearest thing to masa talk being put out in the open (cursing, however, is still heavily censored). Duterte’s handlers told him to shut up and not to speak to the media, but his supporters are comforted by the fact that in cabinet meetings and private sessions, their President will continue to talk like a chico de calle.

And they will love him more for that.

An episode of Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa back in October, 2015, before Rodrigo Duterte ran for President.

Patricio Abinales

Patricio Abinales

Patricio N. Abinales is an OFW.