IT WAS unfortunate that President Rodrigo Duterte turned down an invitation to join the 12th Asia-Europe Meeting in Brussels in October just because he was afraid the top-level crowd there, he said, might look down on him.
In this interdependent world, a nation dreaming of greatness cannot allow the inferiority complex and tunnel vision of its leaders to make its trade and diplomatic circle increasingly smaller.
The President, for one, should wake up to the fact that it is not just China out there, that the Philippines, a charter member of the United Nations and one of the world’s most vibrant democracies, is rich in friends and allies aching for closer relations.
The President explained his rejection of the ASEM-12 invitation in remarks at the program Tuesday marking the 45th anniversary of the National Economic and Development Authority in Pasig.
Still smarting from his verbal tussles with European dignitaries who, together with other foreign entities, had criticized his bloody campaign against illegal drugs, Duterte said:
“Tingin niyo sa akin ganun noon (You used to belittle me). Why change your assessment of my persona? What am I supposed to do there? Ask me question? Insultuhin ninyo ako (Insult me)? E pu**hin ko kayong lahat dun (I will curse all of you there).
“Hindi ako gaya ng ibang presidente na pwede mo lang… Bahala kayo diyan (I’m not like other presidents who you can belittle. I leave that to you).”
Duterte is sensitive to foreign criticism of his drug war that has claimed the lives of thousands of suspected pushers and users. He takes their comments as foreign meddling in domestic affairs.
Somebody should advise Duterte that he is now the President, not a brawling small-town politico, that he does not win points, or friends, by showering obscenities on foreign officials seeking constructive dialogue.
EU Ambassador Franz Jessen said Duterte’s joining ASEM-12 would give him a chance to “develop an understanding of Europe.” The president insisted that he hates to travel, adding that the EU was “gago” (fool).
Duterte shifted to another of his favorite topics – women—in justifying his not going to Belgium. He asked: “What will I get there? What will I see there? Girls?”
He claimed that foreign women have a “weird” smell. It was not clear why odor would make him skip Europe, but his remark might be a clue: “I am faithful to the Filipina. There are many of them, but I am faithful. It does not have to be just one. They are fragrant.”
Whatever it is that pushes Duterte back into his small shell, he cannot escape his now being the president of a nation of some 105 million, a tenth of whom are laboring abroad under trying circumstances and remitting home about $2 billion a month.
The former Davao City mayor seems to have a problem, a hint of which he may have inadvertently made in his own quote reported by GMA News on Feb. 6:
“Ang problem sa akin, there was never a paradigm shift. From being a local mayor to being a president of the Republic of the Philippines. Ang bunganga at mindset ko is all about mayorship. I look at the Philippines as a city.”
• The presidency is mostly acting
BEING president of the Philippines is much like playing a leading role on stage or, more easily, in a movie. After his dramatic induction to office, the president’s job becomes 99 percent acting.
With his image largely reflected in controlled media, the president can be packaged and made to act, look and sound like the Father of the Nation that the masses want. The actual running of the government can be left to a team of experts.
Aside from a coach by his side, a hypnotist could be employed to tell Rodrigo Roa Duterte everyday till he starts believing and acting it that he is now the President, not a small-time provincial thug, probably even God’s gift to his people.
Hopefully, that daily session with a hypnotist (who should be forbidden from taking selfies) will help Duterte overcome his apparent inferiority complex and his reticence in engaging fair-skinned foreigners. He may then become confident enough to join forums in Europe and elsewhere.
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar had started to build him up in the media as a “rising rockstar” in his earlier performances abroad. Duterte himself had begun to believe it, judging from the way he comported himself exuding confidence.
It seems there was either a failure in the follow-up, or the actor – not used to the celebrity whirl – must have been overtaken by dizziness. Or he was simply not up to it?
There should not be any projection problem if, as claimed, Duterte has been a resounding success in office, in fact allegedly the most popular among all Philippine presidents after their first year in office.
If his handlers are up to their jobs, President Duterte should have ceased by now to be afraid of forums abroad. A quick changeover suggests itself. The mayor seems to need an expert stylist to make presidential the way he looks, moves and sounds.
Throw away all his clothes and overhaul his wardrobe. While an open collar and rolled-up barong sleeves may do in small-town gatherings and OFW reunions, he should be made to dress his part in formal meetings and appearances abroad.
His speeches could betray lack of substance if he does not correct his tendency to ramble on as he picks up his favorite banal topics spiced with his trade-mark expletives.
With his novelty as a colorful speaker having been worn thin in conferences abroad, he can now just read prepared speeches – without adlibbing. To obviate critical comments about his diction, he can talk in Filipino and Cebuano, and leave foreigners listening to the polished English translation.