MANILA, Philippines – "Uncouth man" and "drunk chap" were just some of the phrases used by some Twitter users to describe the appearance of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during his meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Photos of the bilateral meeting, held on Wednesday October 2, in Russia's White House in Moscow, showed Duterte with a loose tie and crumpled-looking collar.
In contrast, Medvedev's shirt was buttoned all the way and had a smooth collar.
Commenting on a photo posted by Russian state-operated news agency RIA, Czech journalist Pavel Vondra tweeted on Thursday, October 3, that Duterte “showed up a bit unkempt" for the meeting.
Rodrigo #Duterte showed up a bit unkempt for the meeting with the Russian PM Medvedev in Moscow and the Russian internet is having a blast: "Did he drink all night?", "Did he just leave the pub?", "Do Filipinos know what a (state visit) protocol is?" people ask. #DuterteInRussia pic.twitter.com/U823KExjDW — Pavel Vondra (@pavelvond) October 2, 2019
Vondra also claimed the “Russian internet is having a blast” over Duterte’s appearance.
Comments of Twitter users on RIA’s tweet of the photo and article about the meeting do show some of them commenting on Duterte’s attire.
“How about Duterte, he just left the tavern?” Twitter user @2Sibirec6 commented, before wondering if Filipinos know about proper protocols for such high-level meetings.
Another Twitter, user @Joney_M_, wondered if Duterte had gotten smashed with liquor the other night.
"A drunk chap dressed as president," commented @Adik_pit_bul, using a Russian term that also connotes uncouthness.
What does Malacañang say? In response to such comments, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo denied Duterte looked unkempt in order to disrespect the Russians.
“His loosened tie was not intended to disrespect the Russian Prime Minister,” said Panelo.
He also said it was Duterte himself who loosened his tie because he "feels suffocated and very uncomfortable if the tie is tightly in place in the collar."
The spokesman also described Duterte as "very hygienic."
"His body emits a refreshing scent as observed by people who meet up close to him," said Panelo.
Russians on Duterte. Vondra said Duterte's appearance likely caught the attention of Russians who are typically conservative when it comes to protocols.
"Russian society is definitely a more conservative one and dwells on formalities, including proper formal attire. It goes to details like properly-shined shoes, etcetera, and Russians can be very particular about it. Therefore I'm not surprised to see them fret about unbuttoned jacket or shirt," he told Rappler in a series of online messages.
Vondra has worked in Russia as a journalist and has also covered the Philippines.
He observed that most Twitter users commented that Duterte looked drunk. Russians too have memories of leaders who had been seen as drunkards. The late president Boris Yeltsin was one such figure.
"Maybe they (Russians) are now happy to exact sweet revenge by mocking somebody else," said Vondra.
Vondra also said the tweets he saw appear genuine and had used common slang.
But he also thinks, as a whole, Duterte's visit is not dominating the average Russian's preoccupations. At most, Duterte's appearance is likely seen as a "funny oddity" than a national outrage.
Not the first time
It was not the first time Duterte raised eyebrows for his appearance or behavior in meetings with other foreign leaders.
He had been caught chewing gum and dozing off in a ceremony with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his October 2016 state visit in Beijing.
In the same month, when Duterte was set to meet then-Japanese Emperor Akihito, some Japanese officials were worried about his informal style, like his habit of walking into an event with hands in his pockets, according to an Associated Press report.
Duterte’s rolled up barong sleeves and unbuttoned collar during his courtesy call on Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni had also riled up some Cambodians, according to The Cambodia Daily.
While the President’s supporters cut him some slack because it’s this same laidback style that endeared him to Filipinos, veteran diplomat and former senator Leticia Ramos Shahani has reminded Duterte of the importance of protocol in diplomacy.
Duterte, as the country’s top diplomat and architect of foreign policy, should understand that abiding by formalities when meeting with heads of state and government is a “patriotic act” and one done for the good of the Philippines, said Shahani. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.