Duterte’s ‘war in Malaysia’ makes audience do double take

Pia Ranada
Duterte’s ‘war in Malaysia’ makes audience do double take
The President was likely referring to the war in Marawi but the mistake causes a small stir among his audience, composed of diplomats and foreign policy experts

With his tendency to give unfiltered, spontaneous speeches, it’s only natural that President Rodrigo Duterte commit some small errors – like a mispronounced name (several times, he pronounced Isnilon Hapilon’s last name as “Hapsilon”) or jumbled letters in an acronym (“EKJ” instead of EJK for extrajudicial killings).

But his booboo in his speech on Thursday, October 19, during a high-level forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was much harder to ignore.

With diplomats and foreign policy experts in the room, Duterte spoke of his “war in Malaysia.”

“I just finished a war in Malaysia and perhaps I can refocus the entire Armed Forces to deal with this problem,” he said, referring to piracy in the Malacca Strait as the “problem”.

But Duterte likely meant the war in Marawi City and not a war in Malaysia, a country belonging to the ASEAN. The Philippines is the 2017 chair of the regional bloc.

Journalists covering the event could not help but look at each other. Government staff and foreign policy experts also said they noticed the remark.

Most everyone assumed the President meant Marawi, since he had just announced the Mindanao city’s “liberation” from terrorists last Tuesday, October 17.

‘Condescending’ president

Duterte made another surprising remark in his Thursday speech.

Telling foreign policy experts and ASEAN leaders that he is no statesman, he promised, this time, he would be polite and “condescending” to them.

“With you in front of me, I will be the most courteous, ever the most con–…condescending president,” he said, sounding unsure about the second adjective.

Could he have really meant “condescending,” a word that means a show of patronizing superiority?

Or was he grasping for another word, perhaps “congenial,” or a word along the lines of “polite” or “civil”?

Whatever the President’s intention, most of his audiences would agree that his spontaneous speeches are a lot more entertaining than his prepared ones, mistakes and all. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.