[OPINION] Enemies and expletives: Staples in Duterte’s SONA
When President Duterte speaks to the nation on July 23, we are certain of two things he will bring to the table: a recounting of his enemies and a recitation of expletives, at times accompanied by public shaming.
Last year, his choice was Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison, whom he said was old (“Matanda ka na”) and had colon cancer. (Sison denied this.)
In a lighter vein, but still embarrassing, he called out then health secretary Paulyn Ubial for slow procurement of hospital equipment for soldiers. “Change the procedure because I will change you,” he said to laughter and applause.
This style, you may say, will be just like his speeches on ordinary days. In a way, yes.
But a review of his first two State of the Nation Addresses (SONA) shows that the President indulges himself more in his SONAs, taking all the time he wants. His first SONA stretched to an hour and 40 minutes, this while only in office less than a month. His second ran to more than 2 hours. (It is not hard to imagine how long his last SONA will take.)
His predecessor, President Aquino, spoke for 36 minutes in his first SONA, curt by Duterte standards, and 53 minutes in his second.
Looking back, what was different in Duterte’s first SONA was that he read from the prepared text more often than giving off-the-cuff remarks. But in his second, that’s when he let loose, threw any remaining grain of discipline to the winds, and rambled on, only returning to the written speech a few times.
What are strikingly common, though, in these two SONAs are his declarations of who his enemies are. These are staple not only in his SONAs but in his other speeches. Mainly, those on his hate list are users of illegal drugs, corrupt officials, human rights advocates, the elite, and independent media.
These are the people who foil Duterte’s goals. These are the groups he blames for the country’s woes, a characteristic of populist leaders.
Much has been written about populist heads of state as the world has seen their rise, fall (Thaksin Shinawatra, for one ) and now, their return, including Donald Trump, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Viktor Orban, and Rodrigo Duterte.
One of their hallmarks is that they define themselves by who their enemies are. They find blame for their shortcomings in shadowy forces such as the elite and other foes, never themselves.
Duterte, like the rest, uses this tactic to meld with the people, to unify and rally his supporters against the opposition and polarize the nation.
They also tend to thrive in conspiracy theories. Although Duterte has not explicitly stated this in his first two SONAs, he has said that there are forces plotting to oust him, primarily the CIA. But he assured the public that President Xi Jinping will not allow this to happen as China’s leader vowed to protect Duterte.
The enemy list, put-downs and expletives can likewise be explained using the lens of psychology.
In an article published in Psychology Today (February 13, 2018), Bill Eddy, a lawyer-mediator who is an expert on managing disputes involving what he calls “high-conflict personalities (HCPs)”, wrote:
Narcissistic HCPs need to make others their Targets of Blame in order to feel superior which they truly believe they are…they have a lot of all-or-nothing thinking…and extreme behavior. This often takes the form of constant insults, putting themselves up by putting others down…Narcissistic HCPs are constantly engaging in inappropriate aggressive behavior toward their Targets of Blame. This is usually verbal…”
Eddy focuses his discussion on organizations, communities, and homes. But this could apply to larger contexts like countries.
What could explain Duterte’s sense of righteousness and superiority? The answer may partly lie in one of his quotes that not many remember because he has not, so far, repeated it. “God placed me here,” he said in his second SONA. Believing that God is on his side, it is difficult to go wrong.
The President has also equated himself with the state, as some of his statements indicated. “I am separated from them [US] so I will be dependent on you [China] for a long time,” were Duterte’s famous words in Beijing on his first visit in 2016.
Others point to his unilateral withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, without the approval of the Senate, as another example. (This is up for oral arguments in the Supreme Court in August as the minority senators and a civil-society group have questioned the constitutionality of Duterte's action.)
Days from now, on July 23, we may be in for surprises during the country's annual political ritual. But these will not stray from the President's main staples of calling out his enemies and spewing expletives. After all, we will still be hearing from a populist leader streaked with narcissistic tendencies. – Rappler.com