TWO things were terribly wrong with presidential candidate Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s explanation for his crude remarks about how he was angry at inmates who had raped and killed an Australian missionary in 1989—not only because they had committed a crime, but because they had beat him to the having sexual relations with the attractive woman.
Reacting to criticism by the militant women’s group Gabriela, the outspoken mayor unleashed even more vitriol.
“Son of a bitch, do not control my mouth, Gabriela. This is my mouth. It is God-given. That’s gutter language because I grew up in a poor neighborhood. My mouth is vulgar (bastos). I grew up in a vulgar neighborhood,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
The statement suggests that Duterte was vulgar because he grew up poor, and that it is all right to be vulgar as long as you are poor. We take issue with both notions.
Despite the mayor’s rough affect and fondness for gutter talk, he did not grow up poor.
His father was a lawyer who had served as governor of Davao, while his mother was a school teacher and a civic leader.
Duterte attended elementary school in Maasin, Southern Leyte, and in Davao City, and finished his secondary education at the Holy Cross Academy of Digos in Digos City, after being expelled twice from previous schools, including Ateneo de Davao University, due to misconduct.
A boy who had grown up poor would not have had all these opportunities.
The second part is more difficult to dispute because it is a statement of the mayor’s world view that the poor are vulgar as a rule.
But are the poor, in fact, vulgar by nature—and are they doomed to remain so, as Duterte seems to believe? Our day-to-day interactions with poor people suggest that this is not so, and that the poor are often even more courteous than the well to do.
Nor need they be a prisoner to their poor roots, stuck forever with crude thoughts and vulgar behavior, as Duterte suggests.
About a month before the uproar over Duterte’s rape remark, a prominent figure in public service passed away. He was a statesman, a lawyer, a former president of the Senate, and a World War II hero—and a model of intelligence and civility throughout his life.
Unlike Duterte, former Senate president Jovito Salonga really grew up poor, the son of a Presbyterian pastor and a market vendor. Yet Salonga, who worked to put himself through college and topped the bar exams in 1944 with a grade point average of 95.3 percent, never felt the need to use gutter language to gain respect or to display crudity of thought as a badge of honor that encourages the public’s basest of instincts. This was not a matter of having a God-given mouth, but true character. We all have the first; not all of us have the second.