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The Scandal of Language for Children | CMFR

Protecting Children from Fulsome Speech

Screengrab from RVTM.


PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE minces no words regardless of whoever is on the receiving end: He has cursed leaders of other countries, the Pope and even the United Nations and the European Union. Objectively, his cussing has no place in the public forum. His reiteration of killing and violence has become commonplace as well, assaulting the public with yet another kind of offensive language.

On two separate occasions, the president was speaking to a young audience. He addressed the Boy Scouts on April 3, with mostly minors attending. He was also the guest speaker at the opening ceremony of this year’s Palarong Pambansa in Antique on April 21.  On both occasions, the president resorted to his rhetoric of killing and violence.

In a speech in Malacañang during the Baden Powell Day (Foundation Day) of the World Scout Organization, the president reiterated the importance of keeping the youth protected from the “scourge of drugs,” adding that he would willingly kill if necessary. (“…papatay ako ng tao ‘pag ginalaw ninyo ‘yung kabataan namin.”) During the opening ceremony of the Palarong Pambansa, Duterte said “Bigyan mo ako diyan terorista, bigyan mo ako asin pati suka, kakainin ko yang atay niyan” (Give me a terrorist, give me salt and vinegar, I’ll eat their liver).

CMFR’s review of the top three broadsheets Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star and Manila Bulletin as well as primetime newscasts TV Patrol (ABS-CBN 2), 24 Oras (GMA-7) and Aksyon (TV5) on April 3 – 5 and on April 21 – 23 showed that most of the coverage on these occasions aired these events, with only a few noting the children and youth he has so often sworn to protect. CMFR notes this lack as a tacit acceptance of Duterte’s dismissal of propriety, the quick reference to violence as a way of doing things as the norm, even for young Filipinos.

Television was more observant.  Reports by Aksyon (“Mga batang scout, hinimok ng Pangulo na mag-sundalo”) and 24 Oras (“Pangulong Duterte, iniwasang magmura habang kaharap ang Boy Scouts pero nagbabala laban sa mga drug addict”) on April 3 noted that while the president did not utter any cuss words, he outrightly claimed that he would kill. Likewise, his opening speech during the Palarong Pambansa was reported superficially. Duterte’s claim that he would eat people is not new; he said the same thing in 2016.

Print reports featured these occasions, the Boy Scout event landing on front pages of Inquirer. But there was little notice of the president’s fulsome language while speaking to some very young children in the news as it happened. Later on, pieces that tackled it appeared; Rina David, in her column “Keep him away from children” published in the Inquirer pondered “what lasting impressions the President’s words and presence created in the tender minds of his young audience.” Former president Fidel V. Ramos was quoted in a report saying that Duterte must “act like a president all the time,” and that saying those things (eating people) must be avoided especially when talking to younger people.

Media must learn to be all ears when covering the president’s speeches. But it is not enough to capture his message word for word; they must hold him accountable for his words, and must check his continuing failure to clean up his language as way of honoring the office and the people who put him there. When he himself becomes the source of conduct unbecoming of citizens, what hope is there for the education of our children and youth?

Reports that render these as normal conduct without critical qualification, and there are journalistic ways of doing so, legitimizes the unbecoming act.