Are we now seen as barbaric fools?

July 18, 2019

“Iceland criticized Duterte’s drug war, so he accused its people of ‘eating ice,’” quipped a recent The Washington Post headline that must have easily sparked some chuckles. And the amusement can be attributed both to the statement’s intrinsic humor and the president’s seeming ignorance of one of the world’s wealthiest nations.

“Duterte’s view of Iceland might be described as cartoonish,” the news article said as it explained: “But Iceland, despite its name, is not a land of ice. The country is unusually temperate for its position just outside the Arctic Circle, and traditional local cuisine consists not of frozen water, but fish, lamb and dairy products.”

With such explanation, it won’t be surprising if readers across the globe now view our president as someone who can be so grossly misinformed or, worse, a fool who carelessly spews insults that smacks of utter stupidity.

It’s alright if President Duterte makes crazy jokes for the local audience. After all, many Filipinos are now used to his speaking style or even to his thought process. And with his trust and approval ratings consistently above 80 percent, it seems nothing the president utters could be so bizarre anymore. Most Filipinos have become so accepting of his pronouncements no matter how seemingly crazy. But for the rest of the world, I doubt if his outlandish remarks would merit the same acceptance.

Many also think it might be alright for Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to show streaks of idiocy in the world stage as when he put forth the idea that Iceland – ranked in the Global Peace Index as the “most peaceful country in the world” since 2018 – could be on the payroll of drug cartels.

After all, many see him as amateurish and nothing more than a joke, a cruel joke, inflicted on the art and craft of diplomacy and international relations, amid his propensity to spew reckless and mean-spirited words with a ferocity that borders on the pathological.

Thus, it might be easier to bear if other countries – particularly those that supported Iceland’s resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council seeking a “comprehensive written report on the human rights situation in the Philippines” – now view our top diplomat as a nut case. It may be acceptable, especially for the critics of Locsin who view him as incorrigible.

But if a beloved president who is trusted, and whose work is approved, by more than 8 out of 10 Filipinos is also seen as a nut case, then that would be tragic indeed. If other countries now see our president as an idiot, then it wouldn’t be farfetched if Filipinos as a whole are seen as idiots.

Many administration supporters lament that the Philippines has been put in a bad light since Duterte was catapulted into power and the relentless drug war started. Watching CNN anchor Amara Walker seemingly puzzled in 2016 over why most Filipinos support the Duterte administration – amid the mounting death toll in the drug war that CNN correspondent Will Ripley had been reporting – got me wondering if she echoed how other people think of us, too.

In December that year, our nation’s image started to take a beating, especially with the New York Times graphic photo essay, “They are Slaughtering Us Like Animals,” offering an intense portrayal of the terror and anguish over alleged extrajudicial killings. Along with the New York Times story, there was the Reuters special report on how other places with comparable drug-related violence “pales next to the Philippines under Duterte.”

With its reports, CNN gave its worldwide audience the impression that extrajudicial killings had overwhelming support in the Philippines simply because of the omission of an important fact: More than 9 out of 10 Filipinos want suspects taken alive and to remain alive while in government custody. Though SWS surveys over the years repeatedly revealed this widespread sentiment, it has never gained traction in international news. Thus, it’s no wonder if the rest of the world now sees us as “barbaric fools.”