Whenever Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte travels to meet world leaders, he always takes time to address Filipinos living abroad during speeches which are one part about policy making and one part casual meet and greet where overseas Filipino workers can get an up-close and personal look at their incredibly popular President.
Duterte is currently in South Korea where he has held positive discussions with President Moon Jae-in regarding Seoul’s continued investment into Philippine development programmes and the continued increase of Korean tourists coming to The Philippines.
As part of his visit, he gave a speech before Filipinos in Seoul. During his speech Duterte recommended a book called Altar of Secrets: Sex, Politics and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church by Aries Rufo. Duterte has long been a critic of the Roman Catholic Church’s political meddling in the secular democratic affairs of the nation.
While every individual including clergy has the right to express a political opinion in The Philippines, when an institution as wealthy and power as the Roman Catholic Church sees fit to play an obstructionist role in national politics, the institution ceases to be one concerned with the spiritual life of individuals and becomes one that is concerned with the political fate of the state – something which is not and cannot allowed to be its role. The Church’s meddling in politics not only immoral but it is deeply regressive and anti-democratic.
Duterte has never be shy about criticising the Roman Catholic Church. During his election campaign, Duterte stated,
“I will lecture until June 29 the sins of the Catholic Church and whether or not you are still relevant…..Let this election be a referendum between me and the Catholic church”.
In 2017, he said that Church leaders were “full of shit”. Duterte who himself was a victim of Church abuse has accused clergy of hypocrisy saying,
“You criticise the police, you criticise me. For what? You have the money. You are all crazy … when we were making confessions to you, we were being molested. They are touching us. What is your moral ascendancy, religion? What is the meaning of it!”.
While Duterte has personally expressed ambivalence about the Congressional vote to repeal the prohibition on divorce, in related matters, he has shown support for issues that are typical red lines of Rome. In 2017 Duterte spoke in favour of legalising same-sex marriages in The Philippines, saying:
“I want same-sex marriage. The problem is we’ll have to change the law. But we can change the law…
…But if you would ask me what makes you happy, do it. You can only do it once. Never return back. This is one straight deal. So whatever makes you happy, you go out of this universe happy and fulfilled. If it makes the gays happy, let them be. I do not condemn anybody there. What makes you happy, good. Just don’t violate the law”.
Ultimately what matters most for The Philippines beyond any personal feelings about divorce or same-sex marriage is helping to break the political cartel that is the Church’s meddling in the political affairs of a sovereign secular republic.
In this sense, Duterte’s offering of the Rufo’s book shows a further commitment to break the dangerous, retrogressive and neo-colonial stranglehold of the Roman Catholic Church on Philippine politics. But it was the way in which Duterte gave away a copy of Rufo’s book that was the ultimate trolling of both the Roman Catholic Church and his Liberal Party opponents.
Duterte vowed to give away a copy of the book and invited a young woman on stage to kiss instead of a more traditional form of payment. The entire episode was entirely light-hearted and innocent, that is unless one has a deceptive political agenda.
While many of Duterte’s opponents and the radical militant feminist Gabriela Woman’s Party have criticised Duterte, the woman who kissed Duterte in exchange for the book said that the whole thing had been a fun joke and that she was happy with the experience. The ‘kissed woman’ Bea Kim said of her experience,
“The kiss doesn’t mean anything except to entertain and make other Filipinos in the gathering happy. I assure you, for me and even the President, there was no malice in the kiss. My husband was seated in front while I was in the middle part of the audience. I just went up the stage when the president picked someone in white to come up the stage. I looked around, there was no other in white except me. It’s rare to have the chance to meet the President up close. It’s true, it was just a twist and there is no malice. The President even asked me if I was single. I told him I am married to a Korean”.
While the woman kissed by Duterte is happy about her experience, others have taken it upon themselves to put false words in Bea Kim’s mouth all in further attempts to slander Duterte. This is becoming the de-facto method for Duterte critics who are unable to convince his legions of supporters to abandon their president, so instead they rely on lies, innuendo and misappropriation of the facts to try and create conflict where there is none.
There is however a strategic element to the entire saga. In giving away a book warning of the dangers of unchecked Roman Catholic Power over The Philippines and then by provoking the notoriously prudish Church and his opportunistic political opponents simultaneously, Duterte has proved that his critics are so bereft of any originality that they merely wait like hungry dogs for a chance to bite at a bone thrown to them by Duterte. In this sense, Duterte has expertly trolled his critics and as usual they fell for the bait like the dogmatic and unoriginal robotic individuals that they are.
I recently wrote a piece on the Five Breeds of Duterte Haters. Today’s haters are clearly those I described in the following way:
Those without a sense of humour
“The other thing that binds Duterte detractors together is a total lack of any sense of humour. Duterte is not only a prolific President but an expert at trolling his opponents. He often repeats the insults he has to deal with and jokingly turns these insults into positive attributes as a rhetorical device to expose the absurdity of the original accusations. Those who do not understand this are guilty either of having no sense of humour, being objectively stupid or people from the west who can only understand an English speaker if their accent resembles that of Orson Welles or the Queen of Englan”.
For such people, whether Duterte walks, talks, sleeps, eats or kisses, he is somehow at fault. This is yet another childish ploy to undermine a President who gets things done and is both figuratively and literally loved for it. The only kiss to worry about in Philippine politics is the yellow kiss of death. Luckily for Bea Kim, she received a very much more positive form of playful affection.