Unless a nation is inherently wealthy or militarily powerful it is important for a nation’s leaders to grab the attention of the wider global public. In a developing nation, the personal charisma, notoriety, flamboyance or public mischief making of a head of state or government could mean the difference between investment coming in to his or her nation or investment going elsewhere. This is true in respect of sovereign investments but it is even more true in respect of courting private sector investors who tend to be bombarded with similar proposals from multiple nations throughout the world.
Enter Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a man beloved by the vast majority of Filipinos for his reformist policies and a man widely known to those otherwise oblivious to the history, culture and political realities of The Philippines due to his clampdown on narco-terrorism and his famously foul mouth. Duterte’s speeches are often filled with double entendre, jokes and harsh criticisms of opponents. While much of what Duterte says is misconstrued by the liberal mainstream media of The Philippines, many such speeches of Duterte which address specific local issues are also picked up by a variety of international media outlets that otherwise would not run stories about domestic Philippine issues or even about Philippine foreign policy.
The reason behind this phenomenon is because Duterte’s manner of speech gets the world’s attention and as a developing country in need of foreign investment, attention is exactly what The Philippines needs. While Duterte is not a businessman by training, his straightforward manner of speaking is similar to that which some of the most successful businessmen use in private discussions. Anyone who has ever had a private meeting with a successful no-nonsense businessman realises that such men speak more like Donald Trump at his most rhetorically unleashed than like an elderly priest speaking about the power of prayer.
Thus, while some find Duterte’s latest remarks about rape to be distasteful, in reality Duterte’s remarks are designed to raise eyebrows world wide.
The reality is that owing less to his policies than to his style, more non-Filipinos are talking about The Philippines than at any time since the downfall of President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Furthermore, it is likely that non-Filipinos under the age of 30 are more familiar with the name Duterte than with the names Aquino or Marcos. In other words, Duterte’s infamous jokes and frequent use of expletive language are putting The Philippines on the map in the minds of many who would have never considered a vacation in The Philippines, doing business with or investing in The Philippines.
Even at an unconscious level, people are becoming more aware of The Philippines as a result of Duterte’s name and photograph appearing in newspapers, websites and on television screens across the world. While Singapore’s wealthy economy does not require such “outspoken” leadership, The Philippines requires a well known leader in order to achieve its desired status of becoming a prominent long term sustainable investment destination in the highly competitive south east Asian region.
In this sense, even those who dislike Duterte’s sense of humour should thank him as he is able to do for The Philippines more by telling an “offensive” joke than that which many countries are able to achieve by sinking millions into global public relations campaigns designed to attract attention to one’s country.
As Oscar Wilde said “there is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about”. If the opposite were true Monica Lewinsky would not be getting paid good money to give lectures in the United States on her infamous past experiences. The same could be said about Bill Clinton who has made millions since leaving office two years after formally being impeached by the US Congress over issues relating to his relationship with Miss. Lewinsky.
In this sense, Duterte is not only an important world leader but his mouth is a supremely effective public relations tool that has not cost the Filipino tax payer not a single peso. While other countries have to work to make headline news, Duterte is promoting The Philippines in some of the most unexpected but nevertheless highly effective ways.