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Duterte’s politics of shame

MANILA (SE): The same man who said, “I wanted to call out, ‘Pope, you (expletive deleted) go home. Don’t come here anymore’,” on 30 November 2015 has now penned a letter to Pope Francis expressing the profound depth of his respect for the bishop of Rome.

The president of The Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, says in a letter to Pope Francis, “Your Holiness, with profound respect I have the honour to extend my own and my people’s warmest greetings to Your Holiness,” in a surprising U-turn towards the man he accused of ruining life in Manila for the few days he was there in January 2015.

“Our countrymen remember Your Holiness’ apostolic visit in 2015 with deep appreciation,” etched in the collective memory not because of the traffic jams, but because “The Philippines values its special relations with the Holy See and regards with gratitude Your Holiness’ gracious stewardship of the Catholic faith.”

While Duterte does distinguish between faith and the Church, he is on record as calling the Church that the pope shepherds the most hypocritical of all institutions and on January 20 this year told the bishops that it does not have any moral ascendency from which to criticise the blood-letting policies of his administration in what he calls his war on drugs.

However, Duterte may well thank the pope for sparing him a mention in his traditional To the City of Rome and the World (Ubi et Orbi) message on Christmas Day, in which he prays especially for people who are subject to gross violations of human rights and outrageous violence.

The president of the Pearl of the Orient Seas could well be led to believe that he must have friends in high places in the Vatican, as Iraq, Libya and Yemen, all of which struggle to reach the 1,000 corpses a month level that Duterte is able to maintain, did make the cut.

But there were bigger issues at stake for Duterte, as his staggering peace process was set to hold its third meeting in Rome on January 19.

The long stalled peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Communist Party of The Philippines got off the ground in Oslo, Norway, on August 22 last year in a flurry of excitement, but the good humour soured as quickly as it was generated and by October 8, when the second round took place, a great chasm had opened between the two sides.

Stitching up a peace deal with the Communist Party was a signature promise of Duterte’s campaign for Malacañang and in order to reserve the honour of achieving a peace deal for himself, his friends in the congress did all they could to prevent his predecessor, Noynoy Aquino, having it on his curriculum vitae.

But in this context, a good word for his efforts dropped by the pope would do his image no harm, as well as adding a bit more firepower to his armory in dealing with the Communist National Democratic Front at the Rome meetings.

Although in his humility Duterte said that the letter was intended to be private and not for public consumption, in his shame he ensured that it was published in Manila newspapers for the whole nation to look at.

The presidential adviser to the government peace panel at the talks in Rome, Jesus Dureza, announced that he would deliver the letter personally to Pope Francis and, to insure its privacy was breached, his office conveniently released a photograph of it to the media for publication!

But Duterte may have gone one expletive too far to allow his humble posture to outshine his politics of shame.

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