Tips from his close aides and allies

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte will say what he wants to say, however he wants to say it, presidential decorum be damned. On many occasions, his obscenity-laden tirades against criminals and critics, laced with threats of violence, have put his administration in a bind, forcing his spokespersons and Duterte himself to explain his pronouncements.
Here’s a look at how Duterte et al., with a straight face, have wiggled out of the difficult positions the President’s words have put them in.

THINKING OUT LOUD.
“(Duterte could just be) thinking out loud when he said that he will go as far as suspending the writ of habeas corpus if the drug syndicates won’t stop.”
–Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to reporters on Nov. 13, 2016, following President Duterte’s threat to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus to control lawlessness. (Philippine Daily Inquirer)

IT’S HYPERBOLE.
“The President always speaks in hyperbole, always exaggerated just to put his message across.”
–Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, explaining on Dec. 14, 2016 Duterte’s statement about personally killing criminals. (Philippine Daily Inquirer)

IT’S CEBUANO SUBCULTURE.
“The Cebuano subculture speaks in a very rough kind of humor.”
–Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, defending before Al Jazeera host Mehdi Hasan in August 2016, President Duterte’s refusal to apologize for calling US Ambassador Philip Goldberg gay. (The Philippine Star)

JUST DISGUST.
“On the President’s colorful language, we ask for our people’s understanding as these utterances are not personal attacks directed at particular persons but mere expressions of disgust and impatience over the many unresolved and unaddressed issues that remain pervasive to this day.”
–Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, on Dec. 15, 2016, after a poll showing Filipinos’ concern that Duterte’s tirades against foreign officials could hurt the country’s standing in the international community. (ABS-CBN News)

NOT LITERAL.
“We don’t take all the President’s statements literally, but we take his statements seriously.”
–Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar’s reply to BBC Newsday’s anchor Rico Hizon when asked on Dec. 16, 2016 about Duterte’s statement apparently admitting he had killed three people while serving as Davao City mayor. (Presidential Communications Operations Office)

BE CREATIVE.
“Let’s try to use our creative imagination, okay? Huwag tayo masyadong literal (Let’s not take things too literally.)”
–Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella’s response to reporters on Oct. 5, 2016 when asked to explain Duterte’s pronouncements that he would eventually cut ties with the United States. (Philippine Daily Inquirer)

HEIGHTENED BRAVADO.
“PRRD is decisively acting, speaking with heightened bravado, that law and order would be brought back in these areas of rebellion in the soonest time possible and that normalcy would likewise be restored with minimal loss of lives.”
–Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, in a statement on May 27, 2017, after Duterte attempted to rally troops in Iligan City by announcing that he would take responsibility for crimes, including rape, that they would commit during the imposition of Martial Law in Mindanao. (Presidential Communications Operations Office)

MATTER OF STYLE.
“It is … a matter of the leadership style and messaging style of the President …. It’s just meant to underline his seriousness in making sure that nobody is corrupt and involved in criminality.”
–Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella explaining to reporters on Jan. 10, 2017 President Duterte’s threat to kill mayors on his narcolist who don’t resign. (Philippine Daily Inquirer)

NOT WHAT YOU HEAR.
“Sometimes, what you hear from him is not really what he wants to communicate.”
–Solicitor-General Jose Calida, trying to explain in January 2017 Duterte’s flip-flopping views on martial law after Duterte called martial law “nonsense” and “futile” in Dec. 2016, and then said he would declare it if he “wants to” in January, citing the looming threat of ISIS in Mindanao. (Rappler)

President Duterte himself and his communications office have given the public guidance on how to understand his pronouncements.

JUST FOR LAUGHS AT TIMES.
“Of five statements, only two are true, while three are full of nonsense. I’m just fond of doing it. I just want to laugh, at the expense of myself sometimes.”
–President Duterte in a speech at the Bureau of Customs on Feb. 8, 2017 (CNN Philippines)

THE EYES HAVE IT.
“Look at my eyes. Look at my rage.”
–President Duterte’s guide to CNN Philippines on how to determine whether he is speaking the truth or merely joking.

LEARN FROM DAVAO MEDIA.
“The President gave two pieces of advice during the election campaign, which we find relevant up to this day. 1) Discern joke from truth. 2) Members of media should undergo a briefing from Davao-based media to learn how to differentiate when the President is making fun of the issue at hand and when he is seriously stating a fact. We hope those tips can be of help.”
–Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, on Nov. 5, 2016, after Duterte had to clarify that he was only joking when he said that while aboard a plane, he heard God telling him to stop cursing. (Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Read also: Covering Duterte after Year One
Read also: ‘We hurdled the turbulence quite well’

(CJJ12 was published in hardcopy in September 2017.)