After President Rodrigo Duterte’s threatened to curse US President Barack Obama that made headlines all over the world, a netizen wrote an open letter to Duterte, as a son to the “father” of the country.
Gideon Lasco starts off his letter with the question, “How does a son reason to his father?”
Lasco then expressed high hopes for what Duterte can do for the Philippines, given the level of support he is enjoying right now.
“Mr. President, this is the dilemma I face because I regard you very highly and as our head of state, I consider you the father of our nation. I admire you for your professed love for country, and continue to believe that the unprecedented support you have right now holds so much promise in solving our deep-rooted problems and healing our long-standing divisions,” Lasco said.
He then enumerated all the good things that Duterte did, which he “cheered” for, such as acknowledging the need to protect the environment and cutting off non-compliant mining firms; promoting an “efficient and kind government”; and pursuing peace talks with the Communists and the Muslims and even welcoming activists to Malacañang.
However, Lasco also voiced out his worries.
“But I am worried, deeply worried, that some of your pronouncements are souring the fruits of your labors,” he said.
“Yes, we appreciate you for your candor – in fact it is this very quality that endeared you to the people. Yes, we acknowledge that sometimes tough words are necessary, to give clarity to your mission and purpose. But despite your good intentions, there are times when you have gone too far, and have hurt your own people,” he added.
Lasco also reminded Duterte of his promise to stop cursing if he wins and said he accepted the President’s explanation that his “strong language” only comes out when directed towards the “enemies of our state.”
Soon after the elections on May 9, when he emerged as the apparent winner, Duterte told the media that he promised to the Filipinos he would stop cursing. “I need to control my mouth. I cannot be bastos (rude) because I will be representing our country,” he said, as quoted by the Inquirer in its May 11 report.
“But now that you are president, now that you embody the dignity of the nation, please think of the children watching you on television when you choose your words,” Lasco added.
Lasco recalled how Duterte threw a homophobic slur against American Ambassador Philip Goldberg and how he threatened to curse US President Barack Obama. He added that people cheered for Duterte when he stood up to the US and even when he threatened to leave the United Nations.
He asks Duterte if he even thought about the Filipinos living abroad before uttering such words.
“But do you really think these statements were beneficial to our country? Please think of the 10 million Filipinos living abroad before you say words that can antagonize other countries.”
Lasco pointed out how Duterte also hurt women after catcalling a reporter, GMA’s Mariz Umali, and revealing details of Senator Leila de Lima’s private life in the bedroom, adding that such actions only served to remind women of the “vulnerabilities they face everyday.”
“Surely, as the most powerful man in the country, you should be the first to show your respect for our women, even those you consider your enemies,” he said.
Addressing Duterte’s statements about how “drug users are not human beings,” he urged the President to think of those in drug rehabilitation facilities trying to get over their addiction. Lasco added that many of these drug users even supported Duterte and surrendered, hoping that the President can help them change their lives.
“Please think of them too as your children and have mercy on then,” Lasco pleaded for the sake of the drug users.
Duterte is only human and the presidency is such a huge burden on him, but he should also remember that as the President of the Philippines, his words, and even jokes, “carry much weight,” reverberating not only throughout the country but also beyond, Lasco wrote.
“You say that you don’t care about your own reputation, but surely the repute of the country is something that you should hold dearly,” Lasco said.
Lasco also turned to the media, enumerating their faults such as reporters asking provocative questions, comparing Duterte to Donald Trump, twisting some of his pronouncements, but not all the blame rests with the media, he said.
“But how can we defend you when they are simply reporting what you’ve said? Their own words cannot harm you, but your words can. Your mouth can turn out to be your greatest enemy,” Lasco said.
He added that he wants to ask for three things from Duterte – to investigate the killings, to heed the people’s call not to give Marcos a hero’s burial, and to use the power of his words to heal.
“First, I urge you not to take criticisms, even calls for investigations, personally – and feel the need to respond with verbal attacks. Surely, you will readily acknowledge that there are some corrupt policemen, and drug lords themselves who may be behind the vigilante killings. Can we not investigate them? If you do that, it will be to your credit, not your dishonor,” Lasco suggested.
“Second, I ask that you show yourself to be open to other people’s suggestions – and willing to change your mind when the situation calls for it. Please think very carefully about the Libingan ng mga Bayani issue which is causing pain and anguish to many,” he added.
“Finally, I hope that you use the power of your words not to hurt but to heal,” Lasco said.
He then recalled how Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) was accepted with “thunderous applause” by the Davaoeños, emphasizing the power of his voice.
“When you finished, there was thunderous applause. What has changed? Nothing. But with a vision of a better future, the present becomes infinitely more bearable; the path lighter. Such is the power of a leader’s voice,” Lasco said.
He once again brought the focus back on the impact that Duterte’s words have.
“And so while your words can be your undoing, they can also [be] an instrument for change, for peace, and for the good of everyone. It is not too late. The people are listening: some hoping that their fears and unease will be allayed, others ready to rally behind the good that you promised to bring to our land,” Lasco wrote.
“With words of encouragement, empathy, and yes, wisdom, you may yet lead us to unity, to progress, and importantly, together as one nation and one family,” he added.
Lasco is a physician, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the Inquirer.
He posted his open letter to Duterte on September 6. As of writing, his post has received 2,600 reactions and has been shared 1,295 times.