Most of us can remember bullies from our childhood days. They were mean-spirited children who mocked other kids for being different—for being overweight, for stuttering, for being dark-skinned, for being poor, or even for being too bookish.
Some of those bullies eventually learned to sublimate their aggression and lack of control when they became adults. Others, however, have remained bullies—and one of them, it seems, even became President.
Exhibiting a total refusal to accept criticism, President Duterte this week launched personal attacks on senators leading a congressional investigation of the alleged mismanagement of COVID-19 funds by the Department of Health (DOH).
Irked over Senator Richard Gordon’s long speech during a seven-hour Senate hearing, Duterte described him as a “talkathon champion,” saying he talked too much and likened him to a “German interrogator” during the Nazi regime.
The President also mocked Gordon and Senator Panfilo Lacson for the way they looked.
“My advice to you is to lose weight so that….” Duterte said, typically failing to complete his sentence. “I get dizzy when I look at you… It’s true, even your hairdo is strange, both you and Ping.”
Not short of acerbic wit, Gordon and Lacson fired back.
Lacson said he hasn’t changed the way he combs his hair since “long before the President lost his mind,” while Gordon said he would surely win over Duterte when it comes to being “a good-looking guy.” Instead of calling him fat, Gordon added, the President should respond to the allegations that his government had paid way too much for face masks and face shields at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Audit reports show that the purchases, funneled through the procurement service of the Department of Budget and Management, went as high as P27.72 per face mask, and P120 per face shield, in comparison to the suggested retail prices prevailing then at P2 to P4 per face mask and P26 to P50 per face shield.
That, of course, is far more important than how much a senator weighs, or how another combs his hair, but the President has not satisfactorily addressed this point, and neither has the people in whom he placed his trust.
For six years, we have made allowances for the outrageous utterances of the President. He was only joking when he said soldiers should shoot female rebels in the vagina. He really didn’t mean he would jet ski to the Spratly Islands to plant the Philippine flag. He wasn’t serious when he said state auditors should be kidnapped and tortured.
He was merely vexed. He was frustrated. He was just joking, his minions would say, cleaning up time and again the mess their boss left.
Don’t we deserve better? After six years, can we have some civility back in our public discourse? Isn’t it time to tell the bully to grow up or get out?