COMMENT: On Duterte’s Jokes

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 27 Dec) – Rodrigo R. Duterte is the most controversial Philippine president counting from President Emilio Aguinaldo. Let’s not deny him the many “good” and “right” that he has done. These, however, have been shrouded by what his critics see as “bad” manners and “wrong” conduct. Already tied to defending his anti-drug crusade, his well-paid apologists still have their hands and time full in explaining his jokes.

Nothing is wrong with jokes per se. The capacity of man to make jokes and enjoy them together with his fellowmen – women, not excluded – distinguishes man from all other creatures on earth. Such distinction is not denied from kings and presidents.

What’s wrong with Duterte’s jokes?


In Webster’s, “joke”, as a noun, means: 1: (a) something said or done to provoke laughter, especially, a short oral narrative with a climactic humorous twist; (b) the humorous or ridiculous element in something; (c) an instance of jesting; practical joke; (d) laughing stock; 2: something not to be taken seriously, a trifling matter.

Stated otherwise, “joke” is something humorous, ridiculous or trifling said or done to provoke laughter and, sometimes, embarrassing situations not to be taken seriously. As a verb, it is making a joke happen.

The heart of the joke is its humorous twist. Sense of humor, as defined in Webster’s, is “a personality that gives someone the ability to say funny things and see the funny side of things”; in Oxford English dictionary, “the faculty of observing what is ludicrous or amusing or of expressing it; jocose imagination or treatment of a subject”. The above are the American and English perceptions. However, views of and responses to situations vary across nations, cultures and social levels. Humor twists variously.

Depending upon the sense of humor of the jokers and the subject or subjects of the joke and on how they take the object of the joke, the twist can provoke not only laughter but elicit wisdom and truth. The ridiculous and the trifling can provoke laughter among the jokers – the subject or subjects joining the fun gamely borne on their sense of humor.

Once sense of humor is overtaxed or lost, the joke is lost. Considering varying states of sense of humor, it is important for jokers to know WHO and WITH WHOM, WHAT ABOUT, WHERE, WHEN and HOW to joke.

Duterte’s Jokes

Take a look at Duterte’s jokes as seen in headlines and behind. Many of his jokes can pass for wisecracks showing the man to be fond of joking. But his headliners – about rape, shooting rebel women in the vagina, bashing the Catholic Church and its bishops and priests, slapping U.S. President Obama and UN top human rights officials – are vulgar, indecent, irreverent, outrageous, confrontational, et cetera., raising the question, “What’s funny?”

We have to see Duterte’s joke from his upbringing as his apologists would want him to be understood and from the fact that “joke” and all its synonyms have only one word in Pilipino, “biro” – so it is in Bisaya or any other Philippine dialects. For example, when Duterte jokes, does he just want to provoke laughter or, on the contrary, to mock (jest), to annoy (tease, pester, taunt), to belittle (trifle) or to make of one a laughing stock (prank)? All the words in parentheses, synonyms of “joke”, are “biro” in Pilipino.]

When is Duterte joking? When is he to be taken seriously?

His quips about Vice President Robredo: “You want me out. Why don’t you marry me?” and his praying Super-typhoon Yolanda would just kill ugly women and spare the beautiful were said for fun. His “Santo Rodrigo” joke can draw a good ribbing for him.

In a speech during an awarding ceremony in Malacañang, he called the bishops useless, stupid and suggested they be killed: “[I]tong mga obispo ninyo, patayin ninyo. Walang silbi iyang mga gagong iyan. All they do is criticize.” In private, like a circle of friends in beer or tuba sessions, this and other anti-Church utterances may be common jokes not to be taken seriously. But in formal public occasions, it is irreverent, offensive and revolting. In another headliner, he said “90% of priests are gays”.

He curses and utters some vulgarities laced with indecencies and expletives. To him, it is just wanting to “lighten a dull moment”. … He explained: “If it is too ridiculous, it must be a joke. … And so I’m just fond of doing it. Gusto ko lang tumawa (I just want to laugh). Well, at the expense also of myself sometimes. … Eh sa limang salita, dalawa lang ‘yung tama niyan, ‘yung tatlo puro kalokohan ‘yan. (In every five statement I make, only two are true while three are just jokes).” (Marijuana, EJKs and cursing: 5 times Duterte was ‘just kidding’,, December 4, 2018)

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo explained that if President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement is illogical but still makes his audience laugh, then he is joking. And, together with other Duterte apologists, he said that the President speaks and behaves according to his upbringing. It’s too late to change that. The people must just understand.

Are Duterte and his spokesman serious or just joking? Are they the BIG jokes?


Media propagate Duterte’s controversial jokes in their top stories, talk shows and social messaging. Such jokes boost circulation, entertain prime time audience and go viral in social media. Duterte, the show man, and his apologists must be very much pleased.

True to their role, print, electronics and on-line media should be mediators, not stokers of controversies. They must help sort out the trivial, the trite and the personal from serious official and policy-based statements of the President and other political leaders.

Utterances like the Santo Rodrigo, Robredo and Yolanda jokes are merely for fun. Social columnists may entertain them. Do they merit the same importance in news reports and editorial opinions or not at all?

In his Marijuana joke, did Duterte endorse the medical use of Marijuana? In his tirades against the Catholic Church and bishops, did he just joke or suggest the re-examination of Church-State relation and policies? Issues possibly implied in those so-called jokes could impact on our life and should have preoccupied media. Otherwise, ignore them.

To the Point

We don’t subscribe to the argument that in winning by the biggest majority among all presidents, Duterte has the mandate to behave now as he used to be. It is too late for him to change his “bad” manners and “wrong” conduct. But he knows the norms by which presidents must live by. Can he really not live up to the presidential norms?

We think media must draw the line in covering the President. Leave out his jokes. Let the social columnists and social media take care of them. Put a message across that even the President must use responsibly freedom of the press.

As it is apparent today, whatever come out of the mouth of the President and top political leaders and their critics are news. Media gleefully, if not obligingly, publish the illogical, the ridiculous, the vulgar, the expletives and epithets, et cetera – only to be labeled as “jokes”. Are media not being trivialized?

Amusingly, to the Palace joke is a one-way traffic. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle unmistakably alluded to the President in his homily as a bully. Panelo parried the allusion protesting. Fortunately, no one interposed twitting that the Cardinal was joking only as a compliment.

The President’s critics say that his jokes, through the gullible media, are meant to hide his lack of accomplishment. True? Tsk, tsk, tsk. Joke also!

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Patricio P. Diaz was editor in chief of the Cotabato City-based Mindanao Cross and later the Mindanao Kris before returning to General Santos City. You may email him at