IT is significant that President Rodrigo Duterte, for the first time, has tried to explain the underlying reason for his scathing and often offensive words about officials, private citizens and institutions, after his flap last Wednesday concerning the Commission on Audit (CoA) and its auditors and policies.
The President explained that in his remarks in Dimasalang, Masbate, he was “pursuing the limits of civility” by attacking those who have unfairly treated him.
He made an effort at moderation by saying: “So I hope I have not offended anybody by my strong words or my joke.”
“Parang sinadya ko‘yan para pang-bastos. I am really pursuing the limit of civility kasi kampanya pa lang, binabastos na nila ako, eh.” (I did it on purpose to disparage. I am pursuing the limit of civility because as early as the election campaign, my critics and opponents were already slandering me.)
Regarding the (CoA), he quipped that state auditors ought to be kidnapped and tortured for getting in the way of governance because of their stringent protocols.
The pattern of presidential rebuke is familiar. Several individuals and groups have received Duterte’s insults, including the political opposition, the United States, the European Union, the International Criminal Court, some members of the Catholic Church and human rights organizations that have opposed the government’s war on drugs.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo immediately justified Duterte’s remarks on the COA as a joke.
“President Duterte’s latest statement about kidnapping and torturing Commission on Audit auditors was made in playful jest as his usual hyperbolic style,” Panelo said.
The President was only expressing his “exasperation and vexation” against the CoA’s application of stringent rules that hold back some state projects, he said.
Then he excused it all by saying Duterte has a “very endearing” style of talking that has “struck a chord with the masses” and that for him to change his style would be to appease the opposition.
“The President is a forthright person and the more his critics and detractors lambast him on his style and action, the more he will stick with them,” Panelo said.
The Malacañang explanation may have contained the controversy.
But then the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) decided to throw fuel into the fire. Its spokesman, doubtless on the instructions of its chairman, Chito Gascon, portrayed the presidential criticism of CoA as a human rights violation. CoA auditors are human rights victims because of the Duterte threat to kidnap and torture them.
The President has shown over his two-and-a-half years in office his own way of driving his message home, but regardless of how his officials and supporters have grown accustomed to deciphering the message behind his language, the CHR never misses a chance to pounce on a perceived act of human rights violation by his mere utterance of harsh words.
In this case, the CHR again rushed to make a press release and search for victims.
Strangely, the audit commission and its auditors declined to comment on the rigmarole.
“We have no comment on the matter,” the CoA Public Information Office said in an email to reporters.
The supposed human rights victim found good sense in keeping its mouth shut.