I think somebody needs to remind President Duterte that although he is head of state of the Philippines, it’s not ‘all about him’ and his fragile ego.
Yesterday, for example, he gave a speech at the 119th anniversary celebration of his nation’s navy in Davao.
For the sailors and officers — and their wives, husbands and families — it was a big day. A day to bask in the pride their service deserves, to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice of those who served before them and to humbly receive the praise and thanks of their commander-in-chief.
But then their president took to the podium, and launched into the most extraordinary, foul-mouthed rant about a couple of tweets written by former “first daughter” Chelsea Clinton.
To recap: Ms Clinton swallowed the bait after Mr Duterte told soldiers that he would take the blame for anything stemming from the imposition of martial law, even if any soldiers “rape up to three women”.
She wrote: “Not funny. Ever.” And then later: “Duterte is a murderous thug with no regard for human rights. It’s important to keep pointing that out, and that rape is never a joke.”
Okay, if I were Mr Duterte, I would want to fight my corner. Maybe I’d take to Twitter myself, or call a late-night press conference (when all the kiddy-winks are safely tucked up in bed) and really let rip on the privileged little cow.
But no. He needed to get it off his chest at the first available opportunity. In his trademark slurring, swaggering style, he said: “These whores, they hear ‘rape’… I will tell her, when your father, the president of the United States, was screwing Lewinsky and the girls in the White House, how did you feel? Did you slam your father?”
As if that wasn’t enough, he then repeated himself, saying: “You Americans, Chelsea, be careful because you live in glass house. I repeat, when President Clinton was screwing Lewinsky, what was your statement or your reaction?”
Footage of the event shows sailors and officers — dressed in their whiter-than-white dress uniforms with polished buttons gleaming in the sun — shifting uncomfortably in their seats.
Perhaps they expected their commander-in-chief to praise their efforts against piracy in the Sulu Sea, or to comment on their remarkable discipline in ever-so gently holding the line against Chinese expansionism in the South China… sorry, West Philippine Sea?
He could even have saluted them for their ambassadorial role in his foreign policy pivot towards China and Russia by welcoming their navies to Manila Bay, or perhaps thanked them for the current maritime cordon around Mindanao?
But no, he decided his assembled audience would much rather hear some insults thrown against a woman who was only a child when her father had (consensual) sex with Monica Lewinsky.
But this is nothing new, it seems the president has great difficulty in distinguishing between what is swirling around his head at any given time, and what is appropriate to include in a speech.
In April, he was installed as Chief Boy Scout of the Philippines. Giving his acceptance speech, he avoided the usual topics about “doing a good deed every day” or “washing behind your ears” and instead regaled a room full of children (some as young as four) with blood-curdling threats.
“You drug addicts,” he said. “Since you’ve been identified, avoid the streets, stay in your homes because I will throw you in Manila Bay. I’ll make you fertiliser for the fish.”
He then went on to advise the children that an early grave was a suitable career option, asking: “Who wants to be a soldier? Die for their country? I’m depending on that. I’m depending on you to become soldiers.”
A couple of weeks later he went even further, apparently advocating cannibalism to an enthusiastic crowd of youngsters at an athletics event.
Describing what would happen if a terrorist was presented to him while he was in a “foul mood” he said, “Give me salt and vinegar and I’ll eat his liver.”
After a ripple of nervous laughter from the young crowd, he added: “It’s true, if you make me angry.”
Not a word praising their hard work and dedication to training, nor any push for a healthier, non-smoking, more athletic Philippines.
No. Much better to channel Hannibal Lecter (who at least had the good taste to serve his human liver with “a nice chianti”) and pour brutal thoughts into young impressionable minds.
At this point, I should say there’s a hell of a lot about Mr Duterte’s agenda that I, personally, agree with.
I believe his federal plans have the potential to take the sting out of the long-standing Moro yearning for self-determination, I admire his “build, build, build” focus on infrastructure and I applaud that he is the first president not entirely enwrapped in the suffocating tentacles of the ancient elite.
But can’t he just be presidential now and then? Behave like a head of state? Be an inspirational, aspirational figure? Or is that too much to ask?