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Bitter or Better Table Talk

Fr. Wilfredo Samson, SJ


I’m a believer of action more than words. I admire people who silently deliver good results more than someone who is just a good crafter of sweet words but an achiever of nothing.

When the Filipino people elected President Duterte unanimously, it was because the majority believes that he was a man of action rather a man of empty words. And true to his words, after being elected as the new President of the Philippines, Duterte quickly wore his working clothes and started working for us.

At the beginning, everyone was on high hopes. And for the sake of our country, even those who did not vote him, set aside their fears and biases, and gave full support to the new administration. They crossed their fingers, prayed hard, and hope for the best.

His first few months were very promising. As promised, the man of few words but oozing with actions delivered swift actions. We saw countless drug addicts voluntarily surrendering to the police, but extra-judicial killings also increased alarmingly. Without due process, well-known and powerful names were exposed and branded as drug lords. And in many of his public engagements and interviews, Duterte was candid enough to speak out his mind, without any fear or hesitation, or fear being misunderstood. It is here where one of our frustrations to President Duterte begins.

Nobody would question Duterte’s love for his country, for his passion to serve is crystal clear. But in his desire to produce quick results, he mismanaged his passion for immediate change and eradication of graft and corruption. His anger against drug pushers, drug lords, and those involved in graft and corruption, had driven his heart and mind to be more aggressive. For him, it seems that the only way to eradicate these social issues is by using force. But in doing so, the “valid anger” that drives him to work hard, is the same anger that makes us worry about what he will say next. We worry about who the next victim of his “bad remarks or untimely comments” will be.

I admire frank people who are candid and honest with their thoughts or views. There’s no guile on them. They boldly speak their minds. They are not afraid to hurt the feelings of others. What matters is the exposition of truth. For the truth will set us free.

But in our world where relationship is important, respect, and sensitivity to others, including your enemy is a virtue. To possess the truth does not give anyone the right to hurt or malign others, even our enemies. Everybody has the right to defend himself or herself until proven guilty.

I admire President Duterte for his genuine desire to produce immediate results in our country’s perennial problem with drugs and graft and corruption. His political will for change is admirable and commendable. But as an ordinary citizen of this country, who usually takes a back sit and watch things to unfold, I have the right to express my single peso unsolicited advice. I may not have the expertise to analyze any socio-political issues, but I just want express the general sentiments of many meal conversations I have attended. Their frustrations with our President’s “bad mouth” is a topic at every meal. Sometimes, I am almost tempted to ban this topic from any table conversations. I just want to enjoy the warm meal and good company in front of me. No “Duterte frustrations” please.

I guess, one of the main thing that goes against Duterte was his too bold or too comfortable manner of expressing his thoughts – to the point of indirectly damaging some good and honest people, innocent citizens and century-tested relationships. The Bible encourages us to talk to our brother in secret before bringing certain issues against him in public (Matthew 18:15). We uphold the sanctity of the dignity of human beings, and their immoral acts do not exclude them from being respected. We should hate the evil works but not the evildoers. We can scold them, but we need to give them chance to explain their sides.

Our President has the political will and the potential to introduce changes into our society. With his clear desire to help our country and his passion for quick results, we are positive we’ll see changes in a few years. But any social change or any gains by this present administration may crumble into pieces, if President Duterte continues to inflict damage on his own leadership. He may not have the intention of harming innocent people with his words, but words can cut to the hearts and may severe honest relationships. I remember someone telling me, “If you have nothing good to say, just remain silent.”

In any society, building relationship is a must. For any social gains or economic stability not founded on good relationships is bound to collapse. Any organization, government or country is made of people. They have feelings, dreams, and dignity. Nobody wants to be maligned by anybody. We aspire to respect and love. And any words, not based on truth, discernment, and sensitivity could easily destroy relationship.

I have some thoughts with regard to the issue of extra-judicial killings, the on-going circus in the Senate, and many other things. But for now, let me express my simple request to our dear President. A simple advice, but it can help you gain friends and lessen your enemies. Please, be more careful and discreet with your words. You are a man of action. I admire you for that. But please, don’t forget that people around you have feelings. Be more careful with your words. Think twice or even thrice before you speak. We don’t want you to lose friends, or even allies that can help you. We don’t want you to slowly lose the support of the majority. You are our President. Our support is still with you. But please be gentle with your words.

I am still hopeful that one of these days, more better table conversations with friends will come as we talk about our country. Not a bitter one.

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