Vancouver supporter of Philippines president Duterte says media misread son of a whore comment

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      President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines swears a lot.

      His favourite expression in Tagalog is putang ina. In English, it means ‘son of a whore’.

      Earlier this week, Duterte hit international headlines when he used that expression in answering a media question about a forthcoming meeting with U.S. president Barack Obama.

      The White House has concerns about the killings of suspected drug users and dealers in the Philippines. Obama was supposed to ask him about it at the sidelines of a summit by country leaders hosted by Laos.

      Here’s what Duterte said: “I am a president of a sovereign state and we have long ceased to be a colony. I do not have any master except the Filipino people. You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statements. Putang ina (son of a whore) I will curse you in that forum.”

      That led to the cancellation of the meeting between Duterte and Obama scheduled Tuesday (September 6). However, the two leaders had a brief, informal chat the next day while waiting for their seats at a gala dinner in the Laotian capital of Vientiane.

      Canadian Giovanni Mata has followed this episode in the media with great interest. Originally from the Philippines, he hails from Davao City, where Duterte served for many years as mayor.

      Now with a Vancouver law firm as an articled student, Mata says there’s a problem when Tagalog expressions are simply translated into English.

      According to him, it leads to people getting offended, because with a literal English translation—as was the case in the reporting of Duterte's comments—it would come across as somebody cursing another.

      “It’s not directed to the person,” Mata told the Straight in a phone interview Thursday (September 8). “It’s just an expression of anger. But when it is translated to English, it becomes different. It has different connotation, because it would seem to mean that your mother is a whore or a bitch, right? So that’s the problem.”

      Mata said there is a “cultural and language diversion or barrier” that leave out the context of Duterte’s statements when English translations of the Philippine leader’s expletives are used in Western media reports.

      “In the Philippines, if one utters that type of cursing, it’s not a big deal. But for…other culture[s], it’s a big thing,” he said.

      Tagalog speakers know that it’s a different case with the phrase putang ina mo, because this is something said to a person’s face, meaning 'you’re a son of whore'.

      It's the same case when English speakers say 'f' word. With that word alone, it can be an expression of anger, disgust, or frustration. When it's said as 'fuck you' to someone, it becomes different.

      Giovanni Mata hails from Davao City, where current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was a mayor.

      Mata also noted that reporting on Duterte’s potty mouth is diverting on the important things that the Philippine leader is doing since he assumed office on June 30 this year.

      Mata cited as an example efforts by the new government to negotiate peace agreements with communist and Muslim secessionist rebels.

      The communist-led insurgency has been raging since the late 1960s, driven by poverty, social inequality, and government abuses. Muslims have also taken up arms over the same period to demand more autonomy in the southern region of the Philippines.

      Duterte has appointed left-leaning individuals to his cabinet, and one of them is now in charge of the government agency dealing with redistributing land to peasants.

      Government representatives are also talking with the mainstream Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

      Western media outlets had described Duterte during the last Philippine presidential election campaign as 'Trump of the East', after American presidential candidate Donald Trump. Duterte has detested that comparison, saying he is not a bigot. 

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